For the first time since 1975, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament is not being held in North Carolina. Aside from that, if the seeds hold up, little else will differ.

North Carolina A&T and Howard have met in the final seven times -- including the last four, when the victor received an automatic berth in the NCAA Division I tournament.

This year, A&T (17-9, 10-2) is seeded No. 1 and Howard (15-11, 9-3) No. 2 and both had first-round byes.

Howard won in 1981, but the Aggies have won ever since, last year by 65-58 in Greensboro Coliseum.

As the last two MEAC tournaments were held in Greensboro, home of North Carolina A&T, a case can be made that the Aggies had the home court advantage. "It definitely helped A&T," said Howard Coach A.B. Williamson.

"The atmosphere down there psyched us out a little bit. Every year it was the same thing. We'd be in the game until the last three minutes and one or two big plays would turn it around," he said.

But Philadelphia's Palestra is home for none of the MEAC schools.

Howard will play Delaware State in Friday's semifinal at 9 p.m. The Hornets defeated Maryland-Eastern Shore, 68-62, today.

Howard beat Delaware State twice in the regular season, 66-58 in Washington and 86-67 in Dover.

"I think today's game was like a warmup for them (Delaware State)," Williamson said. "They'll be relaxed. I just hope we don't come out tight."

The Hornets (11-16) started lethargically, missing open jumpers and easy inside attempts. Maryland-Eastern Shore led, 12-9, with 12 minutes remaining in the first half and went into a slowdown, running nearly two minutes off the clock before Altonio Bateman's ill-advised shot hit nothing. Delaware State Coach Joe Dean Davidson, formerly of Dunbar High School, then called time out.

After Tyrone Talbot made one of two free throws to put Eastern Shore ahead by 15-11, the Hornets, applying full-court pressure, scored six straight, the last two on a jumper by Roy Johnson, to take their first lead of the game, 17-15. Delaware State exercised its superior height the rest of the way, building a 14-point lead before withstanding the Hawks' comeback. UMES ended its season 3-25.

North Carolina A&T will play Bethune-Cookman, a 54-53 victor over South Carolina State, in Friday's 7 p.m. semifinal.

The Howard women's team fared well in its opener, beating Delaware State, 54-48. With the score tied at 39, Howard's Courtney Bullard made two baskets. After the Hornets closed to 46-44, she made another basket, then drew a charge on the defensive end.

Vanessa Graham led Howard with 21 points.

In the semifinals Friday, the Bison women will play North Carolina A&T, who upset Bethune-Cookman, 72-68. The other semifinal pairings will be decided tonight.