NORFOLK, Va., March 11, 2023 – Jelani Williams made two free throws with 6.1 seconds remaining to lift top-seeded Howard to a 65-64 win over third-seeded Norfolk State to capture its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament title since 1992.
The Bison survived a last-second inside attempt by the Spartans’ Kris Bankston that was off the mark.
The Bison, who improved to 22-12 on the year, earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship and will learn their fate during Sunday’s NCAA Selection Show (6 p.m. ET on CBS).
Saturday’s championship game was closely contested throughout, featuring 15 lead changes and 11 ties, including 10 lead changes and eight deadlocks in the final half.
Williams, a graduate student of Washington, D.C., led Howard with 23 points, including nine of the Bison’s final 15, none bigger than the two clinching free throws. Steve Settle, Shy Odom, and Elijah Hawkins all had nine points in the win. Odom, the tournament’s Outstanding Performer, had seven rebounds and Williams six to lead Howard on the boards
The Spartans, who were seeking their third straight MEAC tournament crown, ended their campaign at 22-11. Head coach Robert Jones’ team was paced by Dana Tate with 19 points and seven rebounds, and Joe Bryant, Jr. with 18 points, all in the second half.
Bryant also led the Spartans on the boards with eight rebounds, while adding five steals. He was involved in a miscue with 13.2 seconds left when teammate Caheim Brown threw the ball behind him on an inbound play, turning the ball over to Howard and setting up Williams’ heroics.
Howard, down 27-24 with 2:39 left in the first half, closed the period with a 9-0 run to take a 33-27 cushion to the locker room, however, the Spartans began the final half with a 15-9 spree to grab a 42-41 lead on Tate’s jumper with 14.05 to play.
The Bison regained the lead 43-42 on two Odom free throws with 13:55 remaining. The lead changed hands four times and there were five ties before Norfolk State took a 64-60 lead on two Bryant free throws in 23.7 seconds to play.
Marcus Dockery, who had only five points in the game, pulled Howard to within one, 64-63, with a 3-pointer with 13.2 on the clock. Norfolk then turned the ball over on the inbounds play when Brown, looking for Bryant, threw the ball behind him, giving Howard possession.
On the Bison trip down the court, Williams got inside for an attempt and was fouled on the play, sending him to the line for two shots with 06.1 seconds on the scoreboard clock. He calmly connected on both giving his team a one-point 65-64 edge.
The Spartans got the ball into the front court and took their final time out to set up a play. The ball went to Bankston — who had just six points after getting in foul trouble early in the final half and having to sit for a long spell — who drove to the basket but had his attempt bounce off the rim, preserving the win for Howard and head coach Kenneth Blakeney, and sending the Bison to their first NCAA postseason play in 31 years.
Outstanding Performer: Shy Odom, Howard
Outstanding Coach: Kenneth Blakeney, Howard
Bryce Harris, Howard
Shy Odom, Howard
Joe Bryant, Jr., Norfolk State
Kris Bankston, Norfolk State
Justin Wright, North Carolina Central