BROOKVILLE, NY – The University of the District of Columbia women's basketball team defeated No. 1 seed and host LIU Post, 67-57 in the ECC Finals Saturday afternoon for the school's first ECC basketball championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
In a game that featured five of the eleven All-ECC performers on the floor between both teams, the No. 2 seeded Firebirds upset No. 1 LIU Post after these two ECC heavyweights had split games during the regular season. The Firebirds (21-7), who were ranked No. 7 in the East Region entering the ECC Tournament, knocked off No. 9 Queens in the semifinals Thursday and today took down No. 2 LIU Post in the finals to earn the ECC's NCAA Tournament automatic bid. LIU Post (22-6) and UDC will both await Sunday's NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Tournament Selection Show at 10 p.m. to see where they are seeded in next week's East Regional Tournament.
ECC Tournament Most Valuable Player, junior transfer guard Telisha Turner (Criminal Justice – Wilmington, DE/Harcum) led all scorers with 24 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field and nine consecutive free-throws after missing her first two of the game to finish 9-of-11. Junior forward Denikka Brent (Mechanical Engineering – Chesapeake, VA/Booker T. Washington HS), also named to the ECC All-Tournament Team, registered 15 points and six rebounds, and sophomore guard Shantrel Oliver (History – Columbia, MD/Chesapeake College) added seven points, four rebounds and a game-high three steals, as she too, earned All-Tournament honors.
ECC Player of the Year Chelsea Williams led the Pioneers tonight with 22 points on 6-of-10 FG shooting and 7-of-8 from the stripe, but was also forced into eight turnovers by a ferocious Firebird defense. She and Alexis Peters (11 points, seven rebounds, four assists) both represented LIU Post on the All-Tournament Team.
Credit the Firebirds' defense for tonight's upset as UDC earned their first win at the Pratt Center in four tries since joining the ECC in 2011-12 thanks in large part to an opportunistic defense that cashed in 24 Pioneers' turnovers for 29 points. Head coach Lester Butler, Jr. employed a combination of a full-court press and a 2-3 half-court zone in the second half which forced 12 turnovers (including two shot clock violations) while holding LIU Post to only 26 second half points.
Rebounding was also key, as UDC surrendered only eight second-chance points off of 10 LIU Post offensive rebounds. (In a 74-72 loss in the last meeting on February 6th, UDC allowed 21 second-chance points off of 23 offensive boards) Sophomore forward Tatyana Calhoun (Environmental Science – Disputanta, VA/Sussex Central HS) was the Firebirds' rebounding catalyst with a team-high eight boards, including a game-high five on the defensive end.
The first half was a see-saw battle that featured seven ties and eight lead changes. The league's top two teams traded baskets for most of the way as neither team led by more than three for the first 15 minutes of action. However, after Williams put LIU Post up 22-19 nearing the six-minute mark, UDC senior reserve guard Julissa Anderson (Criminal Justice – Greensboro, NC/Southeast Guilford HS) knocked down two consecutive three-pointers to kick-start an 11-2 run by the Firebirds which culminated in a conventional three-point play by Turner to put UDC up, 30-24 at the 4:28 mark.
Following a layup by Peters, Turner put the finishing touches on another Firebird surge, a 6-2 run that gave UDC the largest lead of the day by either team, 36-26 with 1:42 left in the first half. The Pioneers would, however, close out the opening period with a 5-0 run to cut the lead in half as the Firebirds took only a five-point lead, 36-31 into the locker room.
Determined to solidify their No. 2 seed in the NCAA East Regional Tournament next week, the Pioneers opened the second half on an 8-3 charge, trimming the UDC lead to two, 41-39 at the 16:45 mark and forcing a Firebird timeout. Out of the timeout, Brent converted an and-one layup and the ensuing free-throw to extend the lead to five at the 16:26 mark, but LIU Post came storming back with a frantic, 8-0 run over the next three minutes and claimed its first lead since the opening half, 47-44 with 13:39 remaining.
After a brief scoring lull for both teams, Turner buried a wide-open three-pointer in the corner off of a nice feed by Anderson to force a 47-all tie, and Brent followed with a running jumper from the elbow to regain the lead for UDC, 49-47 at the 10:39 mark. Consecutive layups by LIU Post allowed the Pioneers to re-claim the lead once more, 51-49 with 9:29 left, but a pair of free-throws by Brent forced the 10th and final tie of the game with 8:29 remaining. Brent's free-throws also kick-started a pivotal 9-0 Firebirds run which included five points by sophomore reserve guard Tiara Goode (Administration of Justice - Brentwood, NY/Brentwood HS), and put the Firebirds on top, to stay, 58-51.
Williams made a pair of free-throws at the 4:05 mark to bring LIU Post within five, 58-53, but veteran senior point guard Teara Shaw (Health Education – Bronx, NY/Indian River State), as she did in Thursday's semifinal win over Queens, converted a layup and mid-range jumper, both near the end of the shot clock, to not only melt time but extend the Firebirds' lead to nine, 62-53. UDC went on to make 5-of-7 free-throws in the final two minutes of regulation, including a perfect 4-of-4 by Turner which sealed the Firebirds' victory.
ECC All-Tournament Team
Rebecca Romeo - NYIT
Madison Rowland - Queens
Chelsea Williams - LIU Post
Alexis Peters - LIU Post
Denikka Brent - UDC
Shantrel Oliver - UDC
MVP - Telisha Turner, UDC