By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
There are growing pains that come with the transition from high school to college and for Howard University they have hit the men’s basketball program along with new head coach Kenny Blakeney. Behind his calm demeanor and steel-eyed confidence beats a fierce competitor who remains confident that his team will get better by season’s end.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference scheduling gods didn’t give the Bison – or their freshman head coach – any favors by opening the season at home against three contenders with veteran players who are familiar with their team’s systems and physically more mature. Howard opened their conference schedule with three contenders – Bethune Cookman, Norfolk State, and South Carolina State – at Burr Gymnasium and were in winnable games where repeated self-inflicted miscues led to their demise. Nonetheless, he remained confident heading into Monday’s meeting against the Bulldogs.
“We got this,” Blakeney said before the 101-95 loss to S.C. State.
Well…they had the chance to win but couldn’t seal the deal once again. Howard was it’s own worst enemy by not capitalizing at the free throw line nor protecting the basketball. In their first four conference games, the Bison committed 57 turnovers and made only 59 of 84 free throw attempts. The 26 easy points lost have been the difference as the losses were by a combined 56. However, if you omit the 29 point debacle against Bethune Cookman, the other three were by a total of 26. That’s an average of just under seven points or barely more than a two possession game.
During a halftime interview on the team’s radio broadcast, HU Athletic Director Kery Davis expressed confidence in the team’s progress. Davis, who also said the University was using a search firm to assist with the hiring of it’s new head football coach, likes what he sees and admitted that his best player is struggling because he’s still trying to adjust to life without his backcourt partner who was MEAC Player of the Year in 2019, then used the NCAA’s transfer portal to finish his career at the University of Connecticut with his high school coach Danny Hurley.
“This team is still growing and learning each other,” Davis said during his guest appearance at halftime of the S.C. State game on Heritage Sports Radio Network (HSRN). “When I was talking to C.J. as he was getting up some shots [early that day] he said it has been a tough adjustment not playing with [R.J. Cole]. [Cole] could do so many things it made his life easier. But in watching him over the last few games I think he’s beginning to figure things out.”
Williams finally erupted for 34 points and looked like the MEAC Preseason Player of the Year for the Bison who fell to 2-16 after the loss to S.C. State. He played with energy, was explosive getting to the rim and finishing several plays with viral-caliber dunks that brought the first night of school crowd to their feet.
The solace for Howard is they opened with the toughest stretch as conference play begins. This season has begun similarly to last year when early January was a struggle, but they finished on a roll making it to the MEAC semifinals then winning a game in the College Basketball Insiders national tournament.