Maryland-Eastern Shore 69
Howard had played itself into this vulnerable position over the past week, losing its last two games to drop out of a first-round bye and into the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's play-in game. But the seventh-seeded Bison escaped booby-trapped Arthur Ashe Center with a 71-69 victory over No. 10 seed Maryland-Eastern Shore today.
"The good news is that we get a day off and move on to the [Richmond] Coliseum," said Howard Coach Frankie Allen, whose Bison will play Wednesday night against second-seeded Delaware State. "We had to earn it."
Coaches around the MEAC complain in private about the Ashe Center, shaking their heads about its chilliness, the poor lighting, the large dead spots on the hard rubber floor and the large empty spaces behind the baskets that make depth perception for shooting difficult. The sparse crowds and creaky public address system give the atmosphere far less than the usual postseason fervor.
"At a certain point, adrenaline takes over and you push all that out," said Howard forward Kyle Williams, who had 15 points. "That's what happened tonight."
The consensus is that anything can happen here, and coaches are desperate to avoid it. Howard showed why, holding a seven-point lead with three minutes to go but not feeling secure until a pair of Ron Williamson free throws gave the Bison a five-point lead with six seconds left.
"That's the way all these games are going to be," Allen said. "One or two possessions will decide the whole thing."
The Hawks, who beat the Bison four days ago in Princess Anne, Md., came close to playing the spoilers again today. The Bison trailed until Mac Wilkerson's jumper three minutes into the second half tied the game at 38, and they took their first lead with 13 minutes 23 seconds left on a three-point play by Williamson for a 42-40 lead. Howard took a 60-51 lead as Wilkerson scored on five consecutive possessions and the Bison hung on after that.
"Coach Allen saw a mismatch and I took advantage of it," said Wilkerson, who made 10 of 12 shots for a career-high 21 points. Instead of facing 6-foot-7 Didier Socka, Allen ran the 6-9 Wilkerson to the top of the key, allowing him to shoot over the Hawks' guards.
The game pitted the league's top two scorers, but neither was dominant. Williamson, the MEAC player of the year, scored a workmanlike 14 points. The Hawks' Tee Trotter, who scored 42 points against the Bison on Jan. 30, had 18 points while leading the Hawks to a 35-32 halftime lead, but cooled off to finish with 25.
Freshman point guard Aaron Wellington, who typically picks up the slack when Trotter has trouble, was unable to carry the load in the second half, scoring just three of his 11 points after the break.