By Mark F. Gray, Staff Writer, [email protected]
The first college basketball event at the new DC Entertainment and Sports Arena marked the beginning of a new experience for the hoops hotbed that is the area surrounding the Congress Heights Community. However, a change of venue didn’t make for a change of fortune for the one hometown representative against their bitter rival whose mastery continued.
That Hampton beat Howard for the 16th consecutive time was a mere footnote to the first Events DC “Holiday Hoops Fest” in the new building that doubles as the practice facility for the Washington Wizards and home to Washington Mystics of the WNBA and the Capital City Go-Go of the NBA’s G-League. It was a celebration of mid-major college basketball staged in an area that is regarded the most fertile recruiting base nationally.
Howard was the only member of the inaugural quartet who represented both the District and HBCU basketball. The Bison and Pirates rekindled their “Battle of the Real HU’s” rivalry, which has been dominated by the team from Tidewater who has made a habit of coming to the DMV and stealing a win, 89-82.
Over the game’s last nine minutes the teams traded the lead seven times. Howard seemed to be in control with a nine point early in the second half on a dunk by Raymond Bethea, Jr. to lead 43-34. In typical Hampton fashion they roared back into the game on the heels of a 9-0 run as Jermaine Marrow’s layup evened the game at 43-43 with 16:19 remaining.
Marrow led Hampton with 31 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Mitchell scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half and added a team-high 10 boards..
The teams traded brief leads before a layup from Akim Mitchell gave Hampton a 55-54 lead with 12:29 left. That jump started the 16-6 run to give them a 69-60 lead on a three pointer from Greg Heckstall with 7:35 remaining that gave them control for good. Mitchell scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half adding a team-high 10 rebounds. Heckstall just missed a double-double with 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Sophomore guard RJ Cole- the MEAC’s preseason Player of the Year- led Howard with 29 points, six rebounds and six assists while making 13 of 17 free throws.
Ed Joyner has never lost to Howard since taking the job at Hampton and continued his mastery of the “Mecca” with new players despite not playing on their campus at Burr Gym.
“They did a good job making it tough in the second half,” said Howard Men’s Basketball head coach Kevin Nickelberry. “We got what we wanted in the first half, but they made it tough in the second [half].”
However, Hampton, who left the MEAC for the Big South last July returned to the Nation’s Capital with a new rival from their new conference who added the star power to the event. It was homecoming for High Point University coach Tubby Smith whose visit was as much about branding and marketing his program as it was trying to beat Richmond of the Atlantic 10 conference.
Smith, who was released by the University of Memphis, doesn’t have the talent on his roster to compete with more established mid-majors that he’ll face this year as the Lions fell to the Spiders 74-59. Nonetheless, Smith still led the event in selfie requests by a landslide.