WASHINGTON, DC – Trailing by 20 points with only 6:04 remaining in regulation, the Firebirds outscored their guests, 34-14 to force an 86-all tie at the end of regulation, and then pulled away in overtime for a thrilling, 102-97 non-conference East Region victory over Nyack College at UDC Sports Complex Friday night.
The Firebirds (6-5), who made 79-percent of their season-high 42 free-throws, set a new East Coast Conference season-high mark of 33 made free-throws just after coming off of an 85-80 victory over the No. 3 ranked team in the nation, St. Thomas Aquinas, where they made 31-of-41 free-throws.
This superb free-throw shooting helped UDC earn its third straight victory (fifth in last six games) despite shooting 3-of-20 from behind-the-arc and turning the ball over 18 times. The Firebirds also had to contend with a game-high 43 points by Nyack guard Robert Tyler – the most points scored against UDC by an opposing player in school history. Tyler shot 15-of-27 from the field, including 8-of-14 from long range, and also sunk 5-of-6 at the line. Still, it was not enough as the Warriors fell to 3-8 on the season with tonight's loss.
UDC, meanwhile, had a slightly more balanced offensive attack, with senior veteran guards Joseph Nickerson scoring a team-high 26 points (8-for-9 FT) and Kasim Chandler adding 21 points (9-of-15 FT). Nickerson also registered four rebounds and a game-high-tying three steals, and Chandler hauled in a game-high nine rebounds and dished out three assists.
Similar to UDC's two previous marquee wins over STAC and cross town rival Bowie State, others stepped up for head coach Mike Riley's squad though, including junior guard Khalil Jackson with 15 points, nine rebounds and a game-high four blocked shots before fouling out of the game. Also senior guard Reggie Sidbury shook off a 1-of-7 three-point shooting night and finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three blocked shots, junior guard Jahkeem Folks gave the Firebirds 18 quality minutes off the bench by making 4-of-5 from the field for eight points to go with seven rebounds, and junior center Kyle Williams pitched in eight points, two rebounds, two blocked shots and one steal.
The Firebirds raced out to an early 8-2 lead courtesy of four points by Sidbury, but then surrendered an 8-0 Nyack run that put the Warriors up 10-8 on a jump shot by Tyler. Three ties and two lead changes would ensue, but Curtis Thompson put Nyack in front for what would be the majority of the game with a three-point play on an and-one layup, 15-14, at the 12:24 mark. That play kick-started a 20-8 burst by the Warriors that put Nyack ahead, 32-20 with 6:46 remaining in the first half. The Warriors would wind up taking a nine-point lead, 42-33 into halftime.
Nyack looked to put the game away with an 11-2 surge to begin the 2nd half, extending its lead to 53-35 on a layup by Imran Ritchie nearly four minutes into the period. Nickerson attempted to will the Firebirds back into the game as he scored the next five consecutive points to cut the deficit to 13, but Tyler led the Warriors on an 8-2 response, knocking down two three-pointers and then a jump shot to extend the lead back to 19, 61-42, with 12:08 left to play.
The Firebirds continued to battle and had come as close as 15 after three consecutive free-throws by Sidbury at the 6:49 mark, but a Ritchie jump shot, followed by a Jaron Smith three-pointer, gave the Warriors their largest lead of the night, 72-52 with 6:04 remaining.
At the 5:38 mark, Chandler knocked down what would be the Firebirds' only made three-pointer in regulation, and that would jump-start what amounted to a 34-14 Firebird surge that catapulted UDC all the way into an 86-all tie at the end of regulation. Along the way, Jackson scored six straight points immediately following Chandler's three-pointer, and Nickerson would score 13 of his team-high 26 in the final 3:44.
Nickerson, similar to what he did in the Firebirds' 90-84 overtime win vs. Daemen on December 3rd, sprinted the length of the floor with six seconds remaining and drew a blocking foul in the paint with .8 of a second left on the clock. And just as he did vs. Daemen, despite a sore ankle from the play, collected himself and sank both free-throws to force an 86-all tie and send the game to overtime.
In the extra session, Chandler and the team's 2nd three-pointer of the night capped a 5-0 run to start the period, and that was a lead the Firebirds would never relinquish. Twice Nyack cut the deficit to two, but the second of those times, Sidbury knocked down his first three-pointer of eight attempts to push the UDC lead back to five, 96-91. Chandler then went on to make 6-of-6 at the foul line in the final 33 seconds to ice the victory, and the Firebirds went on to win, 102-97.
Next, the Firebirds play their final non-conference game of the season as they take on Wilmington University (DE) at home on January 2nd at 6 p.m.