Howard University, which accomplished one-half of its goal for the season Saturday night by winning its 20th game of the season, picked up the other half today by stopping South Carolina State, 75-69, for the championship of the Mid-Eastern Atletic Conference before a snowed-in crowd of 4,110 at the Winston-Salem Coliseum.
The Bison, now 21-7, celebrated their first MEAC tournament victory after having reached the finals four times, twice under Oach A. B. Williamson, before a returning to their hotel in hopes of a possible call from the NIT selection committee. But it never came. When the pairings were announced, Howard was not among them.
Howard allowed the Bulldogs to stay close until a brief spurf, keyed by the shooting of James Ratiff, sparked the Bison to a 38-31 lead at the half. t
"That little spurt did it," said point guard Rodne Wright, a second team all-MEAC choice and one of four Howard players to make the all-tour-nament team. "We couldn't practice because of the snow and we had to come out here and play with more confidence than we ever had. We had it."
Ratiff, selected the conference player of the year, scored 25 points and collected six rebounds. Larry Spriggs, the other half of he Bison forward combination, scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 Spriggs was the tournament MVP for the second straight year.
It was the scoring of the two forwards that kept SCS from making a serious run in the second half.
SCS did a good job on the boards, outrebounding Howard, 44-40, but couldn't come up with the rebounds when it needed them.
"They were much stronger inside than North Carolina Central, so we had to be more aggressive," said Spriggs. "We tried to get their big people in foul trouble. Then we could beat them inside and outside.
"There was no doubt we'd win after coming this far."
Howard stretched its seven-point halftime lead to as many as 10 points, 62-52, with six minutes to play.
But SCS didn't fold, Greg Wilson (17 points), Joe Ronbinson (16) and Marty Lane (15) scored often enough in the second half to keep the Bison from celebrating too early.
The Bulldogs (12-17) crept within six points several times but each time the Bison resorted to their delay game and forced fouls or worked inside for a layup.
Howard sank six of its last eight points from the foul line.
Both teams appeared a bit nervous at the onset. Howard, which had its problems with S.C. State in Orangesburg 10 days ago in a 73-71 victory, again had a few difficulties keeping the hustling Bulldogs off the backboards. a
Arthur Snipe, a 6-foot-6 leaping forward, got inside for three offensive rebounds in the first 10 minutes to give his team second shots. Guard Joe Robinson threw in four long jump shots and Gregory Wilson scored nine points off a variety of shots as the Bulldogs battled favored Howard on even terms.
Howard, getting early scoring from Spriggs, grabbed an 18-12 lead with just over 11 minutes remaining before intermission.
But the Bulldogs, who defeated Morgan State and Florida A&M in double overtime, to reach the final, battled back. Marty Lane scored a three-point play and Robinson hit two consecutive jumper from the corner to pull the Bulldogs to within a point, 20-19.
Again Howard took off. Spriggs and James Ratiff slammed home dunks around a Bernard Perry reverse to boost the Bison margin to 26-19.
SCS got off more than its share of shots but few fell in the first half. The Bulldogs made only 13 of 37 from the field and only their rebounding kept them from falling too far behind.
Back-to-back baskets by Jimmy Wynn and Bryan Grice got SCS close again, 28-24, but Ratiff, who got off to a slow start, found the range from the outside and poured in four straigt 16-footers and Howard slipped out to a 38-31 lead at halftime.
Howard, which shot an astonishing 67 percent in its 98-82 triumph over North Carolina Central in Saturday night's semifinal, shot 58 percent in the first 20 minutes (19 of 33). Ratiff and Spriggs had 12 points each to lead the Bison.
Despite continued good shooting by the Bison, they were unable to get away from determined SCS.Snipe's tricky layups and short jumpers inside the key weren't quite enough to help the Bulldogs catch up. One reason is because the Bulldogs didn't have the muscle to stop Ratiff or Spriggs. The two forwards accounted for 15 (Ratiff getting 10), of the Bison's first 22 points of the second half to keep Howard ahead, 60-51, with seven minutes remaining.
Howard, trying to protect its lead, even went to its delay game to run some time off the clock. The first time the Bison tried their four corners, reserve forward Lawrence Norfleet snuck down the lane for a layup. The next couple of times, SCS came up with turnovers.
But Howard settled down again and held off the Bulldogs to capture its first MEAC Tournament.