VALHALLA, NY – The past three straight games, the University of the District of Columbia men's basketball team needed a 2nd half comeback to win. Today, the Firebirds had to fight off an opponent's 2nd half comeback, and they managed to do so in an 80-74 East Coast Conference road victory vs. Mercy College at Westchester Community College.
With the win, the ECC's top team in the standings, UDC (10-6, 7-1 ECC), has now won four straight games and seven of its last eight. The Firebirds also snapped a four-game losing streak in the all-time series with Mercy which included a 72-71 ECC Quarterfinals loss at the end of last season in the last meeting. The Mavericks lost their 6th straight game and fell to 2-14 overall and 0-8 in league play.
Senior guard Joseph Nickerson was the major catalyst for victory today with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-16 FG shooting and 7-of-8 shooting at the line, and team-highs of 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals. Fellow guards Khalil Jackson and Reggie Sidbury also contributed 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Mercy, meanwhile, had a much more balanced scoring attack with five scorers in double-figures. Guard Ryan Hickey led the team with 16 points, and forward William Robinson had a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds as well as a game-high five assists.
UDC shot much better from the field (57-percent to 45-percent) and the free-throw line (19-of-24 to 8-of-16), but Mercy stayed in the game with 17 2nd chance points on 17 offensive rebounds.
The Firebirds scored the first six points of the game and raced out to an early, 8-2 lead four minutes into the action. Mercy countered with a 6-0 run to force an 8-all tie, and later forced another tie at 11 after Sidbury and Mercy's Marko Kozul traded three-pointers.
UDC only led by two, 25-23, with just under seven minutes to play in the first half when the Firebirds used a 14-3 surge over a span of five minutes to take their largest lead of the afternoon, 39-27 with 1:45 remaining. Mercy found a way to swing the momentum back in its favor, however, as the Mavericks closed out the half on a 7-2 run and closed the gap to seven as the horn sounded for intermission.
Senior point guard Kasim Chandler scored on an and-one layup off of a feed by Nickerson and converted the free-throw for the first points of the 2nd half, extending the Firebirds' lead to 10, but Mercy would come storming back. Daniel Kissoon scored 10 of his 12 points in just over two minutes of action, and Mercy outscored UDC, 17-6 over a four-and-a-half minute stretch to take its first lead of the 2nd half, 51-50.
After a series of lead changes and a 57-all tie at the 11:44 mark, Nickerson put the Firebirds up three after converting an and-one layup and the free-throw at 11:18. Mercy countered, though, and used an 8-0 run over the next three minutes to take its largest lead of the game, 65-60, with just under eight minutes left to play.
The veteran Firebirds squad did not panic, however, scoring five straight points to force a tie at 65. They did, however, surrender four straight points after that, and trailed 69-65 as the clock dipped under five minutes.
At this point, junior guard Jahkeem Folks scored five straight of his eight points during a crucial stretch for the Firebirds, including a pair of free throws to put UDC ahead, 70-69 at 3:22. Nickerson then capped what amounted to a 7-0 Firebirds run with a layup at 2:34, and UDC led, 72-69.
Mercy's Kelvin Howard forced the sixth and final tie of the game at 72 with a three-pointer at 2:17, but a layup by Chandler at 2:04 put UDC ahead to stay. The Firebirds then made 6-of-8 at the line down the stretch to seal the victory.
Next up, the first place Firebirds visit ECC foe University of Bridgeport on Wednesday, January 18th at 7 p.m.