UDC, a team of fast-break artists with a 95 points-per-game average, proved last night that it can also slow the tempo.
The Firebirds went to a delay game in the final five minutes and held off Virginia Union, 83-77, for its 19th straight victory, before a capacity crowd of 3,000 at the Van Ness Physical Activities Center.
The top-ranked team in Division II, UDC (23-2), playing its usual style of breakneck basketball, led the 13th-ranked Panthers (20-7) by as many as 14 points in the second half. Earl Jones (23 points, 10 rebounds) scored six points and Johnny Jones (15) had four as the Firebirds outscored Union, 15-8, over a six-minute period to take what appeared to be a comfortable 64-50 lead with 12 minutes to play.
But UDC grew complacent and Union, which had beaten UDC, 68-66, 20 games ago, got an outstanding effort from 6-foot-8 forward Charles Oakley and rallied. The Firebirds went to a spread game and Union, in foul trouble, had no choice but to play man to man.
"They were in foul trouble and we wanted to bring them out," said UDC Coach Wil Jones.
"We were trying to spread it out and get the ball to Earl (Jones) in the middle," said Kenny Payne (13 points), whose outside shooting kept the Firebirds ahead in the second half. "We wanted to get a good shot across the middle."
The strategy worked. It slowed Union's momentum and stymied Oakley, who finished with 26 points and 16 rebounds. He had 12 of his team's 18 points in one stretch, including four straight free throws to pull them within 76-73 with 1:52 to play.
Union disputed a blocking call on Tony Singleton, who appeared to have position on Payne, who was driving the lane. Payne made the first of a one-and-one free throw situation to make it 77-73 with 1:44 to play.
UDC reserve James Neal then slapped the ball away from Oakley under the UDC basket and put in a layup to give the hosts a six-point advantage with just over a minute to play.
"I was proud of the kids for hanging in there," Union Coach Dave Robbins said. "Oakley played very well."
Oakley said, "We could have won had we got a few calls."
Union was called for 22 personal fouls, one more than UDC.
Both teams ran at will in the first half. Michael Britt had three flying dunks and Jones had nine points as the Firebirds built a 46-34 lead at the half.