Although the Howard men’s basketball team couldn’t pull out the victory against the James Madison University Dukes, they came out of the game knowing what they need to improve upon for their upcoming stint in the Virgin Islands for the “Paradise Jam.”
The final score against James Madison University was 95-69. The Bison started the game with a few careless mistakes but calmed JMU’s early momentum with a jumper by Bryce Harris two minutes into the game. The Bison kept the game within reach throughout the first half, going into halftime trailing 43-31. “I think they’re coming out really strong, just really high energy from the team. I think they’re playing a really competitive game so far,” said Shalon McNeal, a sophomore health science major at Howard University.
The Bison were able to carry the same high energy into the second half. However, JMU came out of the locker room with a barrage of three-pointers in the first ten minutes of the period, and the team was never quite able to recover. The Howard Bison’s top performers were Elijah Hawkins, who finished the game with 18 points and eight assists; Steve Settle III, who notched 16 points and Bryce Harris, who added 10 points and four rebounds.
Howard men’s basketball head coach, Kenneth Blakeney, spoke to The Hilltop about his biggest takeaway from the game, saying “I don’t think we have an identity right now. You know, when you watch James Madison play, and you play against them, they have an identity. When you watch Kentucky play, they have an identity… we have to formulate an identity of who we are and who we are going to be, and right now, we’re just not there yet.”
The Bison had a great opportunity to find their identity in their most recent tournament, which took place outside of U.S. borders. The team traveled to St.Thomas,Virgin Islands last week to play in the “Paradise Jam”, featuring six other teams.The tournament was a good test for the team. Due to the style of this tournament, the Bison went in knowing that they would have to win to move on, and many of the teams in the tournament are predominantly white institutions (PWIs) known for their basketball programs. Howard University guard Bryce Harris spoke to the Hilltop ahead of the tournament about Howard’s mission going into this setting.
“A statement that we’re always going to make, and one we’re trying to make the whole season. That we can create a winning culture here, you know, bring back some hardwood for the trophy case and show that we’re here and that we are a really good basketball team,” Harris said.
Outside of on-court play, the trip to the Virgin Islands will also allow the team to continue to grow their chemistry. The Bison were already able to participate in a “Feeding the Caribbean” community event, where they worked as a unit to give back to the St. Thomas community. The team placed an emphasis on soaking up this experience as much as they could, with a rare opportunity to travel outside of U.S. borders with the people they go to battle with everyday.
“Honestly, I’m just not going to take this opportunity for granted. I feel like being here is a once in a lifetime experience. Hopefully I’ll be able to experience this again with this group of guys that I love so much in terms of, off the court and not even basketball wise. I mean, these people are just great. Being able to experience this and have this milestone even without it being basketball related, is just exceptional. And so to be honest, I’m just happy to be here,” Harris said.
Howard experienced highs and lows throughout their three game showcase in the Virgin Islands. They flashed potential and stayed competitive, but walked away with an overall losing record (1-2). The Bison opened the tournament against the University of Wyoming, where they fought hard but came out on the losing side with a final score of 78-71. However, they were able to bounce back against the University of Buffalo, winning 69-63. Freshman forward Shyheim Odom was able to contribute a career-high of 14 points. The Bison then closed the tournament with a game against Belmont University, where Belmont came out on top with the final score being 96-73.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee