Twice this season, Howard University's basketball team suffered dismal regular-season losses to inexperienced and inconsistent Morgan State. Last night before 1,600 at Burr Gymnasium, the Bison showed how different things can be in the so-called "second season".

George Hamilton scored 19 points and senior forward John Spencer had 16 points and 16 rebounds as the Bison defeated the Golden Bears, 67-59, in a first-round game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.

The victory advanced Howard, which extended its streak of never having lost an MEAC tournament first-round game, to a Friday night semifinal meeting with regular-season champion North Carolina A&T at the Greensboro Coliseum. The two schools have met in the MEAC finals the past seven years, with A&T defeating Howard in the last six.

Morgan State, which possesses an abundance of freshman and sophomore talent, closed its season at 13-17.

Friday, Howard will try to prove, as it did last night, that history means little in a short tournament.

"Those other two games {against Morgan State} didn't count because this is a new season," said Howard Coach A.B. Williamson. "We wanted to win those two, but this one was the one that counted."

Morgan State had dominated Howard inside in the two previous meetings with 6-foot-8 sophomore Marcus Sheffield and 6-7 sophomore Damone Williams. Last night, the Bison came out intent not on stopping those two as much as slowing the Bears' best outside shooter, Troy Brown.

The strategy worked. Sheffield and Williams finished with 16 points each, but Brown, who had averaged 27 points in Morgan State's two victories over Howard, was held to 11 last night. The Bison sought to control him with a spread 2-1-2 zone and constant harassment from Hamilton.

"I just tried to deny him the ball within 15 feet of the basket," said Hamilton, who limited Morgan State's leading scorer to only three second-half shots. "As a whole, we knew we were a better team than Morgan State, but it was a matter of getting them down and keeping them down."

For the first nine minutes, Morgan State looked like it would be heading back to Baltimore and immediately packing for a trip to North Carolina.

The Golden Bears took a 21-13 lead after Brown's basket with 11:06 left in the half, but Howard then went on a 15-2 run that gave it a 28-23 lead after Guy Owens scored off a Mike Rollins assist with 4:28 remaining before intermission.

Howard never trailed again. It took a 50-38 lead with 12:20 to go by scoring six points in 16 seconds. Hamilton was fouled making a layup on a fast break, and the foul was ruled intentional. He added two free throws and Spencer scored as Howard took possession after the play.

Rollins' play last night was especially important for Howard. The junior point guard made only his second start after missing the season's first two months due to academic problems.

"Rollins is the key," said Williamson. "If he can control the tempo, we can win. We just didn't have that type of player until he came back in February. If he can do that again -- although A&T probably has the best team it has had in this tournament in 10 years -- you never know what might happen down there."