Firebirds Edged by Panthers, 71-69 in Season Home Opener

Senior guard Joseph Nickerson forced overtime by making two clutch free throws with under a seond remaining in regulation.
Senior guard Joseph Nickerson forced overtime by making two clutch free throws with under a seond remaining in regulation.

WASHINGTON, DC – The University of the District of Columbia men's basketball team was narrowly defeated by non-regional foe Virginia Union, 71-69 in front of a raucous crowd for its season home opener Wednesday night at the UDC Sports Complex.

With the loss, UDC fell to 1-4 on the season while Jay Butler - the former Firebirds women's basketball coach from 2003-2015 - was victorious in his first return to UDC as his Panthers improved to 6-2 overall.

After falling behind in the middle of the 2nd half by the largest margin of the night, 56-41, the Firebirds took their first lead of the game at the 4:28 mark, 63-62, after three consecutive free-throws by senior guard Reggie Sidbury capped an exhilarating, 22-6 UDC surge. Following back-to-back lead changes, the Firebirds led 65-64 after a layup at 2:49 by senior guard Joseph Nickerson, but a jump shot by Anderson at 2:06 put the Panthers back on top for good, 66-65.

Anderson's clutch jumper ignited a 7-0 run that culminated in a three-point dagger by guard Eric Cheatham to put Virginia Union up by six, 71-65 with only 34 seconds remaining. Four consecutive free-throws by UDC senior guard Kasim Chandler closed the gap to two, 71-69, with 16 seconds remaining, and on the ensuing Virginia Union possession, UDC's senior forward Jayone Troutman would come up with a steal in the Panther backcourt with six seconds remaining. UDC's Anthony Matthews, however, was unable to convert the potential game-tying, fast-break layup, and Anderson corralled the defensive rebound with four seconds left. Two missed free-throws at the other end by Anderson gave UDC a chance for a desperation heave by Chandler, but his attempt fell way short.

Nickerson led all scorers with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field, and he also turned in a team-best eight rebounds, four assists, and one blocked shot. Sidbury pitched in with 16 points, five rebounds and two steals, Chandler was a perfect 6-of-6 at the foul line as he totaled 15 points to go with game-highs of eight assists and six steals, and Troutman also registered 12 points, four rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot.

Virginia Union was led by center John Mithcell's double-double of 16 points and game-high 12 rebounds, as he shot a perfect 8-of-8 from the field in 32 minutes of action. Guard Ray Anderson added 13 points, five assists and four rebounds, forward Tayvon Mealy registered 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals, and reserves Kory Cooley and Todd Hughes pitched in 10 points apiece. Kooley, a transfer from UDC, also added five rebounds, two assists and two steals against his former team.

The Panthers out-shot UDC 55-percent (31-of-56) to 39-percent (24-of-62) from the field and 40-percent (4-of-10) to 32-percent (8-of-25) from three-point range. They enjoyed a 41-26 rebounding advantage and out-scored the Firebirds 40-22 in the paint.

UDC managed to stay in the game by out-shooting the Panthers at the free-throw line, 87-percent (13-of-15) to 46-percent (5-of-11), and turning the ball over just 14 times compared to VUU's 24. The Firebirds turned 24 Panthers turnovers into 24 points.

Next up, the Firebirds will host their East Coast Conference season opener vs. Daemen on Saturday, December 3rd. Tip-off is at 3 p.m.