When Howard relives tonight's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship, the Bison will need to travel no further than 15 feet down Memory Lane.
The Bison's nightmarish performance at the free-throw line in the second half doomed them to their fourth bridesmaid's status in as many MEAC finals after North Carolina A&T escaped with a 48-46 victory.
"Our free-throw shooting has been a problem all year," said Bison Coach A. B. Williamson. "There can't be anybody in the nation who practices them as much as us. It's just a matter of believing in yourself and confidence on the free-throw line."
Howard missed five straight free throws in a six-minute span halfway through the second half, failing three times to convert the front end of one and ones. Guard Gerald Gaskins and Carlton Richardson, the Bison's best charity shooters, each missed the first of a bonus.
"Some years we have a team that makes the clutch ones and some years we don't," said Williamson. "It might have been a matter of wanting it too much, not being relaxed enough."
The miserable showing at the line was doubly costly for the Bison, which ended its season at 16-12, since A&T was not blistering the nets, either, during that span. The Aggies, with second-and third-leading scorers Joe Brawner an L. J. Pipkin, respectively, benched with four fouls each and No. 1 point-producer James (Bird) Sparrow playing with four, were tentatively ineffectual on offense.
But A&T managed to cling to a 43-38 lead for five minutes until tournament MVP Larry Spriggs sank a layup with 2:18 left to end a sevenminute Bison scoring drought.
Howard's scrambling trap press forced the Aggies (20-7) into two straight turnovers. Spriggs missed after the first but guard Moe Young put in a running bank shot after the second to reduce the deficit to 43-42 with 1:17 left.
Bison sub Andre Byrd then committed an inopportune foul that resulted in Brawner sinking one of two free throws to make it 44-42 five seconds later.
Byrd redeemed himself by assisting on Dorian Dent's tying bucket seconds later. Then Spriggs was cited for a reaching foul on Brawner with 51 seconds left. Brawner hit both ends of the bonus to make it 46-44.
After a Young miss, Sparrow fed Marvin Brown for A&T's final basket with 25 seconds left. Brown was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.
Pipkin, recently returned into action, iced the Aggies' sixth title in the eight-year MEAC tournament history by blocking Byrd's driving attempt with 15 seconds left. A&T got the ball, Sparrow missed his 17th shot in 22 atempts, but Howard lost the rebound out of bounds. With nine seconds left, Pipkin missed the front of a bonus Louis Wilson's shot at the buzzer gave Howard its 45th and 46th points.
Williamson said he was more surprised by Howard only scoring 46 points than A&T's only getting 48.
"I don't think they've very good," said Williamson of A&T. "I can't waint to play them again. They better recruit well next year because it's going to be very tough to beat me again."