Edward Roper, who threw in a desperation 35-foot bomb as time ran out in the second overtime, hit another clutch jumper from the corner with 1:11 left in the third overtime and North Carolina Central University held on to dump Howard, 88-86, in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game last night at Burr Gymnasium.

"All year long everything has gone against us," said elated NCCU Coach Frank Silva. "We must have lost at least 10 games in the final minutes. I kept telling the fellows one of these times it has to happen in our favor. We finally got one."

Howard, which fell to a disappointing 4-5 in MEAC play and 12-10 overall, played the gracious host. The Bison led in the final minutes of regulation and in all three overtimes, but allowed the relentless Hawks, now 4-6 and 5-17, to escape every time.

A turnaround jump shot by Larry Spriggs put Howard ahead, 86-84, with two minutes to play in the third extra session. NCCU's Audwin Saunders, who had his season high of 20 points, tied the contest 20 seconds later and the Bison, for what seemed like the umpteenth time, set up for the final and hopefully winning basket.

Howard worked the ball around until Lawrence Norfleet missed with 22 seconds to play. NCCU gained control but Ronald James was called for charging and the Bison had the ball.

"We tried to give it away for the fourth time," said Silva.

The ball went inside to Spriggs, who had it slapped away just as he was about to move to the basket with nine seconds left. The Bison then fouled.

Craig Erwin missed the first of a one-and-one but Howard failed to get off a shot as Spiggs' rebound and pass was intercepted by Erwin and the Hawks were finally safe.

"We should have had the game won in the second OT. But he (Roper) hit that bomb," said Howard's Louis Wilson, who scored 10 of his 26 points in the final minutes of regulation and the overtimes. "We get ahead, then go back on defense and lag off. We didn't keep up any pressure."

Howard played little defense in the first half, allowing the visitors to fire at will. They hit 18 of 29 from the floor, six of the baskets by Robert McClellan. The Hawks enjoyed a 10-point advantage in the first half before Howard ran off a 12-1, three-minute burst to take a 37-36 lead at intermission.

NCCU, shooting what Howard Coach A. B. Williamson called "unconscious jumpers," hit five from long range, three by Saunders, to grab a 54-50 lead with 9:19 to play.

Howard then ran off an 8-0 spurt to take a 58-54 lead. Williamson ordered his troops to go into a slowdown and boom, NCCU took advantage of two turnovers and a missed Howard shot to jump ahead, 60-58.

The game see-sawed until McClellan dropped in two free throws to put the Hawks ahead, 68-64, with 20 seconds to play.

But Wilson hit two straight jumpers, the second one with two seconds left, to send the game into the first overtime.

Both teams played cautiously in the ensuing five minutes. NCCU committed four turnovers but Howard failed to capitalize. Howard's Carlton Richardson missed a 20-footer at the buzzer.

After trading baskets for the first four minutes of the second extra session, the Bison appeared in command after Gerald Gaskins sank two free throws with 18 seconds left to put the hosts ahead, 80-76.

James drove the lane to cut the deficit to two points and, following Mo Young's missed Howard free throw, Roper tightroped his way up the sideline and got his shot off just before the buzzer.

The crowd of 3,000 fell silent as the ball seemed to hang in the air before falling through the net.

"I thought the game was over," said a disappointed Williamson. "I saw double zeroes on the clock before the shot went off. We are snake-bitten. We can't seen to get any breaks."