Alcorn State dealt Howard University a painful, embarrassing lesson in fundamental basketball last night, waltzing to a 95-48 triumph in a non-conference game at Burr Gymnasium.
"They are by far the best team I've ever played," said dejected Howard Coach A. B. Williamson. "I can see why Bobby Knight (Indiana coach) said they were the best team he faced last year. (Indiana beat Alcorn State, 73-69, in the NIT quarterfinals). They do everything right, from rebounding to playing defense. The game was a little too big at this point."
The 2,700 Bison fans had nothing to cheer about following the pregame warmup. Two opening baskets by Howard's jump-shooting machine, 6-foot-8 James Ratiff, tied the game, 4-4.
Alcorn State (4-1) then began its show. Dominating both boards, the high-leaping Braves corralled everything the Bison shooters missed at one end and made sure everything they threw up at the other end found its way through the nets, even if it took three taps.
Larry Smith, a 6-6 senior and the only starter back from last year's 28-1 team, didn't start because of a bad ankle but the Bison front line couldn't tell the difference.
When Smith came into the game, he grabbed eight rebounds, six of them on the offensive board, and Joe Jenkins, Clint Wyatt and Eddie Baker each snatched down three offensive caroms to give the Braves consistent second and third shots.
Wyatt scored all 11 of his first-half points while E. J. Bell added three 16-footers during a 28-12 Alcorn State run over a 13-minute span to move the vuitors to a 32-16 advantage.
Howard (3-1), suddenly shell-shocked, hardly helped its cause with turnovers and forced shots. The Bison, who shot 30 percent in the first half, failed to work the ball inside against the quick-reacting Braves and had to settle for the preimeter shots.
"We planned to take away their inside game, give them the long shot," said Bell, who finished with 14 points and three assists. "Then we got our break started. That's my job."
The 6-2 Bell did his job well. He didn't get credit for many assists, mainly because his teammates often missed the first shot after getting a Bell pass. Nine of the Braves' 15 first-half baskets were layups.
Howard's only move all night against the patient, poised Braves came late in the first half. Larry Spriggs scored three points and Ratiff and Bernard Perry each added two points to cut the deficit to 34-23.
But the Braves took off again. Albert Irving dropped in a free throw, Bell raced the length of the court for an uncontested layup, Smith closed out the half with a quick three points and Alcorn State went to the locker room leading, 40-23.
"Our kids just played exceptional defense," said Alcorn Coach Dave Whitney. "Howard couldn't get the shots they wanted and got a little frustrated. It's hard to understand what happens in a game like this. We played extremely well in that first half and they didn't."
The second half was another 20 minutes of Alcorn wizardry and Howard frustration. The Bison converted only five of their first 14 shots and threw the ball away three times as the gap widened to 58-31. Howard didn't get an offensive rebound in the second half until Ratiff grabbed one with just over 11 minutes to play.
"We got behind by 18-20 points and weren't patient enough to get it back a little at a time," said Williamson. "We were just embarrassed."
Alcorn ran off a quick 13-2 squrt in a 3 1/2 minute span to take a 75-39 lead with five minutes to play.
Smith and Wyatt led the Brave scorers with 15 points each. Bell had 14, Jenkins 13 and Willie Howard 10. Twelve players scored for Alcorn State.
Jenkins had 12 rebounds and Wyatt grabbed 11 as the Braves owned the backboards, 67-35.
"Rebounding is our strength," said 6-4 forward Arnold Medley. "We work on boxing out and getting second shots. We expected Howard to be a bit stronger on the boards. We thought they might outrebound us."
Asked when the last time his team had been outrebounded, Medley thought a minute, then said, "I don't remember."
Howard made nine layups compared to Alcorn's 23. The Bison also committed 15 turnovers while shooting 19 of 61 from the field.
Ratiff was the only bright spot for the Bison, scoring 17 points and grabing seven rebounds. Springs was the only other Howard player to manage double figures, with 11.