By Mark F. Gray,
Special to the AFRO

Howard University women’s basketball was on three sides of history once the final whistle blew on their season.

There was the elation of winning their first conference championship in over two decades.  The Bison then made history, beating Incarnate Word in the NCAA’s inaugural first round game.

Then came the harsh reality of a no. 1 vs no.16 matchup against the University of South Carolina, and their future Hall of Fame coach and multiple Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks, who are a perennial national championship contender.  

Within a span of six days, Howard re-established their place amongst the great legacies in HBCU women’s sports. They also came to grips with the journey that small programs – especially those at Black colleges – must endure to become factors in Division I.

Howard won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball championship after losing in 2021 to North Carolina A&T in the finals of the tournament.  That loss drove them during the regular season where they earned the top seed by winning the regular season championship.  The MEAC season drew to its conclusion in Norfolk versus the Spartans in the finals. It was thought by many in Tidewater that it would be right of passage for the NSU women to complete the championship double after their men defeated Coppin State.

The Bison weren’t having it though.  Coach Ty Grace set the tone for her team by showing up on the sidelines to coach in sweats, sneakers, and a Black Lives Matter t-shirt for the championship game. They embodied her toughness and routed NSU in what was basically a road game in a “neutral” building, 61-44.

“We were locked in from Day One and we never forgot about last year,”  Grace said. “Our kids remember crying in that loss while North Carolina A&T State celebrated.”

Destiny Howell scored a career-high 25 points, grabbed six rebounds, and dished out two assists while contributing a block and two steals in the win over Norfolk State in the MEAC Tournament championship game at the Scope Arena.  She set the tone early and helped them jump out to an early 15-10 first-quarter lead as the Bison played from ahead for most of the game and cruised to their first championship since 2001.  It was the program’s 11th overall, which is the most in the history of the 50-year-old conference.

“We all felt that pain when they were celebrating after we got so close,” Howell said. “We were determined to not let that happen this time.”

Howard then proved they are back as a legitimate mid-major program with their first victory ever in the NCAA Tournament over Incarnate Word 55-53. The Bison won the inaugural first round game of the women’s and took the first baby step towards legitimizing their program as a national brand with the nationally televised victory.

Then reality set in.

South Carolina put a traditional no. 1 vs no. 16 beat down on Howard that was historic.  The Gamecocks ended HU’s season with a 79-21 loss.  The Bison’s 21 points were the fewest ever scored by a team in the tournament’s history. They were held to two points in the first and second quarters then scored four in the third following halftime. Their 13 points in the final period were cosmetics that didn’t cover the blemish. 

In six days, Howard learned their women have arrived as a better than average mid-major program who can be active in the NCAA transfer portal to advance their national brand. The master class whipping by a national power – though painful – should prove to be a new beginning for a program who appears set to capitalize on HBCU basketball’s version of “Black Girl Magic” and rise beyond a perception they can’t with the nation’s blue bloods.

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