A Tale of Two Halves...Twice
The Men and Women’s Basketball teams kicked off their MEAC conference schedules with a doubleheader at Burr on Saturday January 7th. Both teams faced the Delaware State Hornets. That’s about where the similarities end.
The women kicked things off at 2pm. They were without several players, notably their starters Iyanna Warren and reigning MEAC Player-of-the-Week Destiny Howell. It didn’t seem to matter much in the first half, as the Bison dined on early offense and three pointers. They pulled early and often from behind the arc. The diet worked—they were up 15 points and cruised to a 33-18 lead halfway through the contest.
Guard (and grad transfer) Aziah Hudson and forward Brooklyn Fort-Davis did most of the damage in the early part of the game. In fact, when the lead had ballooned to 20 and the score was 42-22, the two had combined for 32 of those points. It was all smiles. In fact, during the run, Hudson surpassed 1,000 career points and Fort-Davis surpassed 500 career rebounds. There was only 5:42 remaining in the 3rd quarter, and it looked like the Bison would cruise to another victory and hand DSU their seventh straight loss.
Unfortunately for Howard, the Hornets had other plans. After a parade to the foul line, some inopportune turnovers and questionable shot selection, DSU had climbed back into the game by the start of the 4th quarter. Still, the 13-point lead was plenty of cushion to start the last period of the game.
At least it was until an 11-0 run by DSU left the lead at two points and every fan on the edge of their seat for a wild finish. A series of near misses, offensive rebounds, and one HUGE 5 second inbounding violation later and the Bison survived to come out victorious, 51-49. In context, that means after HU built a 20-point lead, DSU went on a 27-9 run to end the game. It was clear the Bison missed its closer and best scorer, Howell. Howell scored a career high 35-point game against the Bison’s most recent opponent, VCU. Fort-Davis’ game-high 19 points and Hudson’s 15 combined to take up the slack, and the defense did the rest. Ultimately, it was Howard’s success from three (7/25 compared to DSU’s 2/11), particularly in the first half, that saved them.
HU will have to get right back up after that nail-biter. They have a game at University Maryland Eastern Shore on Monday January 9th. They will look to extend their two-game winning streak.
Despite taking place in the same arena only minutes apart and having the same name on the front of the competitors’ jerseys, the Men’s game went a bit differently from their female counterparts’. They got up immediately on the Hornets, who came into the game 1-12. DSU switched to a 2-3 zone and temporarily slowed the Howard men. Specifically, when reigning MEAC Rookie-of-the-week Shy Odom was placed at the free throw line in the weakest spot in the zone. It seemed clear that DSU was in no mood for Odom’s talents and swarmed him repeatedly. They forced 10 turnovers in the first half.
While the game as a whole wasn’t close, a run by DSU in the waning minutes of the first half got the lead down to a single possession. Back-to-back three pointers from Marcus Dockery gave the Bison a 41-33 halftime lead. Dockery’s hot shooting was a precursor to his biggest HU scoring output ever, the transfer had 19 points on 5/8 shooting from deep. While he was the game’s high-scorer, Elijah Hawkins’ eight points and nine assists set the table for Howard’s offense and eventual victory.
The 2nd half lead would never get below the eight-point barrier established at halftime. Indeed, it would grow to 26 at its largest. There was plenty of garbage time, but even when the game was in the balance, Coach Kenny Blakeney played ten men in the first half. He said pregame that he thought they could wear out the Hornets, and by the first timeout of the second half, he looked like a clairvoyant. The Bison were sharper and quicker to the ball.
Blakeney implemented a platoon system, with wholesale five-man substitutions. Such a plan is unorthodox, but perhaps the coach is looking for the bigger picture. In order to represent the MEAC in the NCAA tournament, a team has to win the MEAC tournament. The tournament is a grueling, multi-day crucible that tests the limits of team’s talents, teamwork, and stamina. A deep team, like the one Coach Blakeney is building, stands a better chance of victory than one that can only rely on a handful of players. Given the disappointment of last year’s outcome, it stands to reason that Blakeney is coaching the beginning of this MEAC season with the end in mind.
The win was marked the fourth win in five games for the Bison. And their 8-9 record means that Monday’s 7:30pm game at UMES, can get them back to .500 on the season. Happy hunting, Bison.
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