Jelani Williams scored 20 points including two free throws with 6.1 seconds left to lead Howard to a 65-64 win on Saturday in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament championship game and the Bison’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 31 years.
This is Howard’s first MEAC Tournament title since 1992, which was also the last time the Bison won the regular-season championship until this season. They beat the Spartans twice during the regular season 87-67 and 86-84 but the championship game was a tenacious defensive matchup.
Free throws by Terrance Jones and Joe Bryant gave Norfolk State a 64-60 lead with 23.7 seconds remaining. Marcus Dockery made his first 3-pointer after missing his first five attempts to get Howard within a point with 13.2 to go then Norfolk State threw the inbounds pass out of bounds on a miscommunication.
Williams was fouled on a drive and made two free throws on both sides of a Spartans timeout. Norfolk State called another timeout after going over midcourt then inbounded the ball to Bankston who hit the bottom of the rim with a layup in heavy pressure under the basket.
Williams was the only player for top-seeded Howard (22-12) to score in double figures on 6-of-11 shooting while hitting 7 of 8 free throws.
Dana Tate scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half and conference player of the year Joe Bryant scored all 18 of his points in the second half for the third-seeded Spartans (22-11), who were after their third straight tourney title.
Neither team led by more than six points. There were 15 lead changes and 11 ties.
Norfolk State’s 72-65 overtime win over North Carolina Central in the semifinals ended at 11:30 Friday night. Less than 14 hours later they were back on the floor and started by outscoring Howard 7-1, with Tate scoring the first five. But it was the Bison leading 33-27 at halftime after scoring the last nine points, including five from Williams.
Howard finished with three fewer field goals and survived 16 turnovers that included nine Spartans steals. But the Bison had a 39-31 rebounding edge, made three more 3-pointers and four more free throws.
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