View from the Hilltop: Can Howard rescue an ugly season?

Despite the team’s injuries and losses, coach still hopes for a tournament berth

Leaning back on the sofa in the living room of his high-rise apartment, Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry summed up the current season.

He mentioned the catastrophic injuries that started before the season began and never stopped. He mentioned the spotlight on his team when it was named the preseason pick to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), only to dim as the injuries and losses piled up. He mentioned avoiding social media as the season wore on, and being treated by people “as if I had leprosy.”

And he mentioned his faith that his team could still win the MEAC tournament championship, which starts in two weeks.

The Bison have played better of late. Howard beat third-place Morgan State on Feb. 13, the front end of the team’s second two-game winning streak of the season. And on Monday the Bison played the tough against the MEAC’s top team, North Carolina Central, losing by just seven at Burr Gymnasium after getting drilled by 35 on Jan. 23 in Durham, North Carolina.

History says it’s possible that the Bison can win the MEAC. When Holy Cross reached the NCAA tournament last year with 19 losses, it marked the fifth straight year a losing team had made it to the big dance.

That last happened in the MEAC in 2008 when Coppin State won four tournament games by six points, becoming the first 20-loss team to reach the NCAAs.

Coppin’s second-round win in that tournament: a 75-74 victory over a second-seeded Hampton team coached by Nickelberry.