WASHINGTON, D.C.—Howard University Sophomore guard Brandon Ford came off the bench to score a team-high 13 points Feb. 3 against Savannah State. But it was not enough to overcome 16 second half points by Savannah State senior forward Rashad Hassan as Howard University fell 52-42 to the Savannah State Tigers in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) men's game at Burr Gymnasium.
The first half featured some tight defense by both teams as neither was able to get any kind of offensive flow. Howard senior forward Mike Phillips came out of a four-game slump by tallying eight of his 11 points in the half while Ford chipped in with five. Hassan led all scorers with nine as the game was deadlocked at 22 at the half.
"We played great defense in the first half," said Howard head coach Kevin Nickelberry. "In the second half, Hassan took over. There is a reason he is the pre-season Player of the Year. In the MEAC, you win with players like that. In games like this, you need that one guy to take over and he was that guy," he said.
But the sparkling play of Hassan was not the complete story for Howard. Bison sophomore point guard Simuel Frazier, the team's second leading scorer and leader in assists, was injured just before the half and did not return. The early diagnosis, according Nickelberry, is a grade 2 sprained/tear of the right hamstring. He could be out anywhere from three to six weeks.
"Obviously, we did not practice without a point guard," said Nickelberry. "He was the only point guard on the roster. When he went out, it changed the flow of the game. I thought we were well prepared. Losing Sim Frazier hurt on the offensive end, but I thought defensively, we were not that bad."
Despite not having their floor general, the Bison started the second half with a 6-0 run to take a 28-22 lead at the 18:15 mark. Junior forward/center Alphonso Leary scored a basket, Ford converted on a three-point play and junior guard Tre Lee connected on one of two free throws during the run.
From there, Howard was able to keep Savannah State at arms' length for a while as Leary and Ford combined to pace the wounded Bison, who have now lost four players to injuries this season, including leading scorer and senior guard Calvin Thompson.
And if the loss of Frazier was not enough for the snake-bitten Bison, their problems were compounded when both post players, 6-9 sophomore forward/center Theodore Boyomo and 6-11 Leary, got into foul trouble, opening the door for Hassan, who missed only one shot in the second half and knocked down all seven of his free throw attempts.
The pivotal point came when senior guard Preston Blackman nailed a three pointer to tie the game and then scored on a breakaway layup to give the Tigers the lead at 38-36. The Bison managed to tie the game at 38 on a Phillips' jumper, but Hassan and Blackman took over from there and led a 10-0 run over a seven minute stretch to open the game's biggest lead at 10. During that spurt, Howard Coach Nickelberry was hit with a technical foul and was ejected with 2:34 left.
"It was time for me to leave," explained Nickelberry. "I had these guys (Howard players) backs and I wanted to make sure that they knew that."
In addition to Ford's team-high 13, Phillips chipped-in with 11 while Leary added six points, a game-high 8 rebounds and three blocked shots before fouling out.
Lee, who normally plays the off-guard and small forward positions, was thrust into the point guard role and he finished with five points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in 33 minutes.
"Tre Lee did a heck of a job in a tough situation," noted Nickelberry. "He didn't know what he was going to have to do in this game coming in. He adjusted and did a great job."
The loss was the sixth straight for the Bison (4-18, 1-7 in the MEAC) while the Tigers (12-9, 6-1 in the MEAC) won their seventh in a row.
The Bison will try to snap this current losing skid when they host the South Carolina State Bulldogs on Feb. 4 at 7:30 pm in the Burr. The Bulldogs have lost 11 straight and have not won a conference game this season.