Norfolk, Va. –Jelani Williams scored 20 points with two free throws with 6.1 seconds left to lead Howard to a 65-64 victory over Norfolk State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament championship game on Saturday and secure the Bison’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament. 31 years.
It was Howard’s first MEAC Tournament title since 1992, the Bison regular-season championship until this season. They defeated the Spartans twice in the regular season, 87-67 and 86-84, but the championship game was a solid defensive matchup.
Free throws by Terrence Jones and Joe Bryant gave Norfolk State a 64-60 lead with 23.7 seconds left. Marcus Dockery made his first 3-pointer to get within 13.2 points of Howard after missing his first five attempts, then Norfolk State knocked the inbounds pass out of bounds due to a miscommunication.
Williams was fouled on a drive and made two free throws on either side of a Spartan timeout. Norfolk State called another timeout after driving down midcourt and then the ball inbounded to Bankston, who hit the bottom of the rim with a layup under heavy pressure to the basket.
Williams was the only player on top-seeded Howard (22-12) to score in double figures, hitting 7 of 8 free throws on 6-of-11 shooting.
Dana Tate scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half and conference player of the year Joe Bryant Jr. scored all 18 of his points in the second half for the third-seeded Spartans (22-11), who finished third. Direct tourney titles.
No team leads by more than six points. There were 15 lead changes and 11 ties.
Norfolk State’s 72-65 overtime victory over North Carolina Central in the semifinals ended Friday at 11:30 p.m. Less than 14 hours later they returned to the floor and started out scoring Howard 7-1, with Tate scoring the first five goals. But the Bison led 33-27 at halftime after Williams scored the last nine points, including five.
Howard finished with three fewer field goals and survived 16 turnovers, including nine Spartan steals. But the Bison had a 39-31 rebounding edge, made three more 3-pointers and four more free throws.