There were plenty of excuses Howard could have used in Wednesday’s game against Morgan State. For starters, after playing on Monday, the Bison had just one day to prepare for the MEAC’s top team. They were missing one of their starters, Randy Hampton, who was in a car accident earlier in the day. And their leading scorer Eugene Myatt had an off night.
But Howard didn’t need any excuses. Despite those obstacles, the Bison nearly pulled off the upset. Morgan State barely escaped with a 74-69 win at Burr Gymnasium.
The loss is “not really a setback, but it is frustrating because we know that we can beat them,” sophomore guard Kyle Riley said. “It’s just a bunch of little things that we didn’t do. . . . Knowing that we could beat them, that’s what makes it frustrating.”
Howard (7-19, 5-7 MEAC) was playing a rare midweek game because Morgan State needed to reschedule Saturday’s game. The Bears were invited to play Towson that day in ESPN’s BracketBuster.
In hindsight, Howard Coach Gil Jackson wishes he would have pushed the game to next week rather than immediately following his team’s trip to South Carolina State. “We probably made a mistake in that,” he said. “We should have played that on the back end, versus playing when we played it. But that’s the way it goes.”
The short turnaround might have accounted for Howard’s tired legs early. The Bison did a nice job stopping Morgan State’s first shot, but they kept allowing the Bears to grab offensive rebounds. Morgan State turned 12 offensive rebounds into 15 points. Those second-chance shots helped the Bears surge to a 24-10 lead.
Every time Morgan State would take a double-digit lead, however, Howard would storm back to close the gap. The Bison pulled to 32-27 just before halftime then closed to 41-37 early in the second half. After Morgan State went ahead 49-37, Riley’s three-pointer cut the Bears’ lead to 57-52. The Bison would get within three on Riley’s three-point play with 18 seconds remaining, but Reggie Holmes (21 points) sank a pair of free throws to seal the Bears’ victory.
“We spotted them too much in the first half,” Jackson said. “That was too much for us to make up.”
Riley, who hadn’t played in the South Carolina State loss on Monday because of a lingering back injury, led Howard with 18 points and five assists. Center Paul Kirkpatrick played one of his better games. Kirkpatrick scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots.
“I thought Paul really stepped up,” Jackson said. “I’d like to see him play at that level all the time. He made big shots. He rebounded. He was playing to exhaustion. . . . Paul did all he could do out there.”
Myatt has been Howard’s one dependable scorer this season, but on this night, he struggled to score. Morgan State smothered him with double teams and repeatedly switched defenders on him, holding him to 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
“He was [frustrated] but he showed some maturity out there,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen him get really frustrated and then be totally useless out there. He’s able to play through some of that now. I’m happy he’s showing some senior leadership and maturity out there.”
Jackson could have used Hampton, the team’s second-leading scorer, but the senior forward was involved in a fender-bender earlier in the day.
“I think he’s okay,” Jackson said.
The revised schedule gives Howard four days to prepare for its next game, a nice break for the weary Bison. Howard has two home games – Coppin State on Feb. 23 and Hampton on March 5 – and one road trip – North Carolina A&T and Norfolk State – before the MEAC tournament starts on March 9.
“We need to win on the road,” Riley said. “That would definitely help. We have Coppin on Monday, but pulling together and winning on the road against Norfolk and A&T would really help us. We need play on the road like we play at home. The break will help us regroup and get together for our next game.”
February 19, 2009; 6:03 AM ET
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