The Howard University men's basketball team fell behind early and trailed by double digits through most of the game before putting on a spirited comeback that came up just short in a 54-49 loss to Norfolk State in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference match at Burr Gymnasium. The game was carried live on ESPNU.
The Bison (4-14 overall, 1-3 in the MEAC) were coming off a disappointing 51-49 home loss to Hampton on Monday and the lingering effects of that along with the team's inability to score, appeared to be a factor early when they fell behind 15-4 to start the game.
But Howard got some unexpected offensive production from senior reserve guard Tre Lee, who spurred a 14-5 run over an 11-minute span to close the deficit to 20-18 at the 2:54 mark of the first half.
"Tre Lee was huge off the bench," said Howard Coach Kevin Nickelberry. "He gave us a lot tonight with his energy, his defense and his rebounding."
Norfolk State (9-10 overall, 4-0 in the MEAC), the defending MEAC tournament champions, regrouped and held Howard scoreless the rest of the way to take a 26-18 lead to the locker room.
Most of the Spartans' offensive success came from their leader and All-conference candidate, junior guard Pendarvis Williams, who was a perfect four-of-four from the field—including two three pointers—to lead all scorers with 10 points in the first 20 minutes.
"When you have a kid like Pendarvis, he can make a difference," noted Nickelberry. "He made some tough shots when they needed them."
The Spartans threatened to take control of the game when they extended the lead to 32-20 in the first three minutes of the second half and continued to keep Howard at bay by going to the free throw line. It is important to note that while the Bison limited Norfolk State to only five second half baskets, the visitors compensated by going to the free throw line 30 times.
"We have lived on defense all season," explained Nickelberry. "We held Pitt to five or six field goals for 30 minutes or so when we played them. We defend and we are a scrappy team. We want an ugly game."
It was the "ugly and scrappy" style that Nickelberry alluded to that fueled a 14-7 spurt over a two-minute span that got the Bison to within four at 53-49 with seven ticks on the clock. But time ran out and Howard came up just short again after a valiant effort.
"We want our system to beat their talent. But when you look at it, they played 12 or 13 players and we played six. We just do not have enough depth and fatigue doesn't usually play a factor. But it did today after such a grueling game against Hampton on Saturday."
Howard gets a few days break before returning to the court for a challenging road trip that features three games in five days, beginning on Saturday at North Carolina A&T, followed by North Carolina Central on Monday and concluding at Delaware State next Wednesday.
"I was proud of the way we played and the effort that we gave," said Nickelberry. "We played hard without looking at the scoreboard. If we continue to do that, we will have success."
Williams led all scorers with 17, Rob Johnson and Brandon Goode each finished with 12 and Malcolm Hawkins tallied 11 before fouling out.
Prince Okoroh led Howard with 15, Lee finished with a season-high 13 and 6 rebounds and Mike Phillips had 8 points and 7 rebounds in a losing effort.