There were no tears in the Howard locker room tonight. The Bison realized they had played in one of those games in which both teams perform up to and even beyond potential.
North Carolina A&T simply used its height advantage to dominate the rebounding and take a 71-64 victory in this Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament final that also gave the Aggies a berth in the NCAA tournament.
A&T's Joe Binion, who led both teams with 22 points and 14 rebounds, took one look at the final statistics and pronounced, "It felt good to be in a game where both teams played great. But the boards tell the story. We had 40 and Howard had 29. That's what decided it."
Despite the Aggies' rebounding edge, Howard had its chances to win this one. The Bison cut a 10-point deficit to 60-59 with 4:30 to play and had possession. They were working patiently against the A&T zone when Kevin Scott was called for setting an illegal pick.
A&T's Jimmy Brown made the ensuing free throws for a 62-59 lead with 3:50 to play. Howard seemed deflated at that point, and the highly partisan crowd of 4,085 in the Greensboro Coliseum could sense the Aggies were now in control.
"I felt real low," said Scott, who played brilliantly and scored 19 points. "We were down only one point and I was trying to set a screen for Bernard Perry. He was coming across to the right side to set up for the shot. I guess it could have been a foul. I'd have to see the play again."
Trailing by three, Howard's next possession also ended in disaster. David Wynn's lob pass to Derek Caracciolo in the lane was too high. Binion intercepted the ball and handed off to Brown, who made like his famous father the former running back, and sprinted down for the layup and a 64-59 lead with 3:13 left.
"Those plays, back-to-back, gave us an incredible lift," said Brown.
From there, Howard was forced to abandon its patient ways and try to score from long range. Perry scored 21 points, but he couldn't get a decent shot in the closing two minutes, as two or three Aggies took off in Perry's direction every time he touched the ball.
Perry made eight of 15 shots, all from long range. A&T's matchup zones put 6-8 forward Antoine Collins on Perry.
"It was almost a box-and-one," Perry said. "Their coach (Don Corbett) made sure somebody was on me at all times. I had to try and create shots from spots we didn't want to."
It was Howard's first defeat against a conference opponent since losing to A&T here on Jan. 8. The Bison, after winning 12 straight league games, ended the season 19-8 overall, 12-2 in the MEAC.
But as Perry said after what will probably be his final college game, "I feel better about this game than last year's loss (also to A&T in the final). There's nothing to regret about this one. Nothing to feel sorry for."