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No. 5 Firebirds Fall Short, 73-71 in ECC Quarterfinals vs. No. 4 Daemen

Nickerson scored 17 of his game-high 29 points in the final five minutes of regulation.
Nickerson scored 17 of his game-high 29 points in the final five minutes of regulation.

AMHERST, NY – The No. 5 seeded University of the District of Columbia men's basketball team was defeated by No. 4 seed Daemen College in the East Coast Conference Quarterfinals Wednesday night at Lumsden Gymnasium.

The Firebirds end the 2016-17 season with a final overall mark of 14-13 – their 2nd consecutive season one game over .500 under head coach Mike Riley. UDC, while 10-3 on its home court this year, finished 4-10 away from home after tonight's loss. In the program's five years as a member of the ECC, the Firebirds are 0-3 in conference tournament play.

Daemen (19-8) advances to take on No. 1 seed and two-time reigning ECC champion, St. Thomas Aquinas in the semifinals on Saturday in Bridgeport, CT.

UDC senior guards Joseph Nickerson and Kasim Chandler carried the bulk of the scoring load for the upset-minded Firebirds. Chandler had three steals and shot 6-of-8 from the field (2-for-2 from long range) in the first half to score 14 of his 18 points for the night. The 2nd half, however, he shot just 2-of-8 from the field (0-for-2 long range) and added just four more points to his total. Nickerson, meanwhile, had a quiet first half with just four points, but erupted in the 2nd half with 25 points and seven rebounds. He'd finish with a game-high 29 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Junior guard Khalil Jackson also pitched in with a double-double of 13 points and game-highs of 10 rebounds and two blocked shots.

The Wildcats were led by three scorers in double-figures, including a team-best 23 points by forward Arif Mehmetaj. Mehmetaj also had a team-best nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Guard Deion Hamilton pitched in with 16 points and six rebounds off the bench, and starting forward Jeff Redband added 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

Daemen slightly out-shot UDC 42-percent (24-of-57) to 40-percent (25-of-63) from the field and out-rebounded the Firebirds, 42-32. Second and third-chance opportunities created by 18 offensive rebounds tonight resulted in 10 more free-throw attempts for the Wildcats (26-16); consequently, Daemen made six more free-throws (19-13) than did the Firebirds.

UDC stayed in the game with aggressive, opportunistic defense, scoring 19 points off of 18 Daemen turnovers – 11 of those turnovers coming in the first half. But eventually Daemen's team depth wore down the Firebirds, as the five Wildcat substitutes outscored UDC's three bench players, 27-4.

The Wildcats charged out to an early 7-3 lead, but the Firebirds scored 11 of the game's next 16 points and took their first lead of the game, 14-12 after a steal and fast-break layup by Chandler. After a Daemen layup tied the game at 14-all, UDC senior guard Reggie Sidbury buried a three-pointer to kick ignite a 12-2 Firebird surge. Chandler scored seven points during that stretch, and UDC had its largest lead of the game, 26-16 right around the four-minute mark of the 1st half. Daemen, however, would close the half on a 10-4 run, and the Wildcats would pull within four at the horn for halftime.

After trading baskets for the first four-and-a-half minutes of the 2nd half, UDC still controlled a four-point lead, 34-30. Unfortunately for the Firebirds, at that point they went over five minutes without a field goal, and over a seven-minute stretch, they were out-scored 17-3. Hamilton scored the final five points of that Wildcat charge, and Daemen led, 47-37.

Still an eight-point Wildcats lead, 54-46 with 6:45 to play, Daemen scored the game's next five points and took the largest lead of the game by either team, 61-46.

Nickerson would try to will the Firebirds back into the game as he scored 17 of his game-high 29 in the final five minutes of regulation. At one point with a tip-in basket around the two-minute mark, he brought the Firebirds within four, 64-60. Daemen would score the next six points though on 6-of-6 combined free-throw shooting by three Wildcat players: Supreme Hannah, Mehmetaj, and Redband.  Daemen would push its lead back to 10, 70-60, with under a minute left to play.

The Firebirds continued to play hard, out-scoring the hosts 11-3 in the final 50 seconds, including a three-pointer by Nickerson in the final seconds of the game. It was too little too late though, as Daemen still won by a slim, two-point margin.