It was no work of art, but it was Howard 84, North Carolina Central 70 and it put the Bison in the championship game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball tournament.
From the first minute, action was almost as wild-and-woolly as the last minute of those one-sided games that players dub "garbage time." If this was 40 minutes of garbage time, though, it was sweet-smelling refuse for Howard.
Just as sweet for the Bison as Morgan State's 77-76 conquest of regular-season champion South Carolina was to the Bears in the opener of tonight's semifinal doubleheader.
"We didn't have the zip and zap. We looked like we needed sleep, lots of it," said Howard coach A.B. Williamson, but he was grinning - even at the prospect of sending his 18-9 team into Saturday's 9 p.m. final against a Morgan squad that has been his archnemesis.
"I'll steal away into the night with this win," said Williamson. "We should have no trouble putting on a show for the people against Morgan. We have something to repay them for."
Morgan is the only MEAC team that Williamson has never beaten in his two years at Howard. Twice this year the Bison blew leads to the Bears of Baltimore in the last three minutes, and lost by two and four points.
Howard led wire to wire tonight and was never really in danger from a 13-15 NCCU team that missed 27 of its first 36 shots and fell behind by 17 points.
The victorious Bison were in a mood for self-flagellation afterward. Guard Gerald (Tub) Gaskins, who could have taken pride in his nine assists and dozen hustling steals or deflections on defense, instead said, "I did a lot of dumb things on offense, like calling the same play four straight times."
"Tub better get his fanny to bed tonight," said Williamson, spotting his eavesdropping 5-9 playmaker. "You hear me. Waterhead. Go to bed."
Howard is a team that has been known to have a good time off the court, and among those known to have the very best of times are Gaskins and fellow guard David (Hollywood) Whitehead. Tonight they were partners in their backcourt misdemeanors with deadeye Whitehead shooting a lowly two for 12. Hollywood was jumping about two inches on his jump shot," said Williamson.
Fortunately Howard's front court was ferocious, atoning for a score of careless Bison errors with blocked shots and offensive rebounds.
Gerald Glover looked annoyed with himself all night for butchering three straight free throws, but he seldom missed in a 12-for-16 field shooting performance that included a half-dozen spinning, improvisational buckets from the lane. His 25-point, all-rebound night was, if anything, more economical and destructive than his 25-point, 11-rebound show against North Carolina A&T the night before.
Dorian Dent echoed the we-can-do-better sentiment, downplaying his 33 rebounds and four blocked shots by saying, "We never really got out heads in the game. We were just wide open and nonchalant."
The more wide open the tempo, the better Howard liked it. Supersub John Smith grumbled that it took him four hours after Thursday's game to "come down enough to sleep," and there was Williamson calling for a 10 a.m. Friday workout. But if the Bison morning practice (for the second straight day before a game), dulled Howard's edge, it certainly helped break Centra's press.
That fullcourt zone trap was about all Central had in its corner in the team's regular-season meetings, the first of which Central won, 91-90, before losing by a dozen in the rematch.