By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
With two weeks left in the regular season, teams are hoping to peak and ride the momentum into the conference tournaments that will set them up for a potential postseason championship run. However, inconsistency and schizophrenia continue to mark the HBCU teams from the D.M.V. as Howard and Bowie State ended their home schedules on different ends of the spectrum heading toward the MEAC and CIAA Tournaments.
The schizophrenic nature of the Howard Bison appeared over once they recovered from the melee’ after their loss to Norfolk St. Despite playing without their head coach Kevin Nickelberry and three players, they beat Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference chase.
Nickelberry was suspended by the University for his role in the altercation that followed the loss to the Spartans on February 2. The Howard coach was reportedly seen being restrained from a Norfolk St. player after they blew a 24-point lead in a gut wrenching 80-78 loss. Princewill Anosike, Jalen Jones and Andre Toure of Howard were also suspended for violating MEAC’s policy “concerning the role of student-athletes and sportsmanship”.
Despite a penchant for falling behind by double digits in Tallahassee and Daytona Beach, Howard rallied for a 70-66 win at FAMU and a 79-73 victory at Bethune Cookman. Preseason MEAC Player of the Year R. J. Cole earned the conference player of the week award by averaging 26.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in victories on the Florida road trip. He scored 32 points with six rebounds and six assists against the Wildcats after scoring 20 points during their win over the Rattlers.
The Bison’s alter ego relapse occurred once Nickelberry and the trio returned for home games at Burr gymnasium against NCA&T and N.C. Central. They blew two critical homers by missing 14 of 36 free throws against the Aggies when they fell 85-81 on alumni day. Defensive wasn’t an option when the Eagles spoiled senior night 98-91. Cole finished with a team-high 26 points, five assists, and four rebounds.
Meanwhile, Bowie State rolled off four straight wins following their home loss to Virginia State. The Bulldogs are developing a way to win close games by making plays that win games when they are on the line, which coincides with their rise in the standings.
Junior Saiquan Jamison tipped in the winning basket with 3.2 seconds left in double overtime for a win at Elizabeth City State. That jolt seemed to inspire them while positioning for a run at a double bye to open the CIAA Tournament.
“We needed this win like we need air”, said Bowie State Head Coach Darrell Brooks. “I thought our guys were resilient, played together, which was evident from the start and it’s fitting the league’s leading rebounder won the game for us.”
In their next game, junior David Belle drilled a 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds remaining in the game to lift BSU to another nail biting win over Lincoln (Pa.) University Lions 79-78 in Philadelphia.
Jamison then added another tip-in as time expired as the Bulldogs got one back with a massive 64-62 road win at Virginia Union. When the Panthers visited Jordan Arena earlier this season, they manhandled Bowie St. but Jamison’s tip may prove to be the signature moment of the season.
The Bulldogs then used pressure defense to force a Chowan miscue and made free throws to seal a 68-66 home finale victory over the visiting Hawks. The Bulldogs improved 16-10 overall, 12-3 in the CIAA, and 6-2 in the north division with a chance to get redemption at Virginia State before heading to Charlotte.