The Howard University men’s basketball team has done what no other HU team has in nearly 40 years: win the regular-season conference title outright.
In one of the team’s most dominant performances in recent memory, the Bison defeated Norfolk State 87-67 on Thursday in Burr Gymnasium to claim the title and the top seed in the upcoming Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament in Norfolk, Va.
Howard opens postseason play in the MEAC tournament on Wednesday when it takes on eighth-seeded South Carolina State at 6 p.m. in the Norfolk Scope.
A win would advance them to the semifinal round on Friday, with the championship game on Saturday. The tournament winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Bison made its last appearance in the NCAA tournament in the 1991-92 season, when it won the MEAC tournament after finishing as regular-season co-champions with North Carolina A&T with a 12-4 record. The team’s last outright regular-season conference title came in 1986-87 when it went 13-1 in the MEAC en route to a school-best 24-4 overall record.
This year’s team (19-12, 11-3 MEAC), picked to finish third overall in the preseason predictions, finished off their surprising season in style Thursday, jumping out to an early lead and never looking back. The start featured a sizzling 61 percent shooting performance from the three-point line in the first 20 minutes. Using its two-platoon system of five starters and a second five off the bench, the Bison spread the minutes and the scoring as nine different players scored.
Howard came into the game averaging 85 points over its past 11 games. Sharpshooters sophomore guard Marcus Dockery (Washington, D.C.) and junior forward Jordan Wood each scored 12 points on a combined 8 of 12 shooting from the three-point line.
But as important as their contributions were to the win, it was the Bison reserves who did most of the damage. Sophomore guard and forward Bryce Harris had a career game tallying a career- and game-high 22 points on 9 of 11 shooting from the floor.
Senior guard Kahlil Robinson, a onetime starter, chipped in with 10 points, four assists and zero turnovers in 17 minutes of productive play. The Bison bench combined for 32 of the team’s point total.
“We knew from the start that it would be important to start fast and set the tone,” said Harris, who added a game-high 10 rebounds for a double-double. “We have been pushing toward this all season. To think that we are a part of something as special as being the first in 30-plus years makes it even more gratifying.”
Others who contributed to the team effort were sophomore guard Elijah Hawkins (9 points, 5 assists), redshirt junior forward Steve Settle III (7 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) and graduate guard Jelani Williams.
A transfer from the University of Pennsylvania, Williams has been the leader of the team and has played a huge part in the team’s success in a number of games that came down to the end.
“When I decided to transfer here, I was aware of the returning talents and some of the players who were coming in,” says Williams, who attended Sidwell Friends High School in Washington, D.C. “There was no doubt in my mind that we could accomplish and be a part of something special. When you realize what it means to the program overall and to the many alums, former athletes and supporters celebrating this moment, it makes it even more special.”
The architect of it all is Howard head coach Kenneth Blakeney, who is in his fourth season.
“I am just so proud of these young men who have worked hard to achieve this accomplishment,” Blakeney said. “The players, coaches, support staff and the administration all played a part in this. I am so happy for the Bison Nation, which had to wait for this special moment.”