By Mark F. Gray
Special to the AFRO
Howard basketball coach Kenny Blakeney wasn’t expecting it to be a teachable moment. It was supposed to be merely another chance to make history by playing on the NBA All Star Weekend’s biggest stage. However, fate gave Howard a lesson before they got to Cleveland and beat Morgan State 68-66 in another resilient victory to claim the inaugural HBCU Classic on Feb. 19.
In the aftermath of last week’s snowstorm, the Bison were late arriving to the shores of a frozen great lake because their flight was canceled with the team seated on the plane moments before the scheduled takeoff. Without any flights available, Howard scrubbed its plans for their 57-minute flight to the famous Ohio city. They made arrangements from the tarmac to bus from D.C. and the team didn’t arrive until 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning for a game that was scheduled to tipoff at 2 p.m. local time.
“I consider myself an educator as well as a basketball coach,” said Coach Blakeney. “This was a lesson about resilience and overcoming adversity to achieve your goal. Our goal was to come out and make history and win this game. I’m so proud of this group who’s been through a lot.”
“This will be a day these guys can look back on when they become professionals in life,” Blakeney added.
Normally the highlight of the NBA All-Star Saturday is the prime time showcase featuring the three-point shooting contest and the slam dunk competition. However, this HBCU Classic was the premiere event of the Saturday schedule. In this frozen moment of Black College Sports history, HBCU culture and entertainment merged at the intersection of SportsCenter and Access Hollywood to create the atmosphere of HBCU homecoming.
ESPN and TNT used primarily HBCU talent for their broadcast such as Winston Salem State alumni Stephen A. Smith and Coppin State’s Stephanie Ready. Hampton’s Brian Custer also handled the play by play for the worldwide leader of sports’ coverage.
Before the game, NBA stars Stephen Curry and Chris Paul spoke to each team in the locker room before the game, which was broadcast nationally on TNT and ESPN2 simultaneously, while Keke Palmer performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as well as the national anthem.
Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young took photos with the Morgan State players before tipoff at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center.
There were celebrities lining the front row seats for a glimpse at the HBCU experience. Young NBA All Stars Khris Middleton, Collin Sexton, and Gary Payton witnessed the flavor of basketball with soul where timeouts and halftime are part of the show.
Spike Lee, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson shared this moment of Black History from the most expensive seats as well.
Howard won their sixth consecutive game and capped a sweep against the slumping Bears. The Bison trailed by as many as 12 after the intermission and reeled in Morgan for the second time this season. Morgan is mastering the second half meltdown. They have squandered leads of more than ten points in three of their last four games.
Kyle Foster, who continues adding to his Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Player of the Year candidacy, scored a team-high 18 points and helped Howard erase a 12-point deficit in the final period against their Charm City rivals again. Foster started the game as the NCAA leader in three-point shooting percentage, but made two clutch free throws in the final seconds to put a Lake Erie chill on the victory.
“The biggest thing is the culture-like understanding where you come from and what goes into that is really important,” Foster said. “The HBCU experience really emphasizes that. It’s a growing thing now and I think we’re on the map.”
De’Torrion Ware led Morgan State with 19 points and seven rebounds but faded down the stretch with his teammates again.
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