By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer,

The road of perfection ended for Howard in the semifinals of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament when they couldn’t beat Norfolk State for the second time in just over a week in Tidewater.

The fourth seeded Bison lost in the 2019 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Tournament Semifinals 75-69 to top seeded Norfolk State at Scope Arena in, what amounted to, a postseason home game for the Spartans.  This was their third meeting of the season with each winning on the other’s home floor and with a shot to play for the championship when they were on their best behavior.

Howard’s R.J. Cole, The MEAC’s Player of the Year, will lead the Bison into the College Basketball Invitational Tournament. It will be their first postseason appearance since 1992. (Courtesy Photo)

Norfolk State’s win in D.C. was marred by a postgame fight with multiple suspensions to both teams, including a university imposed sanction by Howard on head coach Kevin Nickelberry.  The Bison concluded the regular season by upsetting the Spartans at Echols Hall on NSU’s campus.

Howard made only 10 of their 27 first half shots and committed 16 turnovers before halftime.  The Spartans converted those miscues into 14 points and dominated the paint by out-rebounding the Bison 42-32.

The All-MEAC backcourt – including player of the year R.J. Cole and first team guard Charles Williams – struggled along with redshirt junior Chad Lott. They combined for just 15 of Howard’s 26 in the first half points.

Meanwhile, the Spartans got a lift from Derrik Jamerson who came out firing from long range.  He knocked down all four of his three-point attempts in the first half and put Howard in a hole they would ever get out of 34-26, at halftime.

“Obviously, Norfolk State-Howard part three was a competitive, physical game. We got up early on them, and they made a run. They pretty much took the ball out of RJ’s hands for most of the first half,” Nickelberry said after the game. “We’re not going to be successful scoring 26 points in the first half.”

The Spartans took their biggest lead of the game, 51-38, with 9:37 left in the second half.  After Jamerson buried his fifth three-pointer of the game, the Bison made their run to get back into the game. A three-pointer by sophomore Kyle Foster capped a 12-4 run that cut the deficit to 55-50 with 6:21 remaining. Freshman Raymond Bethea, Jr. hit a three of his own to pull Howard to within 62-60, with 3:50 left.

Lott led the Bison with 21 points. Cole added 19 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Second-year forward Zion Cousins added 10 points and seven boards.

The Bison ended the season with a 17-16 overall record and 10-6 in the MEAC.

However, the season did not end with that loss.  The Roman College Basketball Invitational (CBI) committee finalized its 16-team field and Howard was invited to this year’s tournament. The announcement was made after the NCAA Selection Show.  Howard will be playing in their first postseason tournament since 1992, when they won the MEAC Championship.

“ CBI is a great event,” Nickelberry added. “Some very talented teams played in this event and went on to play in the Final Four . I’m happy for this team.”

The CBI is a single-elimination tournament until the “Best-of-Three Finals,” with all games played at campus sites.  Prior to the semifinals, the remaining teams will be re-bracketed. The Best-of-Three Finals series is when one team will host two of the three games. Those games will be played on April 1, April 3, and April 5.

Twenty-seven teams have used the CBI as a platform on the road to the NCAA Tournament the following year, while another 19 have played in the National Invitation Tournament .