The Howard University men’s basketball team has been on fire.  The Bison (16-10, 8-1 MEAC) extended its current win streak to eight following an impressive 78-69 win over the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) on Monday, Feb. 13 before another raucous crowd in Burr Gymnasium.  The win gave Howard sole possession of first place in the conference and avenged an earlier loss to UMES on Jan. 9 for their only conference loss of the season.

Howard head coach Kenneth Blakeney talks to Elijah Hawkins (3) and Marcus Dockery (0) during Howard’s win over UMES.

Howard employed the same formula it has used during the current stretch, jumping out to an early lead and then keeping the pressure on with its frenetic attack and depth.  It resulted in an early 18-point lead before finally settling for a 42-39 advantage at the half.  

With its sophomore point guard extraordinaire, Elijah Hawkins (DeMatha High) leading the pace, with his ability to impact the game with his deft passing and scoring, the Bison were no match for the Hawks (14-10, 6-3 in the MEAC), who like the Bison, are having one of their best seasons in recent history.

While Hawkins is often the catalyst for the Howard success, there is an impressive supporting cast that Head Coach Kenneth Blakeney has assembled.  Sophomore guard Marcus Dockery (13 points) and junior forward Jordan Wood (13 points) are both long-range shooters who keep defenses honest when Hawkins (16 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) finds them for open shots.

Dockery is also one of five players on the team, along with Head Coach Blakeney, Assistant Coach Tyler Thornton and Assistant Head Coach Rod Balanis, who have ties to the DMV.

Red-shirt junior forward Steve Settle, III  an alum of DeMatha (8 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) brings the same consistency to the court each night with his versatility.  Add to the mix, freshman forward Shy Odom (12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists in 17 minutes), who has become one of the top post players at the Hilltop. He is a shoo-in for MEAC Rookie of the Year.

That is only part of the reason for the success:  the Bison bench has not only played minutes as reserves for the starters, they maintain a high level of play with their various skills.  Junior guards Khalil Robinson and Thomas Weaver, senior center Kobe Dickson, sophomore guard Bryce Harris and graduate guard Jelani Williams, who performed at a high level, averaging over 85 points in the past 10 games.

“I like to think of them (the second unit) as a starting five,” said Coach Blakeney, when asked about the role that they play.  “It is certainly a luxury.  That is the culture that we are trying to build here at Howard.  In order to be effective in the pressing, fast-paced style that we play, we have to have depth and not just depth in terms of number, but quality depth of players who fit into the system and are productive.”

None could be more effective in that role than Williams, the transfer from the University of Penn and an alumnus of Sidwell Friends High School here in the District of Columbia.

In the road win over defending champions Norfolk State, it was Williams, who brought his team back, converting on two three-point plays to bring his team back and tie the game and then convert a key free throw that proved to be the difference.  Then in Saturday’s barnburner at Delaware State, it was Williams who scored seven of the team’s last nine points, including the game-winning basket in overtime that gave Howard a hard-fought win.

“I see my role as a leader on this team,” says Williams.  “When I come off the bench, I’m looking to give a spark or do what it takes to help us be successful.”

Howard now has five games remaining in the regular season before the MEAC Tournament gets underway in Norfolk, Va, March 8-11.  The tournament winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

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