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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Firebirds Push Past Queens, 77-68; Advance to ECC Championship

March 6, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – Junior guard Telisha Turner scored 29 points and junior forward Denikka Brent registered 17 points and 12 rebounds as the two First Team All-East Coast Conference selections led the University of the District of Columbia to a 77-68 ECC semifinal victory over Queens in the nation's capital Thursday night and a berth in the program's first ever ECC Tournament Finals.
The No. 2 seeded Firebirds (20-7) overcame a slow start that saw them fall behind by as many as 16 midway through the first half, as they advance to play No. 1 seed LIU Post on the Pioneers' home floor Saturday at 5 p.m. after their 85-66 semifinal victory over No. 4 seed NYIT tonight. The Knights, ranked No. 9 in yesterday's East Region poll, end the season with a record of 20-8.
With the Firebirds trailing 25-9 nearing the 10-minute mark of the first half, Brent (Mechanical Engineering – Chesapeake, VA/Booker T. Washington HS) and Turner (Criminal Justice – Wilmington, DE/Harcum) teamed up to bring the Firebirds back in the game with an 11-0 run. The run included two layups by Brent and culminated in a three-pointer by Turner which brought UDC within five, 25-20. After Queens responded with a 5-0 run to up its lead to 10, sophomore guardShantrel Oliver (History – Columbia, MD/River Hill HS) knocked down two consecutive mid-range jumpers followed by a three-point bomb during an 11-2 Firebirds run to make it a two-point game, 33-31. Oliver and Brent each finished the first half with nine points while Turner led all Firebirds with 18, including the final two baskets which helped UDC snag the lead (39-38) and momentum.
With that momentum and a packed house of supportive UDC fans, the Firebirds would out-score the Knights 15-7 in the first six minutes and take their largest lead of the night, 54-45 after a layup by Oliver. The Firebirds would struggle offensively for the next six minutes, however, as the Knights came charging back with a 14-4 run to take a 59-58 lead just before the eight minute mark.
Once again, Turner and Brent answered the call for UDC as Turner converted an acrobatic layup and Brent drained a running jumper in the paint in back-to-back Firebird possessions. Then it was veteran senior point guard Teara Shaw (Health Education – Bronx, NY/Indian River State) burying two consecutive, clutch, mid-range jump-shots  to conclude an exhilarating 8-0 Firebirds surge, which put UDC ahead, comfortably, by seven, 66-59.
UDC went on to ice the game with 6-of-10 made free-throws in the final two minutes, winning by its largest margin of the night, 77-68.
Unsung heroes Oliver and Shaw finished with 14 and 10 points, respectively while Oliver also added five rebounds and Shaw dished out four assists.
The Firebirds had a clear rebounding edge, winning the battle 42-31, which resulted in 14 more shot attempts on the night. They also shot slightly better from the field (46-percent to 45-percent) and from three-point range (33-percent to 23-percent). After allowing Queens 14 points off of 10 turnovers in the first half, the Firebirds committed only eight turnovers in the second half while turning 11 second half Queens' miscues into 13 points.
With tonight's win, the Firebirds earned the program's sixth 20-win season and the 4th under head coach Lester Butler, Jr. The Firebirds also finished the season 11-0 on its home floor vs. conference opponents.
UDC, ranked No. 7 in the final East Region poll released yesterday, can earn the ECC's automatic NCAA Tournament bid with a win in Saturday's ECC Final matchup vs. top-seed LIU Post.
The Pioneers are ranked No. 2 in the East Region and have won their last 10 consecutive games. They are also 12-1 at home this season, including an 11-0 mark vs. ECC foes. The Firebirds and Pioneers split games this season with each team winning on its home floor.

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