North Carolina A&T finally got the big run it needed and its sometimes overlooked big man, Claude Williams, scored 12 points in the final 12 minutes to turn back Howard, 70-65, last night in a battle for first place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference before an overflow crowd of more than 3,500 at Burr Gymnasium.
The Aggies, who defeated Howard, 64-53, earlier this season, raised their record to 12-6, 7-0 in the MEAC. Howard, which had won seven straight games since losing to the Aggies, dropped to 11-9, 6-2.
The Bison's best opportunity to win ended during a four-minute stretch of the second half as the hosts went from five points ahead to three points down.
"That one spurt helped us take control," said Aggies Coach Don Corbett. "At that point, our confidence had sagged a bit and I was a little concerned. We're not an inside team, but we got some baskets down there and that got us back on top."
In a game with eight ties and 14 lead changes, it appeared the team that put together the first major run would win. Howard, trailing by one at halftime, quickly got six points to take the biggest lead of the game, 44-39, at the 13-minute mark.
But the Bison couldn't maintain their momentum, missing five shots -- four of them in the lane -- and committing three turnovers over the next three minutes. North Carolina A&T, which had made only three of 13 shots to that point in the second half, scored eight straight points. Williams, who finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, had two inside baskets as the visitors went up, 47-44, with just less than 11 minutes remaining.
"That stretch hurt. Blame me. We just didn't prepare the players for the mental game we had to have to play a team like A&T," said Howard Coach A.B Williamson. "We didn't have good guard play and we let them take our advantage and turn it into a lead for them. We just didn't play smart."
The Bison came back for a 52-50 lead on a basket by George Hamilton with seven minutes left.
But Howard was making too many mistakes and North Carolina A&T was playing much better. A long jumper by Jimmy Brown (20 points) tied the score at 52. In between Bison turnovers, Williams sank two free throws and scored on a steal to put the Aggies up, 56-52, with six minutes to play.
"Teams concentrate a lot on our great guards -- Brown and (Eric) Boyd -- and on George Cale," said Williams, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward. "I'm just the garbage man, hanging around trying to pick up the loose stuff. I was able to get free in the last minutes for those easy ones."
The Bison, who made only 27 of 62 shots, couldn't get any closer than three points. Each time Howard scored, the poised A&T guards were able to protect the ball until a foul was called.
After Fred Hill's three-point play closed Howard to 64-61 with 1:33 to play, Boyd spotted Williams running free down the sideline. Williams turned the pass into his third dunk of the game for a five-point lead with a minute to play.
The Aggies sank four free throws in the final seconds to assure them of their eighth victory in nine games.
Neither team was able to get an advantage in the first half. A&T depended on 20-foot jump shots by Cale and Boyd while Howard got good inside play from Robert Jones (16 points) and Chenault Terry (15).
Both teams shot fairly well and A&T managed a 33-32 lead at the half.
The teams exchanged baskets until Terry sank a jumper, Hill made two free throws and Jones hit an outside shot to give Howard its short-lived 44-39 lead.