Howard Women’s Basketball Fights but Falls Short of MEAC Championship Repeat

Norfolk State Defeats Howard in a 56-52 Slugfest to earn a NCAA Tournament Berth

The Norfolk State Lady Spartans celebrate a 56-52 victory over Howard in the MEAC championship game, to book a ticket to the NCAA Division I Tournament. (Photo: nsuspartans.com)

By Joshua Heron

Howard University News Service

Entering the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference final, the two sides split their regular season matchup, with Howard closing out the regular season with a 60-55 win over Norfolk State on March 2. Nine days later, they would meet again, but with different stakes. Howard can repeat as MEAC champions and earn a second straight bid to the NCAA tournament, and Norfolk can go to the big dance for the first time in 21 years.

Howard forged an 11-2 advantage to start the game. Junior guard and 2023 MEAC player of the year Destiny Howell exploded for 21 first-half points; however, Howard led only 30-29 going into halftime as the regular season champion Spartans began utilizing their size.

Size was a pivotal factor in multiple facets of the game. Norfolk displayed dominance in the paint, scoring 24 points inside compared to Howard’s 10. The now two-time MEAC champions also separated themselves on second-chance points, garnering 16 to Howard’s two, largely to Norfolk’s presence on the glass. They outrebounded Howard 45-30.

The Spartans came out of halftime yearning for victory, outscoring the reigning champions 12-5 in the third quarter to enter the fourth with a 41-35 lead.

With Howard on a second-half drought, the championship seemed inevitable for Norfolk. The Bison went on at 3:03 scoreless dry spell in the fourth. Although Norfolk had the advantage in size, the Lady Bison continually displayed an unfathomable amount of heart and did not back down.

Down 49-43 with 2:39 left, Howard cut the lead to 49-46 with 41 seconds remaining. Two Norfolk free throws extended the deficit to five points with 20 seconds in the game.

Howell hit two of her eight three-pointers within the final 20 seconds to narrow the margin to a one-possession score. However, crucial misses at the free throw line in the clutch hampered Howard from getting over the hump. Free throw woes were critical in the four-point loss. The 2022 MEAC champions went 7-of-14 from the charity stripe, while Norfolk went 14-of-21, cashing in nearly 70% of their free throws.

After the game, head coach Ty Grace recognized what her team did well but spoke about the rebound and free throw woes.

We held their top scorers, Francis and Downs, to six points, so we did well,” Grace said. What we didnt do is rebound the ball very well, so that hurt us. And then we didnt shoot very well from the foul line. We shot 50%.

So, there were some points left out on the board,” she said. We always have a game plan when we come into these games, and we did a good job defensively. But again, we didnt do a good job on the boards.

Grace appreciates her teams persistence and acknowledges that the Howard womens basketball culture has shifted.

This season, we dealt with the things we faced, and the kids stepped up,” Grace said. They rose to the occasion. They kept fighting. They kept believing. Weve been to three championship games in a row, three years in a row, and thats not easy.

So, Im proud of this team,” she added. This program has built a culture of winning, and Im hoping that thats something that we continue to do. So, tonight is not defining our season. For us to even get here, I dont think many people thought we would get here after losing our starting point guard, our all-conference point guard, probably the best point guard in the league.

Junior Guard Kaniyah Harris replaced senior guard Iyanna Warren who went down with an injury earlier in the season. She had a historic 12 assist and 12 rebound performance in Howards 67-35 first-round victory over Delaware State.

Kaniyah Harris stepped up so much for us,” Grace said. And so they believe, and Im just proud of them. Theyve set the standard of legacy, and this is where we expect to be every year.

Howells post-game remarks embraced a perspective encompassing faith and a promise the MEAC should be scared of.

This was Gods plan,” Howell said. Sometimes youre not going to like what God has planned for us. And obviously, I didnt like the outcome of this year. But well be back next year. I promise you that.

Joshua Heron covers sports for HUNewsService.com.