Dowling College @ University of the District of Columbia
February 16, 2013
By the month of February, the University of the District of Columbia men’s basketball team was bruised and battered, decimated by injuries and misfortune, and unrecognizable to itself, the staff, and those who predicted a potential return trip to the NCAA East Regional.
But anyone who watched the Firebirds play their final four home games of the season saw a different UDC team than the one up to that point – perhaps the real one.
We chose to highlight the Firebirds’ 3rd straight home win in the month of February, and the 3rd of four straight home wins to end the season. The game, against East Coast Conference foe Dowling, fell on UDC Hall of Fame Weekend and was also featured as the ECC Game of the Week and web-streamed live in HD via the conference website. In stunning fashion, the Firebirds erased an 84-80 deficit with a 6-0 run in the final 41 seconds of regulation to defeat Dowling, 86-84.
District of Columbia came into this game having won two of their last three games, with both wins coming against two of the upper-tier teams in the ECC. In their most recent outing, the Firebirds completed a remarkable comeback from a 10-point deficit with under six minutes to play to beat defending ECC champions LIU Post, 83-79 at home.
Dowling, meanwhile, had also been successful of late, winning their last two consecutive games against league foes Molloy (73-53) and Roberts Wesleyan (67-61). The Golden Lions entered the game with one of the league’s most vaunted defenses, allowing just 64.3 points per-game.
The last time these two teams met was January 16th, and Dowling cruised to an 83-67 victory at Dowling Gymnasium on the strength of a 23-4 surge in the first half. Guard Darien Davis led the Golden Lions with a game-high 17 points.
The Firebirds opened the game on a 10-3 run culminating in a Michael Terry three-pointer near the 15-minute mark. They would open up an 11-point advantage (20-9) after a pair of free-throws by Terry with 12:27 left in the first half, but a 16-5 Dowling surge forced a 25-all tie with just under nine minutes to play. The Golden Lions took only their 2nd lead of the first half, 31-30 with a three-pointer by Davis at the 7:42 mark, but a pair of free-throws by Brandon Ennis put the Firebirds back in the lead to stay for the remainder of the first half. In fact, the Ennis free-throws jump-started a 10-0 Firebirds surge which put District of Columbia in front, 40-31 with just over five minutes left to play in the half. Dowling went on to score 12 of the final 19 points of the half though as the Firebirds settled for a 47-43 halftime lead.
When play resumed, the Golden Lions out-scored the Firebirds 8-4 in the first 4:14 of the second half to force the 5th tie of the game, 51-all. Dowling would take its first lead of the closing period at the 14:30 mark after a layup by Davis. Four lead changes and three ties would ensue before the Golden Lions would break a 61-61 deadlock with a 5-0 run to go up 66-61 with just under 10 minutes to play. The Firebirds would then answer with a 15-6 run which gave them a 76-72 lead at the 4:05 mark.
Ralph Watts converts an and-one layup to put the Firebirds in front to stay.
District of Columbia still led 80-76 after a three-pointer by Quasim Jones at the 1:45 mark, but an 8-0 run by Dowling, highlighted by five consecutive points from Davis, pushed the visitors ahead, 84-80 with just 41 seconds left in regulation. Jones got to the free-throw line and knocked down both with 33 seconds left to bring the Firebirds within two, 84-82. Then, following a steal by Ralph Watts on the defensive end, Watts gathered an offensive rebound off of a missed three-pointer by sophomore Florent Pontens, and converted an and-one layup to tie the score. He then got his free-throw to roll in to complete the three-point play, and put his team up, 85-84 with 25 ticks left.
Back on the defensive end, the Firebirds forced Davis to take too many steps in the paint resulting in a travelling violation and return of possession. The Golden Lions quickly fouled Terry after the inbounds pass, and Terry made the 2nd of his two free-throw attempts after missing the first to give the Firebirds an 86-84 lead with only nine seconds remaining.
On the ensuing Dowling possession, Davis tried to put up a running jump shot in the paint, but Pontens sent his shot right back with a potential game-saving block, and the Firebirds ran off the final seconds of the clock in jubilation.
After the game, Watts talked about how the Firebirds had been able to turn things around so quickly.
“I think after those string of losses to start the season and in the middle of the season, guys just started relaxing a little bit, let the game come to them, and we’re just knocking shots down,” he said.
This marked the first time of the season that District of Columbia earned back-to-back wins and helped the Firebirds improve to 5-5 at UDC Gym. They would go on to win their season finale at home as well (106-86 vs. Mercy), to finish the season 6-20 overall and 6-5 at home.
The Firebirds will begin a new era under newly appointed head coach Mike Riley in 2013-14. Among the players returning are starting back-court mates Michael Terry and Quasim Jones.