The majority of basketball games are decided by surges. And it isn't always the team with the most surges that wins. Just ask Delaware State.

Outplayed most of the game, Howard came up with a handful of key plays in the final four minutes last night to escape with a 65-59 victory over the Hornets in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game at Burr Gymnasium.

The game was up for grabs until Fred Hill's driving layup with 3:20 to play gave the Bison a 60-59 advantage. Little did anyone know that that basket would prove to be the game-winner as the visitors failed to score in the final 4:36 of the game.

"We lost our patience and poise," Delaware State Coach Marshall Emery said. "We didn't handle their zone too well near the end. We got a little passive on offense and Howard scored a couple of baskets to get the crowd back into the game."

After Hill's basket, Derek Caracciolo made one of two free throws, William Stuart scored on a driving bank shot and Mike Jones closed out the scoring with two free throws.

The victory wasn't pretty but Howard and Coach A.B. Williamson were happy to have it.

"We hurt them with a little trap and a very tight 2-3 zone," Williamson said. "This was a big team effort."

It was the fourth straight victory and 14th in 15 games for Howard. At 9-0 in the MEAC, the Bison (16-6 overall) have a two-game lead over North Carolina A&T with five games to play.

Delaware State is 6-15 and 4-6.

Howard might look back to this game as one of the big ones of the season. Emery, who coached at Howard for a number of years before taking over at Delaware State (for the second time), had five products of D.C.'s Interhigh League in his lineup, and the Hornets played as tough as they could in bidding for an upset.

They blew a five-point halftime lead (35-30) but regrouped and led, 44-41, with 13 minutes to play.

Howard's defense then set the tone. The Bison began forcing turnovers and pulled out to a 49-46 advantage.

But the Hornets, led by Terrance Ball (16 points) and Allen Moses (17), rallied to lead by 55-54 with 7:40 left.

The teams exchanged baskets until Bernard Campbell's soft jumper along the base line gave Delaware State a 59-58 lead with 4:37 to play.

But Hill sank his basket and Delaware State's offense could do little more.

"We had been playing at their tempo and it hurt us," Caracciolo said. "Our zone was extended out more and we forced some mistakes."

The Hornets apparently adjusted after their 53-47 loss to Howard last month. Playing one of their better first halves of the season, their combination of defenses gave the Bison problems early.

The Bison relied mainly on outside shooting while Delaware State went inside to Ball. The 6-foot-8 freshman, who atended Phelps in the District three years ago but only enrolled in college this past year, was particularly effective against the Bison back line.

He scored five baskets, all inside the key, and made three free throws for 13 first-half points. His running bank shot gave the Hornets a 17-14 lead with 11:34 to play in the first half.

Ball also was able to get center Caracciolo in foul trouble, the Bison senior picking up three. Robert McIlwaine was called for two fouls trying to muscle inside for rebounds.

Howard's man-to-man pressure forced three turnovers, leading to five points. Robert Jones, who has been a factor as a reserve recently, scored on a layup, made one of two free throws and tipped in an errant shot to put Howard ahead, 28-27, with 4:06 to play.