February 29, 2024 

HBCU notebook: Mighty Warren lifts Howard closer to its goal

Iyanna Warren has been the leader for the Howard women’s basketball team as it overcame some early adversity to compete for a MEAC regular-season crown

WASHINGTON — As the video montage that accompanies James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black national anthem, concludes inside Howard University’s Burr Gymnasium, an image of prominent alumna and current United States Vice President Kamala Harris appears on the giant video board to a roaring applause.

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Maybe in a few years a picture of Howard’s diminutive point guard, Iyanna “Deuce” Warren, will join Harris’s. Not as a vice president, as Warren has zero political ambitions, but as an award-winning pharmacist who’s made a difference in the world. 

“Within my family, there are many health-based professionals,” said Warren, who has a biology degree. “I’ve grown up around it, which also sparked my love for it. My aunt Tina is a pharmacist, and she attended Howard, so I would say she inspired me to pursue this profession. Accomplishing this goal means the world to me, as statistics show that the number of African American female pharmacists is significantly lower than other ethnic groups. Since I was young, I always aimed to be that one percent, that one person who overcame, and I will continue to live by that.”

Warren’s inspired performances this season have lifted the Howard women’s basketball team closer to its goal of winning its second Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament in three years. She’s already made an impact for the Bison on the basketball court with her leadership, tenacity and clutch shot-making. 

With three conference contests remaining, Howard is second, two games behind league leader Norfolk State. Howard handed Norfolk State its only MEAC setback, 73-60, on Jan. 20. The rematch is set for Thursday, March 7, at Norfolk State. Before that game, the Bison will visit Maryland Eastern Shore in a massive contest Saturday. 

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Winners of four consecutive games, UMES trails Howard by one game in the conference standings. It’s UMES’ longest winning streak since the 2019-20 season. 

“The league is competitive at the top,” Howard head coach Ty Grace said. “I just want to play consistently going into March and feel good about where we are. Every game is important now, and it will flip next week. We’re steady but not completely solid yet.” 

That Howard is challenging for a spot at the top of the MEAC isn’t surprising, since Grace has constructed a championship culture where excellence is expected. The players are selfless, have a passion for winning and, most important, enjoy each other’s success. 

However, considering that Howard lost the dynamic Destiny Howell, the MEAC Preseason Player of the Year, to a season-ending injury in October, it’s slightly surprising to those outside of the Howard program that the Bison have found a groove with victories in five of their last six games. 

This is where Warren has helped steady the Bison.

“The mood was heavy and tense,” said Warren of when they learned of Howell’s injury. “There was a sense of loss because everyone knows how much Destiny means to this program. It’s a big gap without Destiny, and we all know that, but I’ve tried to instill that this is a team sport, and when one of your family members goes down, we all have to step up and play our part while filling that role she once had.”

Iyanna Warren dribbles the basketball
Iyanna Warren leads the MEAC in free-throw percentage and is second on the Bison in scoring with 11.7 points per game, which is seventh in the conference. (Photo credit: Howard University Athletic Communications)

With her auburn-colored Afro, Warren stands 5’3, but all her taller teammates look up to her. She’s the soul of the Howard team. 

Warren had a memorable weekend as Howard extended its winning streak to three games with a home sweep of Morgan State and Coppin State. She averaged 18.5 points over the two games. She finished with 20 points in the win over Coppin State as Howard rallied from a 13-point second-quarter deficit.

“My mom is the one who got me started playing basketball at the age of 5,” Warren said. “She put me in the local leagues and saw I was catching on quickly, even at my small size. As I grew older and continued to work on my craft, my heart-of-height mindset set in.” 

 Warren, who leads the MEAC in free-throw percentage, is Howard’s second-leading scorer at 11.7 points per game. Leading the Bison in scoring is 5’9 redshirt freshman guard Tyana Walker, who is at 12.1 points per game and is sixth in the MEAC. Warren played 11 games last season and averaged 9.3 points per contest before being sidelined with an ankle injury that ended her campaign. 

Warren has earned the respect of opposing players and coaches throughout the league. With 948 career points, she is quietly closing in on a milestone. When asked about Warren, Norfolk State head coach Larry Vickers shook his head in admiration.

“You want to try and contain her and do your best to keep her out of the paint,” Vickers said. “We’ve been yelling it for five years to try and push her right, but she’s gotten better every year. This year the 3 looks consistent and confident. It’s good to see freshmen enter your league and continue developing yearly.”

As Howard advanced to the MEAC Tournament championship game, Walker didn’t play last year. She will be another headache for opposing players and coaches to solve as she moves through her Howard career.

“It was rough not being able to play last year,” Walker said. “However, the silver lining was I got the experience of practicing with the team and learning how our system works so that I can come back this year and ball out. I was itching to get some playing time.”

Iyanna Warren holds the basketball as two defenders look on
Iyanna Warren has a biology degree is planning to pursue a career in pharmacy when she finishes her Howard career. (Photo credit: Howard University Athletic Communications)

Walker has made up for lost time. She has scored in double figures in 11 straight games. Walker scored 24 points in the win over Norfolk State. She is second in the MEAC in 3-pointers made per game (2.1) and sixth in 3-point field-goal percentage (33.6). While she hated sitting out last season, she was fortunate to learn plenty from and bond with Warren.

“Deuce taught me a lot, especially mentally,” Walker said. “Now I understand what I need to do each game. I can lock in and do what I know how to do. I am a shooter. I’ve had to adjust to different defenses, and I know they will try and run me off the 3-point line every time. So now it’s about trying to create off the bounce and get to the basket. It’s been a rocky road, but we’ve adjusted well. We have many pieces that continue to contribute to our success.”

In the win over Coppin State, 5’7 junior guard Nyla Cooper energized Howard by scoring 10 points, tying her season high. Nile Miller, a 6’1 sophomore forward, has emerged as a MEAC Defensive Player of the Year candidate. In addition to averaging 7.1 points per game, Miller is second in the MEAC in steals per game (2.2, and fifth in rebounds per game (6.8) and blocked shots per game (0.9). 

Kaiya Creek, a 5’10 senior forward, also scores 7.1 points per game and is second on the Bison with 28 3-pointers. Creek had 15 points in Howard’s win over Norfolk State. 

After missing most of last season, Warren is delighted to be running the show for Howard again.

“It’s exciting to be back and have another chance to get another MEAC championship ring with this program and [finish what I start],” Warren said. “I had to thank God for helping me heal so I can return stronger this year. Injuries happen, and sometimes people don’t get a chance to return from them. I don’t take any moment for granted, and every time I step on the floor, I plan to give it my all because you never know when it will be your last time.

“Being able to put my gift and talent on display in front of a community and university of people who believe in me for not only what I can do but who I am is meaningful to me.”

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South Carolina State shout-out

It was only a matter of time for South Carolina State. Although the scores weren’t pretty and the losing continued, the Lady Bulldogs felt they were close to a breakthrough. It happened as it knocked off Delaware State, 69-61, last Saturday to end a 16-game losing streak: South Carolina State’s first MEAC victory of the season. 

Senior Cassandra Colon, a Philadelphia native majoring in addiction and trauma therapy, paced a balanced attack with a season-best 17 points against the Hornets. That performance came after Colon didn’t score during South Carolina State’s two-game road trip to Norfolk State and Howard. She scored double figures in five of the Lady Bulldogs’ seven home conference contests. 

Morgan Beacham added 15 points and three assists, while freshman forward Taniya McGowan chipped in 13 points and six rebounds. Freshman center Heaven Harper posted a solid effort with a team-high 12 rebounds.

Beacham leads the Lady Bulldogs with 8.4 points per game, while senior Jordan Releford scores at an 8.1-point-per-game clip for South Carolina State, which will finish the season with a Baltimore road trip to Morgan State and Coppin State and a visit to North Carolina Central. 

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Rewriting the Coppin State record book

Coppin State has been in the spotlight this season, enjoying memorable performances. Since our last notebook, Coppin State made a school record 14 3-pointers in a tough loss against Howard on Monday night. The Eagles made 10 3-pointers in the first half. 

In addition, junior forward Laila Lawrence continues to roll along. She posted her MEAC-leading 13th double-double and seventh straight with 14 points and 15 rebounds against Howard.

A junior from Lewisville, Texas, Lawrence grabbed 25 rebounds (10 offensive) in a win over Delaware State on Feb. 17. Lawrence’s 25 rebounds were the most by an NCAA Division I player this season and tied Chance Graham for the second-most in CSU single-game history, trailing just Yvette Larkins’ 28 boards against Baptist on Dec. 9, 1989.

Lawrence leads the MEAC in rebounding (10.4) and is second in scoring (14.1). Faith Blackstone is fifth in the conference in scoring (12.1). She has made at least one 3-pointer in eight straight games.

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Alcorn State’s destiny

Alcorn State junior Destiny Brown has been making her presence felt recently. The First Team Preseason All-Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) selection has scored in double figures in 12 of the Braves’ last 13 games. Brown has also notched six double-doubles over that same span. She had 21 points and 16 rebounds against Alabama A&M on Jan. 11.

Brown was named SWAC Player of the Week after helping the Braves sweep their Florida swing. She averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in the Lady Braves wins against Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M. In the game against BCU, she notched 20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

Alcorn State’s three-game winning streak snapped with a 62-54 loss to league-leading and undefeated Jackson State. Tyginae Wright dropped 20 points thanks to a season-high six 3-pointers. It was her second straight game scoring double figures, as she had 13 points in the win over Florida A&M. 

Junior guard Zy’nyia Wright averages 11.7 points per game. The Hazlehurst, Mississippi, native has enjoyed a strong season for the Braves. She had a torrid stretch earlier this year in which she scored 20 points in three out of four games against Jackson State (21 points on Jan. 6), Alabama A&M (21 points on Jan. 11), and Texas Southern (20 points on Jan. 20). 

Brown and Wright are 10th and 11th in scoring in the SWAC. The Braves will hit the road this week for their annual Texas two-step against Prairie View A&M (March 2) and Texas Southern (March 4).

Alabama State’s Cordasia Harris dribbles the ball against a defender
Alabama State’s Cordasia Harris (right) leads the SWAC in field-goal percentage (53.4). She is second in rebounds per game (8.8) and blocked shots per game (1.8) and sixth in scoring (13.0). (Photo credit: Alabama State Athletic Communications)

Alabama State’s hidden gem

One of the bright spots of Alabama State’s season has been the consistently excellent performances of 6’1 senior forward Cordasia Harris. She may not be known nationally, but to every coach in the SWAC Harris has been a migraine headache. 

Harris leads the SWAC in field-goal percentage (53.4). She is second in rebounds per game (8.8) and blocked shots per game (1.8), and sixth in scoring (13.0). Harris has eight double-doubles this season and 10 in her career. She missed a double-double (20 points, nine rebounds) in a close road setback to Florida A&M last week.

She has had some monster efforts this season, including a 33-point, 12-rebound game against Mississippi Valley State on Feb. 19. Harris finished with 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting against DePaul in a December road contest. In her two-year Alabama State career, Harris has been a portrait of efficiency by scoring 544 points, grabbing 375 rebounds and blocking 73 shots. She played her first two years at Bishop State Community College, averaging at least 15 rebounds each season.

De’Mya Young of Grambling State looks on and points at an Arizona State player
De’Mya Young has helped Grambling State to a six-game winning streak. (Photo credit: Grambling State Athletic Communications)

Grambling State rolling

Grambling State’s first-year head coach, Courtney Simmons, has made a difference. With 17 victories, the Tigers have surpassed their win total (10) from last season. The 17 wins are the most for a Grambling State program since the 2017-18 squad won 19 contests. 

The Tigers have won six straight contests following their heart-stopping 59-57 victory over Southern on Saturday. The emotional triumph marked the Tigers’ first win at Southern in seven years. It was the perfect flourish to a perfect three-game road trip. The winning streak is Grambling State’s longest since it won five consecutive contests in 2018.

Grambling State, picked to finish eighth in the SWAC preseason coaches’ poll, is in second place behind Jackson State. The Tigers (11-3 SWAC) have a two-game cushion — with four games remaining — over the University of Arkansas–Pine Bluff (10-5) and Southern (9-5).

Lately, leading the Tigers’ charge has been the combination of Zayla Tinner and Anijah Grant. They have been Grambling State’s spark, combining for 22.8 points during the Tigers’ last six games. In addition to her 10.0-points-per-game average, Grant is averaging 10.3 rebounds during that stretch, including two double-doubles. She had 14 points and 18 rebounds in a 65-48 victory over Alabama State on Feb. 10. Grant also had 15 points and 13 rebounds in a 60-55 win over Texas Southern on Feb. 17.

Douthshine Prien scored 16 points to lead Grambling State to a 64-55 win over Prairie View A&M. DeMya Young’s 17 points helped the Tigers beat Alabama A&M 69-52. The Tigers’ defense has been at the heart of everything during this winning streak. It has held each opponent below 60 points. Impressively, Grambling State limited Alabama A&M to 14 points in the first half. 

Grambling State has been on the extremes of victories this season, knocking off Arizona State in November and then blasting the College of Bible Studies, which generated all types of national discussion. Grambling State has a good squad that plays with a chip on its shoulder and has numerous talented players who could make March memorable. 

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Jackson State keeping elite company

Late Temple coach John Chaney used to say, “The true measure of a program is by the company it keeps.” As February concludes, Jackson State is 14-0 in the SWAC with four contests remaining. The Tigers are one of seven teams that are undefeated in conference competition: UConn (Big East), Middle Tennessee State (Conference USA), Fairfield (MAAC), South Carolina (SEC), South Dakota State (Summitt) and Gonzaga (West Coast). 

Chaney was also famous for his slogan “Winning is an attitude.” Jackson State has been taking that philosophy to heart as it has won 79 of its last 83 SWAC contests. 

Angel Jackson has been a terror over Jackson State’s last three games. She scored 18 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked six shots against Florida A&M on Feb. 17. She had 19 points and eight rebounds against Alcorn State on Saturday.

SWAC news and notes

UAPB head coach Dawn Thornton won her 100th career game with her squad’s 81-62 victory over Texas Southern on Monday. … Mississippi Valley State didn’t win a conference contest last season. The Lady Devilettes earned their third SWAC win by beating Texas Southern 71-65 behind Sh’Diamond McKnight’s 31 points and 12 rebounds. Lizzie Walker had nine points and eight rebounds. … SWAC leading scorer Ahriahna Grizzle averaged 21.8 points per game in February. 

Conference-tournament postseason information

It’s never too early to make plans to attend postseason conference tournaments. It’s a shame they all occur at the same time. The MEAC and SWAC Tournaments will be held from Wednesday, March 13, through Saturday, March 16. … The MEAC Tournament will be at the legendary Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia. … The Pepsi SWAC Tournament will occur at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama. … The Coastal Athletic Conference Tournament will be at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., from March 13 through March 17.

Written by Rob Knox

Rob Knox is an award-winning professional and a member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by SI.com, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.

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