Howard University, seeking its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title and an NIT bid, put on an impressive display tonight in dismantling an outclassed North Carolina Central team, 98-82, in a semifinal game at the Winston-Salem Coliseum.
In the other semifinal, South Carolina State needed two overtimes to turn back determined Florida A&M, 94-90.
Howard (20-7) will play South Carolina State (12-16) for the MEAC tournament title Sunday at 4 p.m.
The Bison, after a slow start, turned on the burners and began to run away from the frustrated Eagles. Howard used its overwhelming height advantage to control the boards and shota blistering 66 percent from the floor in winning its seventh straight game and 12th in its last 14. Larry Spriggs led the way with 27 points on 12-of-13 shooting from the floor. James Terry scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and James Ratiff, selected as the conference's player of the year, totaled 15 points and seven rebounds. Rodney Wright and Bernard Perry had 15 and 14 respectively as all five Howard starters scored in double figures.
"We're trying to impress the selection committee from the NIT," said Howard Coach A. B. Williamson, selected as the MEAC coach of the year. "I felt we played pretty well at times. Spriggs did an especially good job and Terry is coming on when we need him. We got up by 12 points and didn't let up. In the past, we've had tendencies to make mistakes and relax. Tonight, we took it to them."
NCCU (8-18) was doomed to the consolation game against FAMU early. The poor-shooting Eagles couldn't hit the side of a barn and steadily fell behind. NCCU hit 38 of 81 shots but many of their baskets came in the waning minutes when the outcome had been long decided.
Behind the domination of Ratiff, Terry and Spriggs inside, Howard roared out to a 12-point halftime lead and never looked back. With 12 minutes to play, the Bison led by as many as 18 points.
"They couldn't do anything with our big people," said Ratiff. "We were slow at the start because we had to sit around two days and watch. But when we got started, we took off."
NCCU came out shooting but failed to connect over the quick-reacting 2-3 Bison zone. The only Eagle player with any success at all was guard John McCall, who hit three baskets in the opening minutes.
His long basket from the top of the key gave NCCU a 10-6 lead with five minutes elapsed. But the Eagle recklessness caught up with them and Howard slowly began to dominate the game.
James Terry, coming off a sparkling 21-point, eight rebound game in Howard's 10-point win over Southern, had no trouble getting inside against the shorter Eagles. The 6-foot-10 Terry tipped in two straight Bison misses to tie the game at 12.
From that point on, Howard used its muscle and the scoring of Terry, Larry Spriggs and Bernard Perry to pull away. Three straight NCCU turnovers resulted in a Spriggs jumper inside the key, a James Ratiff two-handed dunk and a Rodney Wright fast break layup, giving Howard a 30-23 lead with five minutes to play in the half.
NCCU, unable to get inside for anything easy, had no choice but to force shots up from long range and each miss usually ended up in the hands of Ratiff or Spriggs. NCCU scored only two field goals in the final five minutes of the half.In that period, Howard ran off a 12-5 spurt to grab a 42-30 halftime lead.
Spriggs, who had 11 points in the first half, scored five points in the spurt.
Howard shot 60 percent from the floor in the first half and outrebounded the Eagles 24-10. NCCU made only 12 of 32 from the field and committed 11 turnovers.
Terry scored 10 points and Ratiff added eight more to stake Howard to its lead.
The Bison were a little flat in the first few minutes of the second half.NCCU's David Binion dropped in two buckets and Phil McManus added a basket following missed Howard shots to cut the deficit to 44-36, with just over 17 minutes to play.
The Eagles did a much better job on the boards and working the ball around the Bison zone. As a result, NCCU got a few layups and followup baskets to stay in the game. Binion, a slick 6-6 forward, hit five more quick points in the next few minutes as the Eagles threatened to get even closer.
Perry drilled in two straight 16-foot jumper. Terry did a 360-degree whirl in the air before dropping a layup and Wright slipped inside for a layup and suddenly Howard had its biggest lead of the game, 61-47, with 13:20 remaining in the game.
Howard went back to work inside and NCCU was helpless. Eagle rebounders Binion and McManes got in foul trouble and Ratiff, Terry and Spriggs did what they wanted inside.
That trio, nicknamed the Bison "dunk patrol," scored four points each, all from inside and Howard's lead swelled to 75-57, with nine minutes remaining in the game.