Bison Use Free Throw Shooting To Down Florida A&M
Washington, DC—February 19---Howard University was able to offset serious foul trouble with some good solid free throw shooting in the second half and pull away to a 59-50 win over Florida A&M University in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference men's game at Burr Gymnasium.
The Bison (6-20 overall, 4-9 in the MEAC), who have been undermanned all season, came into the game with nine players in uniform, two of which are walk-ons. The starting five, which has been logging an average of 36 minutes per game through most of the season, was put to the test when three of them were saddled with three fouls in the first 20 minutes.
Howard head coach Kevin Nickelberry went to his short bench early and often in an attempt to offset the disadvantage. The Bison got 10 points from sophomore guard Anton Dickerson and 6 from freshman center Alphonso Leary in the first half before they were forced to go to the bench. The Rattlers (11-16 overall, 6-7 in the MEAC) held a 30-27 lead at the half on the strength of Amin Stevens, who tallied 14 of his game-high 22 points.
Sophomore forward Mike Phillips, the team's leading scorer (13.7) and rebounder (7.3) who was recovering from an ankle injury that he suffered in the Norfolk State game on Monday, came off the bench for the first time this season and was rendered ineffective in the first half with only two free throws.
But the 6-7 sophomore, one of the most improved players in the conference, came alive in the first minutes of the second half by drawing fouls from the Florida A&M frontcourt with power moves and post-ups down low.
His play seemed to inspire the team as senior guard Kyle Riley,sophomore forward Dadrian Collins and sophomore reserve Gary Lawrence got into the act. It resulted in the Bison going to the line 33 times and making good on 22 from the charity stripe. That is how Howard began to build on its lead.
"This was a huge win for us," said Nickelberry, in his first year as head coach with the Bison. "When you have five starters who average a lot of minutes and four of them get into foul trouble, someone has to step up. I thought Gary Lawrence and Chuck (Charles DeCosta) made some positive plays for us. And I can't say enough about the leadership of Kyle Riley and how he was able to hold us together."
Riley, Phillips, Collins and Lawrence, combined to score 21 points from the free throw line in the second half, including 10 of 14 in the last three minutes.
"Free throw shooting was obviously the difference in the game," said Nickleberry. "Kyle, Mike and Gary all stepped up big time for us."
It was a tale of two halves for Florida A&M, which shot 53 percent from the field (9 of 17) in the first half, but missed 18 of 23 in the second stanza, including a frigid 1 for 12 from beyond the arc.
"I personally like to go up and down," explained Nickelberry of his preference on style of play. "But with our situation we had to make some adjustments. The strategy was to slow them down by using a trapping defense and force them to run their offense. The guys did a good job of scrapping and playing good defense."
Collins led the Bison with 13 points, Collins with 11, and Phillips, Riley and Lawrence with eight each.
"We played like a team and stayed active on defense," said Riley, the team's only senior. "The free throws were obviously huge. We needed extra points. We missed some shots, but the free throws made up for that."
Stevens led all scorers with 22 but no other Florida A&M player reached double figures.
The Rattlers, who have yet to win a conference on the road this season, travel to Hampton, VA to take on the Pirates of Hampton University on Monday at 8 pm while the Bison will try to extend their current four-game home conference win streak alive when they host Bethune-Cookman University on Monday at 8 pm.
"We have three games remaining in the regular season," said Nickelberry. "We have to do well before the Hampton game (March 3 at home) so that we can go out with a big bang headed into the MEAC Tournament."