OLD WESTBURY, NY – Senior point guard Kasim Chandler scored 18 of his game-high 25 points during the second half to help the Firebirds overcome an eight-point halftime deficit and defeat East Coast Conference foe NYIT, 71-69 at Recreation Hall Saturday afternoon.
Chandler, who needed exactly 25 points to reach the 1,000-point career milestone entering today, registered his 24th and 25th points of the game with 20 seconds remaining. Fittingly, it was at the free-throw line where Chandler converted 10-of-12 this afternoon and has scored 387 of the points in his career.
That pair of free throws by Chandler also gave UDC a two-possession lead, 70-66, and enabled the Firebirds to ultimately come away two-point victors. Chandler also contributed game-highs of six assists and four steals and also grabbed four rebounds.
The Firebirds (8-6, 5-1 ECC), who entered Saturday's game No. 1 in the ECC standings, remain on top as the only one-loss team in the league. NYIT fell to 4-10 overall and 2-5 in conference play with today's loss.
Also playing a key role in UDC's win today was senior guard Joseph Nickerson with his 7th career double-double of 11 points and team-high 10 rebounds to go with four assists and four steals. Junior guard Traevon Butler added 13 points as well.
NYIT was led by forward Jon Feiler, who had a game-high 20 rebounds to go with 22 points on 9-of-16 FG shooting. Jeffrey Hayden also contributed 20 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Walter King added 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
UDC, although badly out-rebounded 54-29 and out-scored in the paint (44-32) and in 2nd chance points (16-1), again followed the formula that has helped the Firebirds win games all year – make free-throws and limit turnovers. Head coach Mike Riley's squad made 76-percent (19-of-25) at the line compared to NYIT's 67-percent (12-of-18), and turned the ball over eight fewer times (18-10) while scoring eight more points off turnovers (14-6).
The Firebirds raced out to early leads of 8-4 and 16-12 before taking what would be their largest lead of the afternoon, 19-14, following a three-point play on a layup and free-throw by Butler at 13:23. Still a 21-16 UDC lead as the clock dipped under 12 minutes in the first half, NYIT's Feiler converted a layup that kicked off a 21-8 march to end the half by the Bears. Feiler had eight points during that stretch, and NYIT had the momentum and a 37-29 lead at halftime.
Nickerson helped UDC get started on the right foot in the 2nd half as he scored the first four points of what amounted to a 12-3 Firebirds surge in the opening four minutes. Butler's run-capping layup around the 16-minute mark gave UDC a 41-40 lead, but the Bears took it right back with a jumper by Kieran Hamilton. That basket started a 12-5 response by NYIT that put the hosts up six, 52-46 with a little under 12 minutes left in regulation.
From that point on there were five ties and three more lead changes, but UDC would take the lead for good, 66-64, on a pair of free throws by Nickerson at the 1:13 mark. Following Nickerson's free throws, Chandler grabbed the defensive rebound off of a Hamilton miss, and, once UDC took 28 seconds off of the clock with its possession, he converted a layup with 31 seconds left to make it a four-point game, 68-64.
Chandler went on to again make it a two-possession game following a made jump shot by Hayden with 23 seconds left as he converted a pair of free-throws with only 20 ticks left.
NYIT's King drew a UDC foul with 13 seconds remaining, but only converted the 2nd of his two free throws to cut the lead to three. The Firebirds were then able to run off five seconds before NYIT fouled Butler to stop the clock at eight seconds remaining. Butler, too, missed his first shot at the line, but managed to make the 2nd attempt to seal the victory.
On the Bears' final possession of the game down by four, Hamilton had two separate cracks at three-point attempts but missed both. Feiler gathered the offensive rebound on the 2nd miss and put in a layup as time expired, but it was too little too late.
Next up, the Firebirds return home to host league foe Molloy on Wednesday, January 11th at 7 p.m.