Just as it was about to be upstaged by 5-18 Bethune Cookman, Howard University's basketball team benefited from Fred Hill's 23-point second half and some clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch to earn a 81-74 victory last night at Burr Gymnasium.

Hill, a junior guard, finished with 27 points. He scored 12 during a rally that gave the Bison a 63-51 lead with about 10 minutes to play.

But Don Hill's 28 points and seven rebounds enabled the Wildcats to fight back. He tipped in an errant shot to pull his team within 73-71 with 52 seconds left.

"We were up 12 and missed a couple shots and some free throws at that point," Howard Coach A.B. Williamson said. "That allowed them to come back. We did not play a very intense game. It's kind of difficult to motivate these guys when Bethune Cookman has such a bad record and we just beat them last week. It shouldn't have been that close."

At this point of the game, no one knew or cared what Bethune Cookman's won-lost record was. After Don Hill's tip-in, the fans got restless until Fred Hill's two foul shots gave Howard a four-point cushion with 40 seconds left.

Bethune Cookman missed on its next possession and fouled rebounder Derek Caracciolo. His two shots made it 77-71 with 27 seconds to play.

Bethune Cookman took advantage of a turnover to make it interesting again, getting three quick points from John Williams to get within three with 14 seconds to play.

After the Wildcats fouled William Stuart, he made both shots on a one-and-one and the Bison were safe with a 79-74 lead and 13 seconds left. Fred Hill ended his big night with a breakaway dunk at the buzzer.

"Hill had a big game and this is the time we want him to come around," Williamson said. "It's getting close to the end and we need his play."

The Bison, who have won 12 of their last 13 games, are 14-6 overall and 7-0 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Wildcats (5-19, 4-9), losers in all 12 meetings against the hosts, lost their fifth straight game.

Fred Hill, the most experienced member of the Bison's four rotating guards, began looking for his shot in the second half. He scored six points during a 8-4 run that put his team ahead, 52-48.

Howard put together five good minutes of basketball at both ends of the court and earned its largest lead, 63-51, with about nine minutes remaining. Hill had a jumper and two free throws and substitute Robert Jones had three free throws during the rally to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds.

Bethune Cookman, playing its third game in four nights during its 20-plus day bus odyssey from Daytona Beach, Fla., didn't show any early signs of fatigue, either. Going to Don Hill early, the Wildcats, a nine-point loser to the Bison last week, gave Howard fits throughout.

Hill, a 6-foot-7 senior who was averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds per game, set up shop in the lane and got 10 quick points, his second jumper giving the Wildcats a 12-10 advantage and a lead they wouldn't relinquish until less than five minutes remained in the first half. Gallaudet 83, Prince George's CC 61

David Hamilton scored 21 points and Alan Fisher had 12 points and eight assists, leading the victory at Gallaudet.

A 40-12 spurt midway through the second half won it for Gallaudet. The winners are 11-11, the losers 10-8.