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College Basketball

Howard beats Morgan State, 68-66, in inaugural NBA HBCU Classic at All-Star weekend in Cleveland

The Morgan State and Howard men’s basketball teams have met 112 times in their series history, but there has never been a matchup quite like Saturday’s.

In the inaugural NBA HBCU Classic held as part of the NBA All-Star weekend festivities in Cleveland, the Bison pulled away from the Bears in the final minute to secure a 68-66 victory.

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Graduate student guard Kyle Foster scored 18 points, including two free throws to give Howard the lead with 31 seconds left, but the game was as much about providing major exposure — and funding — for historically Black colleges and universities while expanding the league’s longtime commitment to HBCUs, a nationwide network of 107 schools.

Each of the schools will receive $100,000 donations from the NBA and AT&T, with the gifts intended to support Howard and Morgan State student-athletes with academic and wellness resources and more.

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The league rolled out the red carpet for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rivals Saturday. All-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, and Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young took photos with the Morgan State players before the opening tipoff at Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center.

Celebrities such as Milwaukee Bucks star and 2021 NBA champion Khris Middleton, NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Gary Payton and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee watched the game from their courtside seats, while Coppin State alumna Stephanie Ready hosted commentary from inside the stadium with NBA legend Isiah Thomas and ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith.

Filmmaker Spike Lee was one of several celebrities who watched the NBA HBCU Classic between Morgan State and Howard as part of the NBA All-Star game weekend Saturday in Cleveland.

Led by Paul, the former union president, the National Basketball Players Association pushed to get HBCUs connected to the All-Star Weekend in 2021. Although many events were altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, $3 million was raised.

In addition to playing during All-Star weekend, Morgan State and Howard’s teams will meet with NBA and team executives as well as current and former players in programs focused on professional development and networking.

“It’s phenomenal,” Los Angeles Clippers forward Robert Covington, the league’s only current HBCU alum, said of Black colleges getting a slice of the NBA spotlight. “It gives kids a chance to really come out and put up their skills and focus. There’s a lot of times that HBCU’s don’t get that recognition.”

Covington played at Tennessee State and knows first-hand there are plenty of HBCU players capable of making the NBA jump.

“I played with a lot of talented players that didn’t get the right opportunities because people think that we don’t play against no one,” he said. “That’s what they said to me coming out that I didn’t play any good against anyone or the top-tier major players. I used that as motivation.

“Kids have a chip on their shoulder. So that’s what it’s all about, just having a chip and just trying to do it.”

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Howard's Khalil Robinson, left, shoots as Morgan State's Collin Collin Nnamene (21) defends during the first half of the HBCU Classic NCAA college basketball game, part of the NBA All-Star game weekend, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Junior guard De’Torrion Ware scored a game-high 19 points to lift Morgan State (8-13, 3-6 MEAC), which held the lead for more than 70% of the game. Senior forward Lagio Grantsaan hit two free throws with 1:16 left to give the Bears a 65-63 lead, but freshman guard Elijah Hawkins and Foster each it a pair of free throws down the stretch to help the Bison (14-10, 7-3) secure their sixth straight victory.

Ware’s potential game-winning 3-pointer with 23 seconds left bounced off the rim, and Foster was fouled after coming down with the rebound. The Bears shot just 1-for-12 from 3-point range, but outrebounded Howard 34-25 and went 19-for-27 from the free-throw line. Morgan State’s bench also outscored Howard’s 38-2.

Grantsaan and sophomore forward Chad Venning — who scored the historic first points of the game — each finished with 11 points for the Bears.

After the game, Morgan State coach Kevin Broadus, a former Maryland assistant, and Howard coach Kenneth Blackeney were each presented with plaques at center court to commemorate the historic matchup.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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