Bernard Perry, who missed a foul shot that could have won the game with 10 seconds left in regulation, made two with no time remaining in the third overtime last night to give Howard a 64-62 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference victory over North Carolina A&T.
Some 3,000 restless spectators in Burr Gymnasium watched as neither team scored in the first two five-minute overtimes.
To win in such fashion was much sweeter for Howard (5-4, 1-0 in the MECA) because the Bison lost their game by 13 points to these Aggies in their Holiday Classic 21 days ago. It was the first conference game for both teams.
"Missing that free throw with 10 seconds left got me down for about 15 seconds or so," said Perry, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard. "But Coach (A.B.) Williamson told me not to get down, to keep playing hard. I wanted to go back to the line the second time. I felt I owed it to the team and myself. I wasn't nervous the second time."
Perry became the hero by intercepting Antoine Collins' in-bounds pass with two seconds left. He was fouled from behind near midcourt by James Horace as the clock ticked to :00.
Perry made the first free throw, to win the game, and jubilantly ran to the locker before returning to sink the second shot. Perry also had missed the first of his one-and-one free throws with 4:30 left in the third overtime.
"The best players in the nation miss free throws sometimes," Williamson said. "And Bernard had the added pressure of having his mother watching him for the first time, having come from Atlanta."
To add to his pressure, Perry, who scored 19 points, had missed a jump shot from the top of the circle with four seconds left in the first overtime.
Williamson instructed his players to try to score off the delay game, since he expected the Aggies (7-2, 0-1 in the MECA) to play a zone until final seconds. But A&T never came out of its 2-3 zone, so Howard held the ball all but the first 11 seconds of the first overtime and all but the last two of the second.
Howard's Larry Spriggs, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, missed a shot with five seconds left in the second overtime and James Ratiff, the game's high scorer and rebounder with 21 and 14, respectively, missed a short jumper from the lane with four seconds left in the third overtime.
The teams were tied, 31-31, at halftime as a fired-up Ratiff led the Bison with 11 points and seven of his team's 25 rebounds. A&T managed only eight rebounds that half.
Since returning from Christmas vacation, the Bison have held what Williamson called Wednesday "very point-blank meetings" to define each player's role in Howard's quest to fullfill the preseason predictions it was the nation's best black college basketball team.
"We had to show everybody we are the team they thought we would be before the season," Williamson said. "This is the most important weekend in our season. After these two conference home games against A&T and South Carolina State (tonight at 8), our next four MECA games are on the road."
A&T was led by playmaking guard James Anderson, who was eight of 11 shooting for 17 points.
The Aggies held a 60-57 lead with three minutes remaining. Spriggs' free throw cut the deficit to two, Ratiff blocked a shot to halfcourt and Louis Wilson, in his first game since becoming eligible, sank a 24-footer to tie the contest at 60. Ratiff's basket with 70 seconds left gave Howard a 62-60 lead, but he fouled Aggie freshman forward Joe Binion with no time remaining in regulation.
Binion, ignoring a blaring band and screaming, trash-hurling fans, made both free throws to send the game into its first overtime.
"Considering the 21-day layoff we had," Williamson said, "I'm pleased."