The University of the District of Columbia led virtually from start to finish last night in defeating Sacred Heart, 71-62, in the Firebirds' season opener before 1,800 at the Van Ness Physical Activities Center.

It was a solid, if unspectacular performance for the Firebirds, who are ranked among the nation's top Division II teams in most preseason polls. They played inconsistently in spots, and Coach Wil Jones used several different lineups while searching for the right unit.

"I was a little apprehensive about this one -- this being our first game, because they haven't really had a chance to play together," said Jones. ". . . They weren't in sync, but when they did what they were supposed to, they were all right."

The Pioneers closed to within 26-24 in the closing moments of the first half, but senior guard Lyndon DeBellotte (team-high 18 points) scored the Firebirds' last seven points to give them a 35-29 halftime lead.

With 14 minutes to play, and leading by 44-41, the Firebirds found a successful combination and started a key run. Receiving scoring from several sources, most notably junior guard Antonio Harris (15 points) and junior forward Richard McLean (12), the Firebirds outscored the visitors from Hamden, Conn., 20-8, over the next 11 minutes.

Harris hit a reverse layup on a fast break, then a three-pointer to make it, 62-48. After Sacred Heart made a free throw, McLean hit a turnaround jumper in the lane to make the score 64-49 and give the Firebirds their largest lead.

During that stretch, UDC was able to quicken the tempo and force Sacred Heart to rush some shots. For the game, the Pioneers made just 20 of 60 shots (33 percent). UDC was slightly better at 40 percent (28 of 69). Sacred Heart competed surprisingly well on the boards against the taller, quicker Firebirds, trailing just 48-47. The Pioneers received a strong inside effort from forward Tony Judkins, who made 12 of 14 free throws and scored a game-high 22 points and had nine rebounds.SACRED HEART Min FDG FT R A PF T Judkins 32 5-14 12-14 9 2 4 22 Linley 31 3-11 0-0 4 1 1 8 Smith 24 1-7 2-3 3 2 4

Halftime: UDC, 35-29.

Three point goals: Sacred Heart 3-5 (Linley 2-3, Pettway 1-2); UDC: 4-16 (DeBellotte 2-6, Middleton 0-1, Ha

A: 1,800