NSU women's basketball's MEAC run ends with 61-44 loss to Howard in championship

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Posted at 12:37 AM, Mar 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-13 00:37:06-05

Norfolk, Va. ( – Norfolk State's remarkable run in the MEAC Tournament came to end on Saturday, as the Spartans fell to top-seeded Howard 61-44. Makoye Diawara led the green and gold with 11 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.

Howard gained control of the lead early on, and although the Spartans clawed close on multiple occasions, the Bison never relinquished it. NSU's Mahoganie Williams got the Spartans on the board first with a mid-range jumper, but Howard responded with an 8-0 run.

The Spartans trimmed the margin to five by the end of the quarter, thanks to four made free throws between Deja Francis and Camille Downs. Downs and Francis kept the Spartans from fading away by drawing fouls in traffic at multiple key times, going a combined 10-of-12 from the line (83.3 percent).

While the Spartans made the most of their opportunities at the charity stripe, they didn't have the same fortune from behind the arc. NSU went 2-of-24 (8.3 percent) from 3-point land on Saturday, one of their lowest shooting performances of the season. Downs knocked down NSU's first three of the night with about nine minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

Howard's Destiny Howell, who received the MEAC Tournament's Most Outstanding Player honor, could not be stopped in the first half. She scored 14 points and three 3-pointers by halftime, including a momentum-swinging four-point play.

The Spartans got within one point in the second quarter, as Diawara and Armani Franklin attacked the paint for a 6-0 NSU run. Howell responded with her own five point-run, helping the Bison gain a 29-22 lead at the break.

Howard forced a turnover and scored on the other end to start the second half, but the Spartans kept fighting facing their biggest deficit thus far. Diawara scored twice, once from an offensive rebound, during a 6-0 NSU run to pull within three. Once again, Howell ended the run with a timely layup.

The Spartans entered the fourth quarter trailing by four, but Howard scored the first two baskets of the period. Downs responded with one of the team's two 3-pointers for the evening, and hit a contested mid-range jumper moments later. Downs finished the day with 10 points, six rebounds, two steals, and three blocks.

But the Bison eventually built an insurmountable lead, thanks in large part to a perfect 10-for-10 display at the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Howard finished the night 19-of-20 (95 percent) at the line, the team's highest percentage in a single game since 2016.

The loss snapped NSU's five-game win streak, bringing the Spartans to 17-10 on the season. It is the second time in the past four years that NSU has lost in the MEAC title game, and the second year in a row they've been eliminated by the Bison.

Francis and Downs, who both were named to the All-MEAC First Team last week, earned spots on the All-Tournament team as well. Francis scored 19 points in the Spartans' dramatic win over Morgan State on Friday, with Downs knocking down the heroic game-winning shot at the buzzer.