The Howard University Men’s Basketball team’s 2023-24 season has truly been a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. With the Bison coming off their first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championship since 1992 while facing higher expectations and a tough schedule, the team has had to come into every game ready for a battle.
The war started in Burr Gymnasium when the Bison faced off against their historic rival, Hampton University, on Nov. 6. The team was able to come out victorious in the battle of the two prestigious Black universities in an overtime thriller which ended in a score of 92-80. Bryce Harris, a junior forward for the Howard Bison, led the team in scoring with 23 points and five rebounds, while Marcus Dockery, a junior guard for the Howard Bison, was able to chip in 21 points, knocking down five threes.
After the game, Dockery felt ecstatic to come out with the win in a rivalry game with a history that stretches before he was born. With this also being his second year at Howard after transferring from the University of Maryland, he looks forward to the opportunity of taking on a larger role this season.
“It’s amazing. This is a rivalry game that’s been going on for years, before I was even born, HU versus HU,” Dockery said. “There was one point in time where they (Hampton) were in the MEAC conference, and now they’re not. So this energy that came from the crowd, from the coaches, extended from years back. And to be able to play my game, not to be rushed, take every possession slowly and to do what I do best and to have the trust in my coaches that they have trust in me goes a long way. I’m thankful for this opportunity.”
Next Stop: Atlanta
The Bison then traveled to Atlanta to face off against Georgia Tech University on Nov. 9. This would be the teams first taste of real power 5 competition this season, and would serve as a test. The Bison would stay in the game throughout both halves and even lead the entire second half, but due to a late three by Miles Kelly, a junior guard for Georgia Tech, to give the yellowjackets their first lead of the second half the Bison suffered their first lost of the season with a final score 88-85. Shyheim Odom, a sophomore forward for the Howard Bison, led the team with 22 points.
The Bison would lose their following game as well to James Madison University, who came into the game hot after beating Florida Atlantic University, a team that was ranked top 25 in the nation at the time.
Following the two losses, the Bison would return home in a game against Boston University in hopes to rekindle some of the fire they had in their season opener against Hampton to get back on track. Howard fans would also get to see the long-awaited debut of Seth Towns, a graduate transfer forward for the men’s basketball team, after being medically cleared by the NCAA to start his eighth season of college basketball. Jelani Williams, guard for the Howard men’s basketball team, made his season debut as well.
Towns would provide some much-needed scoring, specifically from range, knocking down a three off a triple-threat move on his first possession in the game. Towns would continue his scoring effort throughout the game. Though struggling with game time conditioning, he was able to hit a couple shots in a row during the second half to give the Bison the leg up.
Power 5 Competition
Towns spoke about playing in his first official game for Howard and how the atmosphere from the fans and his teammates made it a great experience. “It feels good. It’s interesting getting back out in full force with a college basketball atmosphere but it felt really good man and I’m just happy to be able to do this with my team. The atmosphere was great. I love Howard,” he said. “My teammates got a lot of faith in me, so they encouraged me to keep shooting and I was just doing what I felt was best for the team. Doing anything to help my team win.”
The final score of the game read 64-53. Harris would continue his impressive early season output, pouring in 19 points and nine rebounds, with 15 coming in the second half. Towns chipped in 13 points and six rebounds in his debut. Dockery went 6-6 from the free throw line in the game, adding nine points.
However, the team would go another stretch of away games featuring more Power 5 competition, including Rutgers University, Bryant University, and Mount St. Mary’s University. The Bison would come out 1-2 in these games, losing to Rutgers and Bryant University but coming out victorious against Mount St. Mary’s.
The Bison would then return home again to play their toughest matchup of the season so far in the Cincinnati Bearcats on Nov. 28, who came into the game 5-0. The Bison would look to improve on a 10-game home winning streak going into their matchup with the Bearcats. The wingspan of the Bearcats affected the Bison on both sides of the ball for the first five minutes of the game, making it hard to score on the interior and keep the Bearcats off the offensive boards.
Facing the Bearcats
However, the Bison were able to counter the Bearcats inside attack by collectively knocking down shots from outside to open up driving lanes. Seth Towns, a senior forward, was able to get going, knocking down a couple of shots in a row late in the first half for the Bison to tie the game 25-25. During Towns’ first-half run, he eclipsed the 1,000 points benchmark for his college career.
The game would come down to the wire in the last minute, with the teams trading buckets up until the ball was in Towns’ hands with seconds remaining on the clock with a score of 74-71 in favor of the Bearcats. The veteran rose to the occasion, and off of a side-step three, Towns sent the game to overtime.
In overtime, the Bearcats continued to capitalize off offensive boards due to their size, which ultimately served as the downfall of the Bison. Although the Bison would never give up fighting, they would come out on the losing end with a final score of 86-81. Towns scored 24 points and had seven rebounds while playing a lofty 40 minutes in the game. Hairston chipped in 11 points, and junior guard Marcus Dockery added 13 points.
Thoughts from Coach Blakeney
Kenneth Blakeney, coach of the Howard men’s basketball team, believes even in a loss, the experience of playing these Power Five universities so early in the season will pay dividends down the line once they face these types of teams again in March. Also, even with the team currently sitting at 3-5 Blakeney still has a positive outlook on how this season has gone so far in terms of them being able to stay competitive against top competition without a full roster.
“I feel the season’s been really good so far. We’re sitting at three and five currently at this moment. We have losses to Georgia Tech, James Madison, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Bryant. When you look at three of those, you’re talking about Power Five teams. I’m fairly happy with where we are. I’m not so concerned about our record, but are we getting better at this point in time,” Blakeney said. “One of the big things is that we still haven’t had our complete roster as of yet, and so I’m just waiting for us to have a complete roster where I feel like we are able to kind of put all of our weapons out on the court at the same time. We’ve been kind of practicing since the school year and since then we’ve only had four complete practices with our whole roster in those practices.”
The Bison continued their season at home against Regent University on Dec. 13. The team then headed to Las Vegas to Compete in the CP3 HBCU challenge, where they matched up against Jackson State University and Texas Southern University, all broadcasted on ESPNU.