January 30, 2013
Bison Face Pivotal Home Stand
The Howard University men's basketball team will be looking to duplicate last year's stretch run when it opens a four-game home stand beginning on Saturday against Savannah State at 4 pm in Burr Gymnasium.
The Bison (4-17 overall, 1-6 in the MEAC) are in the throes of a five-game losing skid but it is not unfamiliar territory. The team was reeling last year this time when head coach Kevin Nickelberry threw caution to the wind by starting five freshman that it resulted in the team winning six of its last nine games, including an opening round tournament win over North Carolina A&T and a strong effort against eventual tournament champion Norfolk State.
"We've been here before," recalls Nickelberry. "We were able to win those games because we had a group of freshmen who were not used to losing in high school and were not fazed by standings or records. It helped that we had two freshmen in Simuel Frazier and Prince Okoroh, who made the all- rookie team and they played like it."
He continued: "It is a little different this time around. The dynamic of that group has changed due to injuries and other factors. It has affected us in the area of scoring and our ability to close out games."
Nickelberry's point is well taken. When senior forward Mike Phillips and senior guard Calvin Thompson were in the lineup, the Bison had a one-two punch in scoring as both players averaged double figures. But since Thompson went down with a dislocated foot in the Coppin State game—coincidentally the Bison's last win—teams have geared their defense attention to Phillips and it has proven to be effective as he has failed to score in double figures the past four games.
"Through it all, Mike Phillips has been a rock for us," praised Nickelberry. "He works hard every game, he never complains and he is a team player. " Phillips leads the team in scoring, rebounding and in minutes played (36 per game).
In Savannah State (11-9, 5-1 in the MEAC), Howard faces a formidable opponent. The Tigers are the defending regular season champs and the pre-season favorite to win the league. It is a veteran team, comprised of mostly juniors and seniors and they come into the game, having won six in a row while being undefeated in in conference play on the road this season. They have two all-MEAC type players in senior guard Preston Blackman and senior forward Rashad Hassan.
"The teams that we are facing down the stretch are teams that are either veteran teams with juniors and seniors or they have an all-league player or players who can make a difference in games. For us to turn this thing around, we have to find some confidence. That is what is lacking from last year. Also, the teams in this league who are successful have an all-league type player or players.
Following the game against Savannah State, Howard will host South Carolina State on Monday, February 4 and then they will have Morgan State on February 9 and Maryland Eastern Shore on February 11 in Burr Gymnasium.
"We have spent the last dew practices trying our best to prepare this team for all the types of adversity that they may face in this important stretch," explained Nickelberry. "This will hopefully help build the confidence that we need to make this run."