For the second straight game, Howard University's women wasted a large lead. Today, it cost the Bison a championship.
Wanda Pittman's follow-up basket with two minutes remaining and blocked shot in the final seconds gave South Carolina State a 59-57 victory over Howard in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament championship game at the Civic Center.
South Carolina State (22-4), the regular-season champion, trailed by 15 points in the first half before getting its running game in gear to overtake the Bison (18-11).
Bulldogs guards Brenda Williams (15 points, seven assists, three steals), the tournament's most valuable player, and Vonda Middleton (12 points) had a handful of steals and key baskets. The 6-foot-6 Pittman (12 points, 11 rebounds) had some big rebounds and the critical basket and block during S.C. State's big second-half run.
In Saturday's semifinal, Howard led Delaware State by 16 points in the second half before winning by one point. Today, the Bison scored only one basket over a six-minute period to allow the Bulldogs to come back.
During a 16-2 spurt by S.C. State, LaTasha Anderson (14 points) scored eight points and Williams had six, including a steal and breakaway basket that pushed the Bulldogs ahead, 47-46, with 12 minutes to play. Williams' fifth second-half basket gave her team a 57-55 lead with six minutes left.
"We started to rebound better and that got our running game going," Williams said. "The flow of the game changed when we started to run."
A three-point play by Roslyn Bell and a bank shot by Darlene Beale (15 points, 12 rebounds) enabled the Bison to stay close. Bell's short jumper pulled her team even at 57, with three minutes to play.
A minute later, Pittman converted an offensive rebound into the eventual winning points. Both teams missed numerous scoring chances in the next handful bf possessions.
After Williams missed a free throw, Pittman blocked a shot, and a jump ball was called after a scramble on the floor with six seconds left. Howard's Vannessa Graham (13 points) recovered the ball and threw up a desperation 28-footer that caromed off the back rim.
"We didn't control the tempo in the second half and they were faster than we were," said Howard Coach Dee Tyler. "We played a good all-around game but we came up short."
Howard, which lost to the Bulldogs by 30 points two weeks ago, fell behind by 6-0 but gained a 38-27 halftime lead. The Bison scored 13 straight points -- keyed by Lynette Funches' five points -- to build a lead, and the Bulldogs, with Pittman benched a good deal of time with foul trouble, shot only 28 percent in the half.
The Bison's biggest lead of the half came at 36-21 with 1:56 to go when Graham had a breakway basket following a steal.