It will be recorded as a convincing Howard victory over Delaware State today in the first round of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.
But the 67-53 triumph convinced no one in the announced crowd of 3,100 at Memorial Coliseum that the Bison are a quality basketball team. Regardless, Howard advanced to Saturday's 3:30 p.m. semifinal against Florida A&M, which had a first-round bye.
In the 5:30 semifinal Saturday, regular-season champion North Carolina A&T, which also had a first-round bye, will play Bethune-Cookman, victor today over South Carolina State, 72-60.
Against the Hornets, a tean with the worst record (8-l8) in the conference, Howard (15-11), for much of the game battled a bad case of the jitters that almost caused it to self-destruct.
The bison led by one at halftime 26-25, and the intermission was more an act of mercy than the clock. Showing no preference, Howard had missed shots from close to the basket and from afar, shooting 11 for 40 (27 percent). The Bison shot so often because they held a 36-10 rebounding edge. p
Howard Coach A. B. Williamson said he counted at least 10 missed layups. "We were tryping too hard," he said. "It's everyone's dream to get to the NCAA playoffs, so when we have a game that means so much, sure, we're gonna be tense."
The rough and physical game appeared headed for a tense finish, especially when the Hornets went ahead, 37-36, with 13:10 remaining. That, however, was their last lead as Howard finally calmed and and shot 61 percent (17 for 28) in the second half.
Bernard Perry, Howard's 6-foot-5 shooting guard who sometimes doesn't shoot enought, hit two long jumpers to regain the lead. It was 44-41, Howard, when the Hornets lost their composure, and eventually, the game.
Delaware State went seven minutes without scoring while the Bison ran their fast break. With 3:20 left and Rodney Wright orchestrating a spread offense that created easy baskets. Howard led, 55-4l.
Howard is a team with a split personality. For much of the season, the Bison dozed and tried to let their collective ability carry them. Now, the problem seems to be an overdose of adrenaline.
"We were kind of laid back this season," center James Terry said. "We were concentrating more on getting to the tournament. We felt that because we beat so many teams last year (when Howard was 21-7), we wouldn't have to put out."
Terry, however, seems to have found the balance. The 6-11 junior shot seven for eight against the Hornets, including some ferocious slam dunks, and had 15 points.
That was a surprise. No surprise was the play of Larry Spriggs. In the morning, the 6-9 senior learned he had been selected conference player of the year. Then he celebrated with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Delaware State, meanwhile, played about as well as could be expected, and had four players in double figures. But the Hornets were outrebounded, 55-27. That was the difference.