Nickelberry again fails to beat his former team

As Mike Phillips swished a fadeaway shot backpedaling toward the Howard bench, Bison coach Kevin Nickelberry gave him a roundhouse slap on the behind.

Against Hampton at sold-out Burr Gymnasium on Saturday, it was clear than no one wanted to win as badly as Nickelberry, who had lost all five times he had faced his former team and to many of the players he had recruited to the MEAC school.

But all of Nickelberry's emotional fuel wasn't enough to propel Howard to a long-awaited victory. Rallying from seven points down in the final eight minutes, Hampton extended its hex over its former coach 51-49 as Emmanuel Okoroba muscled for the decisive three-point play with 35 seconds left.

This was the most heartbreaking of the defeats for Nickelberry. After the Bison took a 49-44 lead on a pair of free throws from Prince Okoroh (10 points, six rebounds) with 2:29 left, they didn't score again, missing four free throws and three field goal tries and committing two turnovers in the final 35 seconds.

The finish was in contrast to the festive atmosphere, always a feature of games pitting Howard and Hampton. When an elderly man stripped off his shirt and waved it furiously at fans from Hampton, it was more about good-natured fun than insult.

It was a tough way to lose considering how Howard (4-13, 1-2) had seized control in the second half, transforming a five-point deficit into a seven-point lead behind guard Simuel Frazier (11 points, eight assists, five rebounds), Phillips (11 points) and forward Alphonso Leary (six points, nine rebounds, five blocks).

Hampton (4-10, 2-0) earned its second win this season over Howard despite shooting 29.4 percent from the floor and missing 16 of 19 shots from beyond the arc (15.8 percent). The Pirates survived on the strength of a 44-30 edge on the boards and the shooting of freshman guard Deron Powers (14 points), who had 22 points and seven steals in Hampton's 58-50 win over Howard on Dec. 1.

Things couldn't have started better for Howard as Frazier opened with a 3-pointer, Okoroh scored on a putback and Phillips hit a jumper for a 7-0 lead. But it never comes easy against Hampton -- as Nickelberry knows all too well.