By Kira Nicole Grant
The Howard University Men’s Basketball Team kicked off their 2019-2020 season winning an exhibition matchup against the Firebirds of the University of the District of Columbia, 64-54, on Friday, November 1, 2019— with the addition of the new Head Coach, Kenneth Blakeney.
The contest titled ‘Own The Night’ hosted by the Howard University Department of Athletics and the Office of the President was created to foster community engagement among the student body and local Washingtonians while promoting public safety initiatives.
Howard University President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick said, “Howard University is committed to partnering with our community neighbors to create safe places for our youth to live, play and learn,” avowing the schools’ mission to serve the community.
Bison rookies, Ian Lee (guard), Khalil Robinson (guard) and Liwayne Richardson (center) made their season debut at Burr Gymnasium in the starting lineup, along with veteran players Kyle Foster (guard) and Charles “CJ” Williams (guard).
After coming onto the court with a slow start in the first half, the Bison began to show a hopeful glimpse for men’s basketball following a box out and rebound defensive play by junior guard Kyle Foster. Going head-to-head against the Firebirds, the Bison struggled to put points on the board during the first three minutes of the contest, letting the Firebirds drop seven unanswered points. The game opened up for the Bison after sophomore guard Andre Toure drained a three-pointer, Howard’s first points of the game—shifting the momentum in favor of the Bison.
Two possessions later, senior guard CJ Williams hit a jump shot off a pick and pop, cutting the early deficit to six points—the Bison trailing 11-5. A defensive stop and rebound by Toure, led to a three-point shot by Foster, followed by a two-point field goal by Williams.
With 12 minutes remaining in the first quarter, an offensive foul charged against the Firebirds led to two technical foul shots and a possession for the Bison ending with a Toure three-pointer, his second of the night.
Toure’s three-pointer tied the game for the Bison, 15-15.
Down the stretch, a series of field goals from freshman guard Ian Lee and Williams, including another Toure three-pointer kept the Bison in the ball game as both teams began exchanging shots.
With under six minutes remaining in the first half, the Firebirds was leading the contest 26-25 until an offensive blunder led to a grand slam by 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Michael Barber, giving the Bison a 27-26 lead.
The Bison closed out the first half on top, 39-32, following a last-second tip-in by junior forward Zion Cousins.
After halftime, the Firebirds returned to the court hungry, began attacking the Bison, and dropped seven unanswered points— tying the game 39-39.
The Bison remained scoreless for the first eight minutes of the second half until freshman guard Wayne Bristol, Jr. scored two timely baskets giving the Bison their first lead of the period, 43-42. Two possessions later, Bristol Jr. scores again, increasing the lead by five points.
With under five minutes remaining in the second half, Cousins made three consecutive baskets extending the Bison lead 56-50. One possession later, Williams buried two free throws sealing the deal for Howard University.
The Bison held the Firebirds to four points during the last four minutes of the game, upsetting the club with a 64-54 win.
Men’s Basketball Manager, Sydney Johnson said, “This game’s win was definitely a great start to the season that the boys needed. The boys played really well together and were able to maintain a lead throughout the majority of the game. Even the times when they weren’t playing well or needed a little extra push, it didn’t last long. They were able to recover fast and do what they needed to do to win the game.”
“They looked great on the court, and I am hoping to see the energy, teamwork and effort in future games. This team has a lot of talent and potential, and I am excited to where the rest of the season takes them,” she continued.
The win gives the Howard University Men’s Basketball fans a glimpse of the Blakeney era. Unlike previous seasons, the Bison kicked off the season with a smaller lineup, playing “small ball” with four guards in the starting lineup —strategically putting the team at an offensive advantage for fast breaks and added space on the court. Fans can look forward to the Bison shooting more three-pointers off fast breaks, along with a new rotation coming off of the bench since Foster is currently in the starting lineup.