Howard just might be the team to beat in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference race this season.

Substitutes William Stuart and Robert Jones gave Howard a needed boost last night and the Bison defeated North Carolina A&T, the four-time defending MEAC tournament champion, 67-59, before an overflow crowd of 3,500 at Burr Gymnasium.

In breaking a five-game losing streak to A&T, Howard improved its overall record to 7-5. It is 1-0 in conference. A&T, playing its third game in four nights, is 4-5 and 1-1.

"It was just another league game," a very pleased Howard coach, A.B. Williamson, said wryly, trying his best not to show his pleasure. "We didn't execute well the last five minutes. Too much showboating, acting cute. We have to keep getting better."

Jones scored four of his 12 points during a 10-0 run that gave the hosts a 23-17 lead with six minutes left in the first half. He had six rebounds and two assists.

Stuart had 13 points and several rebounds and steals but, more importantly, ran the Bison half-court offense to near perfection. His back-court play, along with key baskets by Robert McIllwaine (15 points, five rebounds) and Jones enabled the Bison to increase their seven-point halftime lead to 54-41 with nine minutes to play in the game.

"Jones shot the ball very well," Williamson said.

"We wanted to make a good showing," Jones said. "It's a good win for us."

The Bison lead was still a comfortable 13 points, 64-51, following a dunk by Derek Caracciolo with 1:50 remaining.

But the hustling Aggies, led by junior guard George Cale, closed to six points, 65-59, with 44 seconds left. A&T would get no closer as the Bison clamped down the inside and forced the Aggies to shoot from the outside.

Howard has not fared well in its annual games against its No. 1 rival (having lost 10 of the last 12, four of the losses coming the last four years in the MEAC tournament championship). But this season, experience-rich Howard hoped to take advantage of the Aggies, who started four freshmen and a junior.

The Bison pressure didn't hurt the visitors and the patient Aggies actually led at 13-9.

But Howard quickened the pace, forcing a few turnovers. Mike Hampton and Stuart scored back-to-back baskets to tie the game at 13 with 10:30 left. The Aggies managed only one basket in five minutes and Howard took control. Stuart had another basket and Jones made a layup and a short jumper as Howard equalled its biggest lead, 27-19, with four minutes to play.

Cale, A&T's long-range marksman, made two 22-footers, tipped in a missed shot and made two foul shots to cut the deficit to 33-26 at the half.

*James Madison 76, American 67: The Dukes pulled away from a 60-60 tie with 5:45 to play to win the Colonial Athletic Association game in Harrisonburg, Va.

James Madison, which set a JMU Convocation Center record for field goal percentage with 31-of-42 shooting for 73.8 percent, improved to 3-9 overall and 1-2 in the league. American is 7-6 and 1-2.

James Madison turned a 60-60 tie into a 71-61 lead. Junior guard Robert Griffin's short jump shot made it 62-60, AU's Mike Sampson made a foul shot, then JMU junior forward John Newman made two free throws and a three-point play. Ken Schwartz's running 10-footer and Griffin's basket from the lane completed the rally.

*Virginia State 87, Bowie State 79: Brian Price scored 12 points and David Blackwell had 11 to lead the winners (5-4) in a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association game in Petersburg, Va. Kevin Broadus led Bowie State (1-10) with 17 points.

*Merchant Marine 86, Gallaudet 70: Four Merchant Marine players scored in double figures as the Mariners moved to a 46-34 halftime lead and won easily at Gallaudet. Gallaudet, led by David Hamilton's 27 points, is now 1-7 and Merchant Marine is 6-5.

*District of Columbia 75, Norfolk State 60: Lyndon DeBellotte and Johnny Gantt each scored 17 points to lead the Firebirds (7-5) over the previously undefeated Spartans at Norfolk.

Tim Stanfil had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Johnny Jones had nine points and nine rebounds for UDC. DeBellotte had nine rebounds.

Norfolk State's 6-1 junior guard, Ralph Tally, scored 22 points in 27 minutes before fouling out. The Spartans are 8-1.