When he had to be superb, UDC's Michael Britt was up to the task.
Britt, a 6-foot-7 senior scored 35 points and made 10 rebounds and seven assists last night as the top-ranked, defending national champion Firebirds outran St. Augustine's College, 93-88, to win the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Region championship before an ecstatic capacity crowd of 3,000 at the Van Ness Physical Activities Center.
The Firebirds, who won their 22nd straight game and 31st at home, are 27-2 and will advance to the national quarterfinals next week at a site to be determined. St. Augustine's is 22-6.
Britt had to be special last night. The other half of the UDC scoring tandem, 7-foot Earl Jones, was still bothered by a sore back and wasn't quite as mobile as usual. Jones scored 20 points and had eight rebounds but, because of his inability to move quickly, was called for four fouls in the first half and eventually fouled out.
"My back bothered me a little," Jones said. "They bumped me a lot inside. I was 100 percent psychologically and about 60 percent physically."
That left a lot of weight on Britt. He had 17 of his points in the first half of the fast-paced, shoot and chase contest everyone expected. Britt had eight points, six of them coming on three-point plays, in the final three minutes to help the hosts to a very shaky 48-44 lead at intermission.
UDC didn't get the workout Coach Wil Jones would have liked Friday night, settling for a 34-17 victory over Randolph-Macon, and knew the Falcons would be tough. The Falcons led UDC by 16 before faltering in the waning minutes and losing, 78-74, here in December.
Without Jones inside, St. Augustine's had its way. Six-foot-7 Donald Carroll (34 points, 11 rebounds) and 6-6 Mark Davis (27 points, 21 rebounds) muscled their way for one basket after another and kept the determined CIAA power in the game. Each time, UDC threatened to gain breathing room, Davis or Carroll would quiet the partisan crowd with fancy moves.
"We wanted to work inside and get Earl (Jones) in foul trouble," said Falcon Coach Harvey Heartley. "We went at him early but couldn't get him out in the second half. Britt really hurt us down the stretch."
St. Augustine's made its final run midway in the second half with both Earl and Johnny Jones having four fouls. Davis and Carroll were on a roll, cutting an 11-point deficit to a basket with seven minutes to play.
It was now time for vintage Britt. The senior made two jump shots and assisted on two baskets by James Neal to boost his team's lead to 83-74 with 1:40 to play. St. Augustine's didn't help itself, earning a technical foul, resulting in two free throws by Earl Jones and possession of the ball.
Even with that break in the action, UDC needed something more from Britt. After a Falcon turnover, Britt took a pass from Kenny Payne and dunked the ball to make it 85-74 with three minutes to play.
"Everyone tells me I should work on my jump shot," said Britt, who also had three blocks and two steals. "So, I did. They were giving me the shots and I was able to make them down the stretch. Those CIAA schools are tough, they don't quit."
Two baskets by Carroll brought the Falcons to within five points again but Britt made two more free throws and ended his captivating night with a flying, roundhouse, one-handed dunk and the Falcons were done.