By Joshua Heron
Howard University News Service
The Howard Bison kept afloat early against the Kansas Jayhawks in the NCAA tournament first round, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the No. 1 seed from winning 96-68.
The Bison controlled the opening tip, and within the first five minutes, it was clear that Coach Kenny Blakeney refused to change the formula that won his squad the 2022 MEAC championship. He played a 10-man rotation, and rotating a full line worked.
Howard attacked the basket early and stayed in the game via efficient shooting. Junior forward Steve Settle started the game shooting 4-for-4. However, Kansas capitalized in transition on Howard turnovers. Howard ranks third in college basketball in turnovers. In the first seven minutes, the Bison had four turnovers. Kansas finished the half with 26 points in the paint.
The Jayhawks took a 19-13 lead, but Blakeney’s determined men went on a 7-0 run as Howard alumna and Vice President Kamala Harris watched on. Harris said her Bison were a “joy to watch.”
Our program and this university really is #TheDreamFactory .
— Howard Men’s Basketball (@HUMensBB) March 16, 2023
However, defensive miscues persisted and cost them. Kansas went on a 19-5 run in the final six minutes of the half. Kansas out–rebounded Howard 23-15 in the first half and had three fewer turnovers. The Jayhawks took seven more shots than Howard and shot 50% from the field in the first half. Howard shot 42%.
Kansas’ efficient shooting continued in the second half. They went 10-of-20 in the first 10 minutes. Junior forward Jalen Wilson and freshman guard Gradey Dick led the offense dropping 20 and 19 points, respectively. Their defense, led by guard Dajuan Harris Jr., the Big 12 defensive player of the year, held Howard to one shot make in their first 13 attempts. The Jayhawks finished the game with seven blocks and 13 steals.
Down 20 plus in the final minutes of the second half, Howard still competed. Diving on loose balls, bench support and shooting continued with the game out of reach. Freshman forward Shy Odom led all Bison scorers with 15 points.
Despite the loss, Howard showed why they deserved to be in the NCAA tournament. Sophomore guard Bryce Harris air-balled a free throw with 5:17 left in the first half. Coach Blakeney subbed him out after, and as Harris made his way to the bench, Blakeney joyfully laughed with his player.
The team embodied in one moment a familial, loving, gracious, yet hard-working culture. It is a culture that Blakeney built through trial and tribulation. In 2020, Howard closed the season with four regular season wins. In 2023, the team won the MEAC title and made the NCAA tournament for the second time in program history.
Howard University’s president, Wayne Frederick, released a statement after the game.
“Coach Kenneth Blakeney, his staff, and the players have reinvigorated the program from top-to-bottom, yielding some impressive wins both on- and off-the-court. Their hard work has paid dividends, and they have now delivered one of the best seasons in the University’s history,” Frederick said. “No matter today’s outcome, this year has been an unmitigated success and a foundational piece for sustained excellence on the hardwood for years to come.”
Joshua Heron covers sports for HUNewsService.com.