NORFOLK, VA – Top seed Howard got two free throws from reserve forward Jelani Williams with 6.1 seconds left to pull out a tough, back-and-forth 65-64 win over two-time defending champion and third-seed Norfolk State in the MEAC men’s championship game here Saturday at Scope Arena.
The nip-and-tuck battle saw the teams exchange leads 15 times and post 11 ties. It also gave Howard a three-game sweep of their season series with the two-time defending champs.
It’s the fourth overall MEAC championship for the Howard men who will receive the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. It is also the first title for the Bison since 1992, and first for fourth-year head coach Kenny Blakeney. The former DeMatha High School and Duke product has brought the Bison back to prominence after years of futility.
Howard makes the key plays down the stretch
The two free throws completed a 20-point performance by Williams, a Penn transfer. He was the only player to score in double digits for the Bison (22-12). The two charity tosses came after Norfolk State, up 64-63, threw away an inbounds pass with 13.2 seconds left. Williams was fouled by Terrance Jones on a drive in the lane.
After the free throws, NSU inbounded and dribbled to halfcourt before calling its last timeout with 4.3 seconds left. On their final play, the Spartans (22-11) got the ball inside to center Kris Bankston but his reverse layup attempt hit the underside of the rim as the horn sounded.
Three Bison starters finished with nine points, point guard Elijah Hawkins, freshman forward Shy Odom and 7-foot forward Steve Settle. Odom, who led the Bison with seven rebounds, was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Starting wing Marcus Dockery finished with just five points. He canned a big 3-pointer however with 13.2 seconds left that pulled the Bison to within 64-63 setting up the final heroics.
Dana Tate recorded 19 points and seven rebounds to lead the way for Norfolk. Two-time player of the year and back-to-back tournament MVP, senior guard Joe Bryant, tallied 18 points. Bankston, the Spartans’ all-MEAC forward, fought foul trouble all game along, finishing with six points and 3 rebounds while playing just 13 minutes.