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The 2022-23 season has been a season to remember for the Howard University men’s basketball program: First MEAC regular season and tournament title in 31 years; second-most wins in a season since becoming a Division I program and several postseason individual and team honors.
The icing on the cake was the automatic bid to the Big Dance, the NCAA Tournament. But it would all end there as the Bison fell, 96-68 to the University of Kansas in the opening round of the tournament in Des Moines, Iowa on March 16.
Playing before its largest crowd of almost 17,000, Howard came confident against the heavily favored number three seed and went toe-to-toe against the Jayhawks. The Bison actually took a brief 35-33 lead, but then Kansas, using its talent and depth, embarked on a 17-4 run that opened a decisive lead at halftime that all but put the game away.
“The thing you learn about getting a lead in a game like this is that you can’t get too high or too low because there is still a lot of game to go,” said Howard Head Coach Kenneth Blakeney in the postgame press conference. “I thought they did a great job making some adjustments in their game and we were not able to recover.”
One of the keys to the Bison getting here was the outstanding play of freshman forward Shyheim Odom, a 6-7 native of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. This talented first-year player led his team with 15 points and seven rebounds.
“I think that as a team, we learned a lot from this experience,” said Odom, the MEAC Rookie of the Year and MEAC Tournament MVP, a rarity. “We left a lot of points on the table with missed free throws and turnovers and second chance opportunities. You just can’t do that against a team like them.”
The experience is not something that will soon be forgotten for the Bison faithful. The electric atmosphere, the raucous fans and playing before a national TV audience are things that cannot be duplicated. And again, although the team did not come out victorious, there were some positive takeaways.
In addition to Odom, Settle contributed 13 points, sophomore guard Marcus Dockery tallied 12 and sophomore guard Elijah Hawkins, a first-team All-MEAC selection and one of the top point guards in the country scored 12 points and dished out 8 assists.
“I am so proud of this group and what they have done for this program,” reflected Blakeney, the MEAC Coach of the Year and Finalist for the Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year. “They did a lot for this program and for the Howard brand. When you look at the exposure the program received as a result of this, it is something special. We got a chance to showcase our University as one of the best in the world.”
Among the Bison supporters were renowned actor Ving Rhames, whose son Freedom is a member of the team, and none other than the Vice President of the United States and HU alum Kamala Harris, who made the trip to Iowa.
“Her coming into the locker room after the game to talk to us, was not something we envisioned,” said Howard redshirt junior forward Steve Settle III. “She talked to us about how although we were not victorious on the court today, we were winners in representing Howard University and the Howard community.”
Odom noted the moment felt particularly special knowing the vice president took notice and cared about the team, win or lose.
“That was very special to have someone of her stature come and provide encouragement in that situation. It meant a lot to the team. To tell us how proud she was of us is something that we will never forget.”
The future appears bright for the Howard program. All five starters return next season along with two key reserves.
“This is without a doubt a great accomplishment,” noted Blakeney. “Winning is hard and getting back to this point again is a challenge. Moving forward, we will try to build on what we have here and try and get back to this.”