Firebirds Stun No. 3 St. Thomas Aquinas College, 85-80

Kasim Chandler was 15-of-16 at the foul line.
Kasim Chandler was 15-of-16 at the foul line.

WASHINGTON, DC – The University of the District of Columbia men's basketball team stunned the No. 3 ranked team in NCAA Division II, St. Thomas Aquinas College, 85-80, in a thrilling East Coast Conference battle at the UDC Sports Complex Saturday afternoon.

This upset marked the first ever regular season win over a top-five nationally ranked team by an unranked UDC team in the men's basketball program's history, and it was the Firebirds' first victory over a top-five team since February 21st, 1983, when No. 1 ranked UDC defeated No. 2 Cheyney, 100-82, in the 1982-83 regular season finale in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 3,000 at what was then called the Van Ness Physical Activities Center.

The Firebirds improved to 5-5 overall and 3-1 in the ECC with today's win, and they ended the Spartan's 21-game regular season ECC win streak dating back to December 19th, 2015. This also snapped a seven-game losing streak in the all-time series vs. STAC, as UDC defeated its conference rival for the first time since January 9th, 2013.

The loss for No. 3 St. Thomas Aquinas was also its first loss of the 2016-17 season, as the Spartans fell to 10-1 overall and 5-1 in league play.

UDC was led by its senior point guard, Kasim Chandler, who registered a game-high 24 points, six rebounds, a game-high four assists and two steals. Chandler was only 4-of-11 from the field (1-of-2 from long range) but did most of his damage at the foul line by tying his career-high with 15-of-16 made fre-throws.

Three other Firebirds scored in double-figures, including senior guard Reggie Sidbury with 17 points, junior guard Traevon Butler with 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and one steal, and senior guard Joseph Nickerson with 14 points, a team-high nine rebounds, one assists and one steal.

The Spartans were led by preseason All-American and reigning ECC Player of the Year Justin Reyes, who registered a double-double consisting of 23 points and a game-high 16 rebounds while also turning in a game-high four blocked shots, defensively. Three other STAC players reached double-figures scoring, including guard Jonathan Lawton with 14 points, guard Chaz Watler with 13, and reserve guard Shaquille McFarlan with 12.

Three-point shooting and free-throw shooting were what sent UDC on its path to this upset victory, as the Firebirds out-shot their guests 48-percent (10-of-21) to 14-percent (3-of-21) from long range, and feasted at the foul line, making 31-of-41 (76-percent) to a mere 13-of-19 (68-percent) by the Spartans. STAC out-shot UDC 45-percent (32-of-71) to 42-percent (22-of-53) from the field, out-rebounded the Firebirds, 43-36, and the Spartans out-scored their hosts 48-18 in the paint.

UDC raced out to an early 11-2 advantage thanks to three different Firebirds connecting on their first three-point attempts of the game, and St. Thomas Aquinas called two early timeouts to try to figure things out. Out of the second of those timeouts, the Spartans regrouped and went on a 25-3 tear over the next eight-and-a-half minutes to open up what would be their largest advantage of the day, 27-14, at the 9:18 mark in the 1st half. STAC still led by 10, 35-25, at the 5:22 mark when UDC used a 10-2 surge to pull within two, 37-35 on a three-pointer by Sidbury just past the four-minute mark. The Firebirds would head into halftime trailing the No. 3 team in the nation by only two, 44-42.

UDC wasted little time in taking back the lead when play resumed for the 2nd half as Sidbury knocked down a three-pointer to put the Firebirds up 45-44. Two more lead changes would ensue, but UDC would control the lead for the next 10 minutes following Chandler's only made three-pointer of the day to put the Firebirds up, 51-48 at the 16:32 mark. Chandler's three-pointer broke a 48-all tie and ignited a 10-2 Firebirds surge that lifted UDC to a 58-50 lead – what would be its largest of the 2nd half.

The Spartans would fight their way back though and use an 8-0 charge to transform a 73-70 deficit into a 78-73 lead at the 4:17 mark. Head coach Mike Riley's veteran Firebird group, consisting of four seniors and six juniors, did not panic. The Firebirds went on to close the game out on a 12-2 run, making 8-of-11 free-throws in the final four minutes of regulation while holding STAC to 0-for-6 FG shooting and two turnovers down the stretch. UDC would go on to win by a five-point margin, 85-80.

The Firebirds enter the holiday break having just defeated their cross town rival Bowie State (81-77) for the first time in 12 meetings since 1999, and the No. 3 ranked team in the country, ECC rival St. Thomas Aquinas, in the same week. UDC returns to action on December 30th as the Firebirds host non-conference regional foe Nyack College.