Judging from both the anguished look on Howard University Coach A. B. Williamson's face and the anguished sounds coming from the Bison locker room last night, one would have thought Howard had lost North Carolina A&T.
It was hardly a game the Bison players wanted to discuss, although they had won, 74-66, before 2,800 unenthused fans at Burr Gymnasium.
In raising its Mid-Eastern Athletic conference record to 6-1 and its overall mark to 16-7, Howard showed no emotion or intensity and few basketball skills in whipping an 8-15 A&T team.
"You saw it, you write it," said an irate Williamson. "I have no more comment on this game whatsoever."
Thanks to the visitors' 20 turnovers and 44-percent shooting, Howard built a 20-point lead halfway through the second half. But as quickly a the Bison went out to a 64-44 advantage, led by James Ratiff, they died and allowed A&T to get back into the game.
Aggie guard Joe Brawner, the leading scorer in the MEAC with a (20.8) average, had his problems in the first half before finding the range. The former all-Met from Spingarn scored 12 points in the second half, all of them coming in the final eight minutes when A & T made its run.
Brawner's running 10-footer cut Howard's once-comfortable margin to 66-58 with 2:25 to play. At that point, one would have thought the Bison would get serious. They didn't. But the Aggies just couldn't hit the clutch baskets and were forced to foul.
"We don't have an inside game at all," said Aggie Coach Don Corbett, now in his first year. "I have to be pleased with the kids for the way they came back. Our only hope to stay in the game is to control the tempo.
"We allowed Howard to get us in a running game. They play the transition style very well and we don't."
Following an Aggie miss from long range, Ratiff rebounded and fed Louis Wilson, who was fouled. He sank one of two free throws. Another Aggie miss resulted in a short jump shot from the corner by Howard's Rodney Wright and a 69-58 lead with 1:55 on the clock.
A & T never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Ratiff, who had 24 points and seven rebounds, said the lethargic Bison performance was due to a "week's layoff and just some sloppy play.
"A & T wasn't that tough. We just didn't do anything," said Ratiff, who, in addition to his six turnovers, missed a breakaway dunk. "We gave the ball away all night. My jump shot may have been falling but nothing else was working."
The hosts couldn't buy a basket in the first half, making only 13 of 36 from the floor. Ratiff scored 12 points in the first 20 minutes to give the Bison a 31-23 advantage.
Brawner, who must score if A & T is to have a chance, hit only four of 11 shots in the first half. Howard's quick-moving zone and some good defense by Wright and Nate Speight kept Brawner in check in the first half.
While A & T was missing 13 of its first 19 shots following intermission, Ratiff, Larry Spriggs (16 points) and Bernard Perry (13) scored four points each to put Howard ahead 48-33 with 13:35 remaining. As poor as the Aggies played in that 6 1/2 minute stretch, Howard should have been ahead by 30.
"We didn't get any rebounds at all, especially on the offensive board. I felt sorry for James Horace in there with Spriggs and Ratiff," said Corbett, referring to his 6-foot-5 freshman center. "We had no choice but to rely on our outside game."
The only positive aspect of the victory from the Bison point of view was that it gave them a 9-3 record at home.