Howard, ranked fourth, took control early at home and handed No. 12 Hammond its third defeat in its past four games, 55-39, last night in a Howard County League game.
Hammond coach Joe Russo sang a familiar lament for the Golden Bears (11-3, 4-3), who were undefeated and ranked fifth two weeks ago.
"If you can't shoot, you can't win. You've got to make baskets," Russo said. "But Howard is just a better team than we are, flat-out."
Hammond, which has struggled with its shooting in the past four games, hit only 16 of 68 shots (23.5 percent) from the field. The Bears set the tone by missing 12 of their first 13 attempts, falling into a 10-2 hole in the process.
When the Bears weren't missing open shots, Howard (6-1, 13-2) bothered them with a mixture of zone, man-to-man and full-court pressure defenses. And the Lions, led by junior guard Sharon Ford and freshman forward Mona Jackson, made their shots count.
Ford (game-high 19 points) and Jackson (18 points) sparked the Lions during a decisive fourth quarter in which Howard broke open a 32-24 contest by scoring 23 points.
Ford and Jackson combined for 18 in that span, helping the Lions pull away, despite the loss of senior forward Krista Fulton (six points, game-high 13 rebounds), who fouled out with 4 minutes, 31 seconds left.
"Our fourth-quarter defense was the difference in the game. We did a great job denying the ball to [Hammond point guard] Kacy Williams. We kept her from penetrating [the lane]," said Howard coach Craig O'Connell. "Sharon was great tonight. And Mona is so much better than she was on Nov. 15 [the first day of practice]."
Williams, Hammond's leading scorer, finished with a team-high nine points as did guard Samantha Andersch.
The Bears would have been blown out early had they not played scrappy defense. They managed to cut Howard's first-half lead to 12-8 before falling behind 20-11 at halftime.