There may be a changing of the guard in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
North Carolina A&T outscored Howard, 14-2, during a seven-minute stretch in the second half tonight to break open a tie game and claim a 62-50 victory before 6,800 in the Corbett Sports Center.
The Aggies, with 28 points and 12 rebounds from sophomore forward Joe Binion, defeated defending MEAC champion Howard (7-8, 4-3 in the conference) for the second time this season.
"I still think Howard has the best talent in the MEAC," said Binion. "But somehow, they can't make it work."
North Carolina A&T (10-5, 5-1) finished 21-8 last year, including two wins over Howard. But the Aggies lost to the Bison in the MEAC tournament final and had to settle for the NIT, while Howard claimed the conference's first automatic NCAA bid. The Aggies have not forgotten.
Their fans created a feverish atmosphere to start tonight, but Howard patiently maintained a half-court offense en route to a 23-19 halftime lead.
The Aggies started quickly in the second half, forcing two Bison turnovers and tying the game, 23-23, on baskets by guards Eric Boyd and James Anderson (15 points). Anderson, who had a terrible first half, made a 28-foot jump shot to give the Aggies a 27-25 lead with 18 minutes to play; it was their first lead since early in the game.
Howard tied it, 35-35, when center James Terry stole the ball underneath the Bison basket and made a layup, and again at 37-all on a jumper by all-conference forward James Ratiff (19 points) with 10:30 to play.
Ratiff forced a turnover, but missed a shot that could have given Howard the lead. Binion's basket gave the Aggies a 39-37 lead. After Ratiff missed another shot--the MEAC's leading scorer had missed four straight at that point--A&T guard Ron Stinchcomb sank two free throws for a 41-37 lead.
Ratiff and guard Bernard Perry missed shots, and each time Binion countered with turnaround jumpers for a 45-37 lead with 5:30 remaining. The Aggie lead reached 14 points, and the Bison, who shot 33 percent in the second half, could never pull within eight.
"Down the stretch, A&T made the key plays and we didn't," Ratiff said. "All the shots that normally fall didn't. I guess this just isn't the year for the Bison."
It was Binion who made the key basket or rebound for the Aggies. "I didn't think I could play this good against Howard," Binion. "You don't know how good this feels to beat Howard. This is our biggest game of the season.
"I think Howard's patient offense threw us off in the first half. I'd never seen them do that. I was looking for them to fast break and throw the ball up. But I think that being patient hurt them, too, in the end. Their offense wasn't the same."
Howard's 6-11 center, Terry, made five of eight shots but did not dominate on defense as he has most of this season. Perry, the streak-shooting junior, made only two of 10 shots. None of the four reserves scored. When Ratiff (eight of 16) went cold, no Bison player could pick up the slack.