Howard Prepares For MEAC Tournament With High Hopes
Less than two weeks ago, the Howard University men’s basketball team was in the throes of a 14-game losing streak and appeared headed for the bottom of the MEAC as the 10th or 11th seed. It was especially frustrating because 10 of the 14 losses were by six points or less. The problems were compounded by the lingering thought of last season’s 17-game skid at the end of the season and quick exit from the tourney in the play-in round.
But that all changed on February 20 when the Bison faced off against Florida A&M University at home. Much to everyone’s surprise, Howard jumped out to big first half lead and never looked back in posting an 89-71 win over the Rattlers.
Inspired by the victory, the Bison went on to win their next three before dropping a hard-fought, 73-72 decision to Maryland Eastern Shore in the regular season finale on the road. Thus, Howard enters the MEAC tournament as the ninth seed and will face off against North Carolina A&T, a team it defeated, 58-50 in Greensboro, less than a week ago.
The turnaround has been spearheaded by a combination of good clock management, some outstanding shooting and fine team defense. Senior point guard Louis Ford has settled into Coach Gil Jackson’s philosophy of efficiently running the team and it has paid dividends. Ford ranks second in the MEAC in both assists and assists/turnover ratio. He has also contributed on the scoring end, averaging almost 12 points per game during the past five games.
Equally important has been the play of freshman forward Eugene Myatt, who poured in a career-best 22 points in the FAMU win and is averaging over 15 points during this stretch. After reaching double figures only twice in the first 17 games, he has reached that mark in four of the five games.
Another key factor has been the improved play of junior guard Will Gant, who has connected on 53 percent (16 of 30) of his shots from three-point range during this period. He ranks among the conference leaders in that category.
Darek “Skip” Mitchell, a junior reserve guard has also made some key contributions as he is averaging almost 9 points off the bench during this period. He is a deadly outside shooter.
Darryl Hudson has been Howard’s most consistent performer this season. The 6-4 junior forward, though undersized in the post, gets the most out of his abilities. He leads the team in scoring with almost 13 per game and has reached double figures a team-high 18 times. He has gone to the free throw line 201 times and ranks among the conference leaders in free throw shooting.
Jason Trotter is the team’s unsung hero. He averages almost 8 points and over 5 rebounds per contest as a reserve, but it is blue-collar style of play on both defense and offense that has proven to be very valuable for the Bison. He leads the team in blocked shots with 21.
James McBryde, a 6-7 senior forward has made some solid contributions as has junior forward Stanley Greene and sophomore guards Jeron Smith and Christian Murphy. McBryde and Greene have made their presence felt on defense with 25 blocked shots between them while Smith is a fine transition player and Murphy a heady point guard.
Gil Jackson, in his first year as head coach, attributes the late season turnaround to a couple of factors.
“We are just now beginning to understand what it takes to win at this level,” explained Jackson, who served as an assistant at Penn for 16 years. “We have to work hard for 40 minutes and play disciplined basketball in order for us to have a chance to be successful.”
He continued, “And then, we are shooting the ball well. Our shot selection has improved and we are being more patient, resulting in better looks at the basket.”
The eighth-seeded Aggies (6-22 overall, 6-12 in the MEAC) dropped their last two games of the season, including a season-ending 51-44 setback to SC State on the road in which they shot 25 percent.