HAMPTON — Hampton University's women have dominated the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference so thoroughly in recent years that close games almost are jarring.
Howard's hot start provided a challenge and the Lady Pirates had to work for their 40th consecutive conference win, 76-64 Saturday at the HU Convocation Center.
"We expect everybody's best shot every night," Hampton guard Kenia Cole said. "We go into every game just wanting to play hard. We don't expect to blow teams out."
Hampton (19-4, 10-0 MEAC) won its ninth consecutive game. Since the start of the new year, the Lady Pirates' average margin of victory in league games was 28.6 points. An eight-point win at Coppin State recently was misleading, since Hampton led by 19 with seven minutes remaining before a late run.
But Saturday, Hampton led by just six with eight minutes remaining and seven with 2 1/2 minutes left before finally pulling away.
"The defense was just awful tonight," Hampton coach David Six said. "We've got to play better defense, and we've got to practice better. Our preparation wasn't what it needed to be. As I shared with our coaches this morning: That's us; that's us. We've got to do a better job of preparing the kids."
Cole scored 20 of her game-high 24 points in the second half, and the trio of Alyssa Bennett, Nicole Hamilton and Malia Tate-DeFreitas combined for 40 points.
"I just know that my team needs somebody else to come off the bench and score and contribute," Cole said. "Everybody knows we have Nikki and Malia and 'A.B.' doing the majority of the scoring and the majority of the rebounding and defense. We need somebody else to score. I just want to contribute."
Saturday continued Cole's remarkably productive stretch. In her last 11 games, the junior guard has averaged 14.3 points. She totaled 38 points in the season's first 12 games.
She insisted that she isn't trying to be more assertive on offense and said that her teammates create openings for her.
"I just let it come to me," Cole said. "I base my offense off my defense. If I play good defense, I should have an OK offensive game."
The Pirates finally broke free from a tie at 43 with a 13-2 run. Five different players scored, capped by a Cole 3-pointer and a Tyler Hobgood basket on a Cole assist for a 56-45 lead.
Howard pushed back and closed within 56-50 before Cole scored six in a row to give Hampton a 62-50 lead. The Bison made one more push and was within 65-58 on a Gonzalez layup with 2:28 remaining.
But Howard coach Tennille Adams barked to officials that Gonzalez was fouled on the shot — she appeared to have a legitimate gripe — and was whistled for a technical foul.
Tate-DeFreitas hit one of two free throws, and Hamilton's baseline jump shot on a second-chance possession pushed the Pirates' lead to 68-58.
Howard's early 3-point barrage made the game more than competitive. The Bison average three 3-pointers per game and shoot 24 percent from behind the arc, but made 6 of 7 in the first half. Howard made just 4 of 15 shots inside the 3-point line.
Hampton's defense tightened a bit in the second half and Howard (9-13, 5-4 MEAC) cooled off, hitting just 1 of 8 shots from 3-point range after halftime.
The Pirates didn't help themselves on offense, shooting just 36 percent. Bennett, Tate-DeFreitas and Hamilton combined to shoot just 10-for-39, though many of the shots were quality looks against Howard's defense.
"Sometimes you have nights like that," Six said. "The offense can be off, but the defense should never be off. That's the bottom line."
HAMPTON 76, HOWARD 64
HOWARD (9-13, 5-4 MEAC): Duckett 4-9 6-6 16, Heslip 5-10 2-2 15, Gonzalez 4-10 4-6 12, Hill 2-9 1-2 6, S. Johnson 2-6 0-2 4, Brown 4-6 0-2 9, Morrison 0-0 2-2 2, C. Johnson 0-2 0-0 0, Majors 0-0 0-0 0, Stinson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-52 15-22 64.
HAMPTON (19-4, 10-0 MEAC): Cole 8-15 5-10 24, Hamilton 4-11 6-6 14, Bennett 3-11 7-11 13, Tate-DeFreitas 3-17 4-6 13, Ward 2-5 1-3 5, Jordan 1-2 0-0 3, Hobgood 1-2 0-1 2, Gilbeaux 1-1 0-0 2, Jenkines 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-64 23-37 76.
Half: Hampton 36-33. 3-Point goals: Howard 7-15 (Heslip 3-4, Duckett 2-3, Brown 1-3, Hill 1-5), Hampton 7-22 (Cole 3-7, Tate-DeFreitas 3-8, Jordan 1-2, Bennett 0-1, Hamilton 0-4). Rebounds: Howard 38 (Duckett 7), Hampton 45 (Ward 13). Assists: Howard 12 (Heslip 4), Hampton 12 (Cole, Hamilton 4). Fouls: Howard 26, Hampton 18. Fouled out: Gonzalez. A: 4,398.
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