Howard women fall to Norfolk State in MEAC tournament title game


For the second time in three years, Howard’s basketball players watched desperately and with confetti in their hair as their opponents celebrated securing a place in the NCAA tournament. That was the scene Saturday at Scope Arena in Norfolk, where Norfolk State won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship game 56-52.

“It was God’s plan,” Junior Destiny Howell said. “Sometimes you’re not [going to] like what God has planned for us. And obviously I didn’t like the result of this year. But we’ll be back – I promise you that.”

After the men’s team won their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1992 with a dramatic win over the same opponent earlier in the day, the third-placed Howard women were hoping for a repeat after winning the MEAC tournament title last season. On Saturday, the Bison (16-14) opened with a spirited effort, sprinting to an 11-2 lead. But top-seeded Norfolk State (26-6) used a sizeable advantage on the boards to climb within 30-29 at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Spartans held Howard to five points to maintain a six-point lead, and they stayed ahead throughout the fourth quarter to earn an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 2002.

Howard coach Ty Grace was pleased that her team kept two of Norfolk State’s top scorers – Deja Francis and Camille Downs – to six points each. “What we haven’t done is bounce the ball well,” Grace said. “…That hurt us.”

After losing the rebound fight in 19 of his first 24 games, Howard seemed to have his problems fixed; The bison had overtaken five opponents in a row and led to the MEAC finals. But those recovering problems returned: Norfolk State dominated the boards 45-30.

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“When you’ve played a team as many times as we’ve played Norfolk State, it’s really difficult to surprise or reveal a weakness, especially in a tournament format,” Grace said upfront. “Rebounds are always going to change games because you can’t really plan or scout that because you don’t know how the ball is going to rebound.”

MEAC Player of the Year Howell hit eight threes to lead Howard by 30 points. She made two from the perimeter in the last 20 seconds, but Norfolk State held on to the free-throw line. Aziah Hudson added 10 points for the Bison.

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After falling two points behind against North Carolina A&T in the 2021 MEAC title game, Howard sought back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament for the first time since his three straight appearances from 1996-1998. That won’t happen, but the program continues to improve under Grace. In her eight seasons, the Bison has played three games in the MEAC title game and picked up an NCAA tournament win — last season in a first-four play-in game against Incarnate Word before losing to eventual champion South Carolina in the round of 16 .

“This program has built a culture of winning, and I hope we continue to do that,” Grace said. “Tonight is not our crucial season.”

ESPN’s Charlie Creme predicts the Spartans will be able to avoid the First Four and should miss a meeting with South Carolina, an experience the Bisons know all too well. Makoye Diawara led on Saturday with 11 points and nine rebounds. Niya Fields had 11 points and six rebounds. Howard women fall to Norfolk State in MEAC tournament title game

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