Road-weary Howard, recently returned from a disastrous Dixieland swing, finally demonstrated why it was a preseason pick to be one of the nation's best black college basketball teams.
The Bison (1-3) gave a clinic in fast-break offense in out-sprinting Baltimore rival Morgan State, 81-55, last night before 2,700 appreciative fans in Burr Gymnasium.
The Bison were led by forwards Larry Spriggs, 20 points, 12 rebounds, and James Ratiff with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Lawrence Norfleet's three-point play seven minutes into the first half put Howard ahead, 19-16, and the Bison raced to a 38-28 halftime lead.
The Bears, who lost their fourth of seven games, were led in scoring by sophomore forward Yarharbrough Roberts' 16 points and guard Kevin Preston's 12.
The key was Howard's rebounding dominance -- essential with the fast break.
The Bison got 46 rebounds to Morgan's 26.
Norfleet, a 6-foot-8 muscleman from St. Louis, is inserted into the Howard lineup by Coach A. B. Williamson whenever the Bison are being pushed around under the basket. Howard was giving up too many "two- and three-shot deals to Morgan in the early minutes," so Williamson sent in Norfleet.
"Fleet is our enforcer on the boards," said Spriggs, the only starting senior. "Coach told us we had to work the boards harder and he sent in Fleet in the first half to make sure we did. He's our Clint Eastwood." Norfleet played only 19 minutes but had seven rebounds. "He can be intimidating under those boards sometimes," said Williamson.
Many of Norfleet's rebounds created outlet passes to Spriggs -- who hit 10 of 18 shots, including three dunks -- Ratiff, or Perry, who hit six of eight jumpers, most in the early going when Morgan was still competitive.
Ratiff's three-point play after time had expired in the first half, gave the Bison a 10-point intermission lead, which was increased to 22 in the helter-skelter second half.
The Bison shot 54 percent from the field, Morgan 39.3. The Bears couldn't run with Howard, so they passed patiently and waited for open jumpers through much of the first half. Most of their 20 turnovers came in the last 25 minutes when Howard converted several steals into easy baskets. Spriggs and Ratiff combined for seven steals, largely because the Morgan forwards did too much ball handling.
"The running was back," Spriggs said confidently in the locker room. "But more importantly, the running was constant, continual. Both halves. In the three losses down South we seemed to only run maybe 30 minutes. We'd get off to a fast start each time, stop running, and then fall behind."
Williamson said the biggest reason for the improved running game was Rodney Wright's ball-handling at point guard. "The losses may have made Rodney a little tentative at first," Williamson said, "but he, Ratiff and Spriggs got better and better as the game progressed. When you have three bad games like we did, it takes time to get your confidence back."
"I think we got that confidence back tonight," said Spriggs. "It got a little frustrating down there, but I wouldn't say we got down or depressed."