Howard University Bison missed key free throws and made several untimely turnovers down the stretch that allowed the Hampton University Pirates to escape with a 51-49 victory in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) men’s game Jan. 12 at Burr Gymnasium in Washington, D.C.
After sophomore guard/forward Prince Okoroh converted two free throws to give the Bison a 49-44 lead with 2:29 remaining, the Pirates crawled their way back into the game with some help from Howard.
Junior center/forward Alphonso Leary missed two free throws that would have increased the Bison lead to seven. Given an opportunity to capitalize on Howard’s missed chance, Hampton reciprocated by turning the ball over. It would have proven to be an important possession, but Howard sophomore/guard Simuel Frazier turned it over himself on the Bison’s next possession.
Hampton freshman guard KeRon Brown then made one of two free throws to make it 49-45 with a little under two minutes left. Frazier was fouled on the Bison’s ensuing possession, but he missed both attempts, giving the Pirates hope with 1:42 remaining
Hampton sophomore center Emmanuel Okoroba then scored a basket with 1:22 remaining and, after the Bison failed to score on their next possession, Okoroba made a three-point play to give Hampton a 50-49 advantage with 34 seconds left.
The Bison missed yet another opportunity when they turned the ball over again on the inbound possession and set up Hampton freshman guard Deron Powers, who hit on one of two from the charity stripe to make it 51-49 with 27 seconds remaining.
Howard again failed to score on its next possession and Hampton had a chance to make it a two-possession game, but Pirates junior guard/forward DuVaughn Maxwell gave Howard life when he missed both free throws with 18 seconds left.
Despite all the missed opportunities, the Bison still had one more chance, until sophomore guard Brandon Ford failed to get off a shot and turned the ball over one more time, allowing the Pirates to eke out the win.
The Bison came into the game shooting over 68 percent as a team, but missed 12 of 21 attempts in their worst free throw shooting performance of the year.
“We had our opportunities, but you have to make free throws and you cannot turn the ball over,” said Howard Coach Kevin Nickelberry. “Free throw shooting is a big part of the game and tonight we missed too many. And it did not help that we turned the ball over at some inopportune times.”
With senior guard and team leader Calvin Thompson out with a foot injury, Nickelberry was forced to go with senior forward Mike Phillips and four sophomores. Phillips eventually fouled out, greatly impacting the outcome.
“When Mike went out with his fifth foul, it changed the flow of the game,” Nickelberry said. “He and Calvin are our go-to guys as veterans and when Mike went out, it really hurt us in terms of what we wanted to do. We have young talent out there, but we have to learn how to close out these games.”
Hampton’s Powers led all scorers with 14 points while junior guard Ramon Mercado contributed 10 off the bench.
Howard was led by Phillips and Frazier who each tallied 11 points. Okoro added 10 points and senior guard Anton Dickerson came off the bench to contribute eight points. Leary added six points, nine rebounds and a career-high five blocked shots.
The Bison will face the Norfolk State Spartans at home on Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m., in a nationally televised game on ESPN U.