Last night, Howard center Andrea Gardner again showed flashes of the dominant player she might become. Gardner registered her eighth double-double of the season with 19 points and 21 rebounds to help Howard defeat Florida A&M, 67-54, in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game before 1,784 at Burr Gymnasium.
In the men's game, Howard rallied from a 22-point, first-half deficit to pull within two in the final minute, but Florida A&M hung on for a 73-67 victory.
The 6-foot-2 Gardner had 13 points and 15 rebounds in the second half, and Howard (9-8, 7-1) overcame a sluggish first half to remain in first place in the MEAC. The sophomore center, in her first season with the Bison, dominated play inside on offense and defense, and Howard gained some revenge for its loss to the Rattlers in last year's MEAC tournament semifinal.
This was Gardner's second 20-rebound game this season. She pulled down 22 rebounds in a victory over South Carolina State Jan. 10.
"What you see at this point is pure athletic ability," Howard Coach Sanya Tyler said of Gardner. "This time next year, when she starts to understand things . . . she's going to be a different kind of player."
Gardner sparked a Howard defense that shut down Florida A&M in the second half. She was an integral part of the defense that pushed the Rattlers from the basket and cut off their drives into the lane and along the baseline.
"The intensity level went up in the second half," Gardner said. "I was just trying to play hard on defense and be aware of what [Howard] was doing."
Florida A&M (5-11, 3-5) was 8 of 39 in the second half, when Howard took command. Gardner sparked a 12-1 run in the early minutes that gave the Bison the lead to stay after they trailed 31-29 at halftime.
Several players pitched in to make up for forward Courtney Kirk, sidelined for the third straight game with shin splints. Nicole Jackson had 11 points, and teammate Channell Washington added 10. Mona Gail Baker came off the bench for six points and eight rebounds, and Yetta Enobakhare had three points, four blocks and five rebounds.
In addition to the tough defense, Howard showed why it's the MEAC's top free throw shooting team. The Bison made 13 of 15 from the line in the first half to stay close, and they hit 24 of 33 overall. Florida A&M, which entered the game as the conference's worst free throw shooters, made only 16 of 35, wasting several chances to pull away in the first half.
In the men's game, Florida A&M (4-14, 2-5) jumped out to a 33-13 lead midway through the first half and rolled to a 45-25 halftime lead over Howard. But the Bison (1-14, 1-5) slowed the tempo in the second half and began cutting into the lead. The Bison sliced it to 64-61 on Aquil Bayyan's three-pointer with just less than three minutes left, but Florida A&M scored five straight points.
However, Howard guard Ron Williamson hit back-to-back three-pointers to make it 69-67 with 46 seconds left. But the Bison then turned over the ball three times during the final 33 seconds, and the Rattlers made four consecutive free throws to seal the victory.
"In the first half, there was a lid on the basket," Howard interim men's coach Billy Coward said. "We wanted to play more under control in the second half. They came out and really started hustling."