Howard University basketball coach A.B. Williamson is hoping to stay in low gear tonight in the Bison's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament semifinal game against top-seeded North Carolina A&T at Greensboro Coliseum.

The two schools have met in the MEAC championship game each of the past seven years, with the Aggies winning the last six. The Aggies come into tonight's 8 p.m. game at 24-2, winners of 14 straight and possibly with the most talent they have had in a decade.

Howard (16-12) has struggled all season with injuries and inconsistent play, finishing fourth during the regular season. Williamson knows the Bison will probably reach Saturday's title game only by dictating a deliberate pace tonight.

"A&T has had some better individual talent, but I never remember a year when they have had seven or eight players with this much talent and experience playing together," said Williamson. "A&T is a good perimeter team, a good inside team and a good veteran team, and if they are hot, look out. But if we can keep the game in the 70-point range for both teams, we have a great chance to win."

North Carolina A&T, which has won 12 of 16 MEAC titles since the league was formed, has not lost since an 84-72 decision at Georgia Tech on Jan. 19. The Aggies beat Howard, 93-70, in Greensboro two weeks ago, but A&T did not wrap up an earlier 70-66 victory at Burr Gymnasium until the final seconds.

Except for the presence of 6-foot-7 senior forward John Spencer (averaging 10.9 points, 10.6 rebounds), who was ejected midway in the loss at A&T after getting into a scuffle with Aggies center Kenny Cox, Howard has been outmatched inside by most teams.

Against Morgan State in Tuesday's first-round, the Bison changed strategy somewhat by spreading their 2-1-2 zone to pressure the Bears' perimeter players. Worrying less about its deficiency down low proved successful as Howard registered an 86-83 victory over a team that had displayed inside dominance in two regular-season wins over the Bison.

A&T provides a considerable threat inside with 6-7 forward Claude Williams (16 points, 7.8 rebounds) and 6-6 Carleton Becton (14.4 points). In addition, 5-8 guard Thomas Griffis averages 13.4 points and 6.7 assists.

Junior guard Mike Rollins, who missed the first half of the season with academic problems, will make his second straight start for Howard, and may be its key.

"Mike Rollins can make a big difference," said guard George Hamilton, whose 17.4 scoring average tops Howard. "He can make the outside shot and we cut down on our mistakes with him in there. He also takes some of the pressure off me."

Spencer said defeating A&T tonight would hold special significance for Howard's three starting seniors -- himself, his brother Howard and Hamilton.

"After losing to A&T three years in a row in the championship game, you have to take it personally." said John Spencer. "It has been especially frustrating in past years because we usually beat them at least once in the regular season. This time, we have a lot to prove, especially to ourselves."

Spencer predicted the Bison will surprise people by not having their season end tonight.

"We're still improving, and Rollins has the potential to give us a lift -- he controls us and settles us down," said Spencer. "I think we'll still be playing for a long time after {tonight's} game."