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Firebirds Unable to Withstand Second Half Spartan Surge; Fall 97-79

Joe Nickerson scored a career-high 35 points.
Joe Nickerson scored a career-high 35 points.

SPARKILL, NY – The University of the District of Columbia men's basketball team was defeated by league-leading St. Thomas Aquinas College, 97-79 in East Coast Conference action Saturday afternoon at Aquinas Hall.

The Firebirds (11-10, 8-5 ECC) led by as many as six early in the game and trailed by only two points (42-40) at halftime, but STAC (19-4, 12-2 ECC) out-scored UDC, 55-39 in the 2nd half en-route to its 9th straight victory. The Spartans evened the season series and handed the Firebirds their fourth loss in five games.

Senior guard Joseph Nickerson led all scorers with a career-high 35 points on 11-of-18 FG (8-of-14 from three-point range) and 5-of-6 from the foul line. This marked the 3rd time in his career he scored over 30 points in a game. He also hauled in nine rebounds, and the nation's leader in steals also had two thefts today.

Three other Firebirds scored in double-figures, including senior guard Kasim Chandler with 15 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals, junior guard Khalil Jackson with 11 points, six rebounds, and a game-high six assists, and junior center Kyle Williams with 10 points and four rebounds.

Guard Chaz Watler led four Spartans in double-figures with 26 points on 11-of-16 FG shooting and 4-of-5 from long range, and ECC Preseason Player of the Year Justin Reyes recorded a double-double of 20 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Also, Aaron Cust came off the bench to score 19 points on 8-of-14 from the field and 3-of-5 from behind-the-arc.

UDC, the first team to beat STAC this season after the Spartans opened the year 10-0 and earned a No. 3 national ranking, raced out to a 6-0 lead within the first two minutes, but STAC responded with an 18-5 burst over the next five-and-a-half minutes. Cust connected on two three-pointers and had eight points during that stretch, and the Spartans led 18-11 a little past the 13-minute mark.

Back came the Firebirds, though, as Nickerson capped an 8-0 surge with back-to-back three-pointers and gave UDC back the lead, 19-18. That lead was short lived, however, as STAC moved in front for good on a jump shot by James Mitchell at the 11:05 mark. Mitchells jumper kicked off an 11-2 march by the Spartans and gave the host a 29-20 advantage with 8:22 left in the half.

STAC could never extend its lead to double-digits in that first half though, and UDC would close the opening stanza on a 6-0 run to pull within two, 42-40 at intermission.

The two ECC rivals traded baskets early to start the 2nd half, but UDC managed to force a 46-all tie on a layup by Chandler at 17:52. That would be the game's 4th and final tie though, as STAC pulled away for good with a 15-0 blitz in a span of just under three minutes. UDC continued to battle, shrinking the deficit to nine with a 6-0 run, but that was as close as it would get the rest of the way. STAC put the game out of reach by scoring 13 of the game's next 14 points, taking its largest lead of the day, 74-53 right around the 11-minute mark. STAC would coast the rest of the way and win by an 18-point margin, 97-79.

Next up, UDC will host ECC foe NYIT on Saturday, February 11th at 3 p.m.