Long Island guard C.J. Garner, center, passes the ball under...

Long Island guard C.J. Garner, center, passes the ball under pressure from North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller, left, and North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland (1) in the second half of an East Regional NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game. (March 18, 2011) Credit: AP

LIU tried to play their game against North Carolina, but in the end the Tar Heels’ size won out in a 102-87 win.

You can’t fault the 15th-seeded Blackbirds, though. They found their offense in the second half and trailed 97-87 with 1:55 left in the game.

“I thought our kids played their hearts out tonight,” head coach Jim Ferry said. “I thought we competed the best we could. We out-rebound people like crazy but it was really hard. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”

Ferry was correct in his assessment. His team went basket-for-basket for much of the first half and actually tied the score at 33 with 5:01 left in the first after a 12-0 run.

“We have been down in games before so we knew that a comeback was in us,” said sophomore forward Julian Boyd. “Once we tied it up, we knew our crowd would keep us in the game.”

Size was definitely an issue as the Tar Heels front line of Tyler Zeller (32 pts, 9 reb), John Henson (28 pts, 11 reb) and Harrison Barnes (24 pts, 16 reb) overpowered LIU's front line, outrebounding the Blackbirds 52-36 with 10 blocked shots. 

Despite the hard feelings in the Blackbirds locker room there is good news. LIU (27-6) returns five of its top seven scorers, including sophomores Boyd (18 pts, 12 reb), C.J. Garner (16 pts) and Jamal Olasewere (15 pts, 5 reb). Junior guard Michael Culpo and freshmen Jason Brickman and Kenny Onyechi also played prominent roles and are expected to return a year older and a year wiser.

It won't be easy replacing seniors Kyle Johnson, who finished 11th on LIU's career scoring list with 1,433 points and David Hicks, who had 1,157 points. Both players can rest knowing they are leaving the program in good hands.

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