Freshman Howard Bison guard Elijah Hawkins (3) tallied 12 points and five assists in Howard's loss to Notre Dame in the MLK Classic on Jan. 17. (Photo by Yusuf Abdullah)
Freshman Howard Bison guard Elijah Hawkins (3) tallied 12 points and five assists in Howard's loss to Notre Dame in the MLK Classic on Jan. 17. (Photo by Yusuf Abdullah)

The final score read: Notre Dame 71, Howard University 68. And while it was a gratifying win for the Fighting Irish and a disappointing setback for the underdog Bison, there really was no loser. 

The game, billed as a historic event in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, proved to be secondary to all the other events, which was featured before a live national TV audience. 

“The best thing you can say is that we escaped,” said Norte Dame Coach Mike Brey who hails from the DMV area and graduated from DeMatha Catholic High School. 

“But to see the importance of honoring Dr. King and his contributions and being here on the campus at Howard University was an experience that these young men will never forget,” he said. 

Howard head coach Kenny Blakeney echoed Brey’s sentiments.  

“It was historic to host Notre Dame,” he said. “We wanted to win the game because it would have been huge for our program but there were no losers. I would say most of the student athletes on the Notre Dame team have never been on a HBCU campus. Coach Brey is to be commended for bringing his team to Howard because 99 percent of Power 5 schools won’t come to Burr Gymnasium.” 

FoxSports, with the encouragement of HU alum and broadcaster Gus Johnson, along with Brey and Blakeney, brought the rescheduled game to Howard’s campus. And the atmosphere proved to be electric with a nearly full house and live entertainment from the HU Showtime Marching Band, the cheerleaders, the Ooh La La Dancers and a DJ.

The game would be tightly contested with the Fighting Irish from the ACC the heavy favorites over the Bison from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Notre Dame played its fourth game in seven days while Howard (6-8) sought to rebound from a tough 71-68 home loss to Norfolk State on Saturday after a three-week hiatus. 

The Fighting Irish held a 31-30 lead at the half, building a 12-point lead with less than eight minutes in the second half. But the resilient Bison clawed their way back on the scoring of sophomore guard Steve Settle III, senior guard Kyle Foster and freshman guard Elijah Hawkins.

Settle, who is 6-10 and shows signs of becoming a special player for the Bison, added seven rebounds and three steals. 

“I’m really proud of Steve,” said Blakeney, who like Blakeney prepped at DeMatha. “When he defends, rebounds and scores, his all-around game shines. He’s bought in and I’m extremely proud of him.”

Foster, a 6-5 senior from Virginia and one of the top three-point shooters in the country, finished with 12 points and contributed several big shots during the second-half run.

Hawkins, a 5-10 freshman guard, who also played at DeMatha, spurred the comeback, tallying five assists and three steals. He counts as one of the nation’s leaders in steals.

But the veteran Fighting Irish got a late basket to extend their lead to three with just seconds remaining. A long Hawkins three-point attempt fell just short as Notre Dame avoided the upset.

“It was a really tough game for us,” said Brey in his postgame interview. “They did a lot of things that forced changes in some of the things that we want to do. We escaped.”

Blakeney, in his third season at the helm, said, “We are in the process of building this program. We have had some close calls this year and have yet to get to where we want to be. But I am proud of the effort that we showed and I am confident we will continue to grow in this process.”

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