The Bison are going dancing! For the first time since 1992, the Howard University men’s basketball team won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament in a thriller against the Norfolk State Spartans.
As he drained a pair of free throws with six seconds in the second half remaining, combo guard Jelani Williams put the Bison up 65-64. A timeout by Norfolk State with four seconds on the clock stopped the hearts of every fan in attendance, at home, and in their dorms. The Bison, however, remained calm and collected as they knew four seconds of focus and execution would cement their place among the best teams in the school’s history.
A Spartan inbound to Kris Bankston, a Bankston drive, a Bankston miss, a Bison rebound… time expires… a Spartan defeat.
The Bison cut down the nets after trekking down a grueling path to the conference championship. Their regular season MEAC title, coupled with their triumph in Norfolk against the Spartans in the championship game, left no room for debate regarding the MEAC’s outright champion.
The contest was a true battle of will, as both teams looked across center court with the intent to conquer the opponent who was out to crush their basketball family’s dreams and render their season a failure in the scope of championship-or-bust.
The one-seeded Bison and the three-seeded Spartans had met twice in the regular season, where both contests were won by Howard. This last contest would be the lowest-scoring affair in the season series, showing the heightened sense of intensity that both teams brought to this high-stakes matchup.
On the court, the Bison were led by freshman standout Shyheim Odom who was named Most Outstanding Performer for his efforts in the contest. Odom tallied nine points, seven rebounds, and a block while anchoring his team defensively. However, the game was brought home by timely plays from Howard’s guards. A clutch three-pointer from sophomore guard Marcus Dockery with 13 seconds to play brought Howard within one point of the Spartans to set up Williams’ game-winning free throws. Williams tallied a game-high 20 points in the win.
After the win, Williams couldn’t help but hark back to the reason that he set out on this journey with the Bison, saying, “The opportunity to come back home and be around my family and do something that hasn’t been done in almost 40 years. For me, it was about legacy.”
Making the tournament has always been a goal of Howard men’s basketball head coach Kenneth Blakeney. In what has felt like a magical season for the Bison where they started the year with loads of support from their new sponsor, Jordan Brand, the long-prophesied turning around of the program looks to have finally come to fruition. Seeing his mission completed, Blakeney was overwhelmed.
“What a battle… I’m a little speechless. This is surreal for me,” Blakeney said after coaching his team to a win that would earn him the tournament’s Most Outstanding Coach honors. “This is four years of just head down and grinding,” he added.
As Howard University athletics continues to make noise in the NCAA, this feat will bring another wave of the spotlight to the program and pride to the Bison faithful. College basketball pundits will be forced to look closely at Howard’s program to assess their chances in the big dance while they look to form a perfect bracket. The Bison will once again be on national television and be able to test their mettle against other elite competition.
Howard University senior and student-athlete advisory committee member, Richard Ninamou, attended the game and was also excited by the result. “Looking back four years ago and seeing how long we’ve come from winning just four games, it was truly history in the making – accomplishing something that hasn’t been done since 1992,” Ninamou said.
“For Howard fans, it was almost a sense of relief and excitement,” he said. “The curse has been broken!”
The Bison are set to play the one seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the first round of the NCAA tournament where they’ll be heavy underdogs as the sixteen seed.
Copy edited by Alana Matthew