By Mark F. Gray, Staff Writer, [email protected]
Despite nearly a triple double performance from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year R.J. Cole, Howard’s season ended with an 81-72 loss at Coastal Carolina in the first round of the Roman College Basketball Invitational (CBI) Tournament.
The dynamic Bison all-MEAC backcourt did their best to continue their mastery on the road, but it wasn’t enough. Cole finished with 14 points, and a career high 12 rebounds and just missed the triple double with eight assists. Junior Charles Williams, the other all-MEAC First Team selection at guard, ended his junior year with a team-high 17 points and five rebounds.
“We had a good game plan,” said Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry. “We forced them into taking tough shots while playing our tempo.”
After leading by five points at halftime, Howard extended their lead to 52-39 with just over 13:00 remaining when Upper Marlboro’s Zion Cousins sank two free throws. However, Coastal Carolina made their decisive run by dominating the glass and attacking the rim. Coastal outrebounded the Bison, 53-34, while scoring 30 points inside the paint in the second half.
Howard’s biggest loss came with more than 10 minutes left after Cole picked up his fourth personal foul sending the Bison’s top guard to the bench. Once he returned to the court at the 6:21 mark, Coastal Carolina had the lead they never relinquished. Sophomore Kyle Foster, who started for the first time this season, scored 10 points in a losing effort.
“Coastal Carolina did a great job rebounding,” Nickelberry added. “But not only did we lose RJ’s leadership on the court, but he did a solid job in rebounding.”
Howard finished the season 17-17 and made their first postseason tournament since 1992 when they won the MEAC championship. The 17 wins are only the second time in the last 37 years that the Bison have won that many games.
“I’m grateful to coach a great group of young men,” Nickelberry concluded. “To me, they’re always going to be remembered as winners. They stayed together through adversity. The future is bright.”
However, things are murky at best for Nickelberry whose job security is rumored to be muddy.