Rodney Wright, the Howard player least likely to take a jump shot with the game on the line, swished a 12-footer from left of the free throw line with three seconds left last night to break a tie and give the Bison a 61-59 victory over the University of the District of Columbia in the D.C. Armory.
More than 7,000 fans watched the two intracity schools play a nip-and-tuck final 15 minutes after Howard virtually gave away a 17-point lead four minutes into the second half.
The Firebirds had possession of the ball with 44 seconds left and tried to work for the last shoot, but Michael Britt, the 6-foot-7 magician who never got untracked last night, sailed a pass out of bounds off the fingertips of teammate James Neal.
The Bison took over and Wright dribbled across the lane, jumped and shot over Mike Daniels for the winning field goal. It was Wright's sixth field goal in seven attempts. Coincidentally, his brother Michael, who plays for Dunbar High, hit a jumper with no time remaining yesterday afternoon to beat Baltimore's Calvert Hall.
After a timeout, UDC 7-footer Earl Jones, who scored only 14 points, all from outside, tried a 25-foot desperation jumper that went over the basket, giving the Bison their third victory in six games.
Howard shot 70 percent and easily outrebounded UDC, accounting for a 41-30 halftime lead. The Bison defense kept the heralded Jones away from the basket and Britt hardly ever got the ball in position to shoot. Howard started the second half afire, and led. 49-32, in what appeared to be a rout.
But the Bison, whose success relies totally on the fast break, held the ball without shooting for the last 3:16 of the first half and never regained their running rhythm. Howard, averaging only 14 turnovers a game this season, committed 16 turnovers the second half, including five in a row during one stretch in which UDC made up the 17-point deficit.
"We had them," said a despondent UDC Coach Wil Jones. "We thought we'd be able to take the last shot. Everything worked perfect until the ball got away from us. Wright was the one player we would allow to take the jump shot. Hawkeye (Daniels) played good defense, Wright just hit the shot."
Howard Coach A. B. Williamson said he set up the play for Wright to shoot, "Rodney's job was to control the tempo to the end," Williamson said.
Howard, picked by many polls as the best black college team in the nation before the season, has blowm comfortable leads in five of its six games this season.
"I knew it was too good to be true to be up 15 and 20 points this early in the season," Williamson said. "We have to make it dramatic. We got the shot we wanted, though. We're 10 points better than UDC. If James Ratiff hadn't gotten in foul trouble, we would have won going away."
Ratiff, Howard's leading scorer, collected his fourth foul with 14 minutes remaining in the contest, and center James Terry had picked up his third only 2 1/2 minutes into men, Howard had trouble breaking UDC's swarming zone press and had to rely on senior forward Larry Spriggs, who played brilliantly the entire 40 minutes.
Howard guard Bernard Perry hit seven of 12 field goal attempts, but none down the stretch when UDC made its run. UDC scored 15 of the first 19 points of the second half and pulled to within four on Britt's soaring layup. Jones, who hit only six of 17 shots, cut the Howard lead to two at 53-51. Daniel, who played solid defense all night, hit four free throws to tie the game at 57-57, then gave the Firebirds their first lead, 59-57.
UDC began playing for one shot with 2:23 remaining, but turned the ball over on Britt's bad pass. Williamson then went with three guards to ensure good pressure ball handling as Howard worked for the final shot.