Howard took a big step toward winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last night, dealing defending champion North Carolina A&T an 87-71 defeat before an enthusiastic crowd of 4,200 at Burr Gymnasium.

Howard had lost four straight games to A&T, including the conference title game last year that gave the Aggies a berth in the NCAA playoffs. A&T won in the teams' first meeting this season, 72-60, a game in which five technicals were called on Howard.

Last night's triumph improved Howard's record to 12-5 and conference mark to 8-1. The Bison have three conference games remaining.

The Aggies were without 6-foot-8 Joe Binion, their leading scorer and rebounder, who, with two reserves, was held out for disciplinary reasons. The Aggies fell to 12-5 and 4-3.

Howard shot only 28 percent from the floor in an embarrassing 52-35 loss to Brooklyn College here Wednesday night, so this victory was especially welcome.

"We looked past Brooklyn College," admitted the Bison's David Wynn, who finished with 14 points. "We were getting ready for A&T."

Howard allowed the Aggies to stay close for all of three minutes. Wynn made four long jump shots and Bernard Perry (23 points) sank two 22-footers over a slow-reacting zone to give Howard a 19-9 advantage with about 11 minutes to play in the half.

The Bison forced turnovers, contested every shot attempt and kept the A&T players off the boards. The Aggies' other two top players, Eric Boyd and Antoine Collins, committed three fouls each in the half, forcing Coach Don Corbett to turn to an already depleted bench.

Seven quick points by Derek Caraciolo, who finished with 15, and and three baskets by Kevin Scott (14) highlighted a 16-8 run that gave Howard a surprising 33-17 lead with 4:50 left.

Caraciolo, averaging just seven points per game, had 11 in the first half and Wynn 10 as the Bison shot 63 percent from the floor. Howard also controlled rebounding, forced 14 turnovers and limited the Aggies to 10 field goals in 25 attempts to lead, 42-24, at intermission.

"Leaving Binion home is a team matter," said Corbett. "We just played poorly in the first half, no inside game at all. Their front line outplayed us on the boards. We just got beat, no excuses."

North Carolina A&T mounted no second-half rally. Only Jimmy Brown, son of former football great Jim Brown, and Boyd were able to score with any consistency. Brown and Boyd finished with 18 and 14 points, respectively.

Their efforts were not nearly enough as Howard continued to play good defense and make open shots. Wynn and Caraciolo keyed another run that put the Bison ahead, 75-51, with less than five minutes remaining.

"This was the most consistent game we've played all season," said Bison Coach A.B. Williamson. "We'd just returned from a long road trip and were a little tired when we lost to Brooklyn College. We wanted to play harder against A&T because we were embarrassed."