DES MOINES, Iowa – No. 16 Howard University men’s basketball team saw its historic season end, falling to No. 3 overall Kansas, 96-68, in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.
Although the game did not turn out how the Bison wanted, it was still a historic occasion for the team as they made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992, where they coincidentally played a Roy Williams-led Kansas team.
“I’m so incredibly proud of our guys,” said Howard men’s basketball head coach Kenneth Blakeney during the postgame press conference. “I just love how they have grown as people and have become better men over the course of this season. That’s a victory no one can take away from us.”
Four Bison reached double figures in scoring, led by Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Rookie of the Year Shy Odom (Roxbury, Mass.) with 15 points, along with eight boards and three assists in 27 minutes of action.
Howard won the tip, but Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (San Antonio) made the first basket of the game with a pullup jumper, 2-0.
A dunk from redshirt junior forward Steve Settle, III (Glenarden, Md.) in response gave Howard their first NCAA Tournament points in 31 years, 2-2. Moments later, a three from All-MEAC First Team selection sophomore guard Elijah Hawkins (Washington) gave HU their first lead of the game early on, 8-5.
It was a back-and-forth game to start with HU matching the Jayhawks bucket-for-bucket. Howard would continue to keep up with Kansas throughout the first half.
Settle, who finished with 13 points on 50-percent shooting (5-of-10), hit a three that brought the Bison back to within two points, 15-13, but the Jayhawks came back and extended their lead to six, 19-13, with 11:28 left in the first half, their largest lead of the game up to that point.
Settle was feeling it in the first half, scoring 10 points on 4-5 shooting and two three-pointers to start his afternoon off.
“We did a good job in the first half,” said Settle. “But when you play a team like Kansas, they’ll capitalize on mistakes. We left a lot of meat on the bone in the first half, gave up a lot of free throws, second-chance points and you can’t give that up to a team like that.”
Hawkins hit a tough shot, leaning to his left to bring HU back to within two and a transition three from sophomore guard Marcus Dockery (Washington) gave Howard the lead back, 20-19, capping a 7-0 run. Dockery would go on to sink a game-high four three-pointers in the effort, finishing with 12 points.
The game started picking up pace in the last 10 minutes, with both teams exchanging leads and turnovers multiple times; however, the Bison began to have trouble keeping up with the Jayhawks, going down, 50-37, at the half.
HU ended the half getting beat on the boards, 23-15, but outside shooting is what kept the Bison in the game up to that point, going 5-11 from behind the arc.
The second half began with both teams knocking down baskets, matching each other shot-for-shot. Howard continued to have trouble rebounding, with the Jayhawks pounding the offensive glass and getting themselves up to 12 second-chance points for the game.
The Bison offense began to flow through Odom in the second half, scoring six of the team’s first nine points after intermission.
“We dug ourselves in a hole,” Odom stated. “In both halves, we gave up points in transition and second-chance point opportunities.”
As the 9:47 mark in the second half rolled around, the turnovers continued to mount for HU and the Jayhawks capitalized on 20 points off mistakes.
The Jayhawks maintained their lead the rest of the way, ending the Bison’s unforgettable season.
Hawkins wrapped up his sophomore campaign with 12 points and eight dimes.
For Kansas (28-7), five Jayhawks finished with double figures in scoring, led by Associated Press All-American Jalen Wilson with a game-high 20 points and seven boards. Gradey Dick produced a double-double (19 points and 11 rebounds) in the win. They face No. 8 Arkansas in the Round of 32 Saturday (March 18)
For the Bison, the tournament is over, but the season overall was their biggest success in decades. Ending their season with a 22-13 record, the Bison won both the conference tournament and the regular season championship, marking their fifth and fourth times winning them, respectively.
“I’m thrilled that we were able to represent Howard University,” Blakeney continued. “In a classy way that honored so many people before us and the legacy of Howard.”
Credit: Howard University
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