by Mike Potter
McLENDON-McDOUGALD GYM/DURHAM It's the home opener for both basketball teams at N.C. Central, and each is still looking for its first victory of the season after two road losses.
For the men's team under first-year head coach LeVelle Moton, about all that has been established is that the Eagles aren't ready for the ACC. So far they've played a killer schedule. But they'll be clear favorites tonight when they take the floor against Division III N.C. Wesleyan (0-1).
Forward Lamar Pittman will continue to sit out tonight as he recovers from his ACL injury of last fall. The Eagles are not good early, but shrug off a double-digit deficit to prevail 85-70 behind 25 points from T.J. Granger (pictured).
Joli Robinson's women's club has also been on a tough road trip. The Eagles opened with an expected loss at Maryland, but were then victims of a 75-38 blowout at future MEAC foe Morgan State on Saturday. Chasidy Williams, the leading scorer and rebounder returning from last season's team, has had an illness during preseason practice and is out indefinitely. NCCU averaged 38.5 points per game on its Maryland trip.
Tonight the women play Atlantic Sun member Campbell (1-1) in the opener of the doubleheader, and the Eagles get off to a very rough start before eventually falling 79-63.
It's 44-20 Campbell at halftime, as the Eagles shoot just 28.6 percent to the Camels' 50.0.
NCCU makes a furious rally in the second half, and cuts the margin to two twice. It's 57-55 following Latoya Bennett's old-fashioned three-point play with 8:28 left and then 59-57 on a Blaire Houston jumper at 7:33. But Campbell goes on a 14-1 run and ends up winning comfortably.
Kate Cloxton has 17 points to lead Campbell, followed by Lauren Yesh with 14 and Geami Britt off the bench with 13.
Freshman Joanna Miller leads NCCU with 22 points while Bennett adds 12.
The Camels shoot 48.3 percent from the floor to NCCU's 43.9. NCCU wins the rebound battle 36-35 but commits 23 turnovers to Campbell's 18.
NCCU doesn't get off to the greatest start in the men's game, either, as the Battling Bishops lead 31-20 on a Trey Drake layup with 10:16 left in the half.
But the Eagles fight back over the last four minutes, as Nick Chasten's follow shot with 58 seconds left in the period makes it 47-47 at intermission.
Wesleyan has shot a ridiculous 64.3 percent in the first half to 43.6 for NCCU.
The second half, though, is all NCCU. The Eagles never trail after Granger's layup from Michael Glasker makes it 51-49 with 18:32 to play.
NCCU finishes with five players in double figures. Granger leads the way with 25 points, followed by Vincent Davis with 17, C.J. Wilkerson with 15, Chasten 13 and Michael Glasker 12.
Drake leads Wesleyan with 17 points followed by Jarmel Arrington with 16, Domarius Thomas 12 and Alex Murray 10.
Wesleyan outshoots the Eagles 46.4 percent to 43.9, but the Eagles win the rebound battle 39-37 and commit 16 turnovers to the visitors' 29.
They said it ...
Moton: "I told the guys before the game a John Thompson-coached team is going to bring it. We respect them. They love the 3-point line and a lot of their points are predicated off the 3-point line. We did a poor job getting back in transition and finding the shooters (early). We were jittery and nervous and doing things like a middle-school team. It made no sense. (But) we recovered and made the adjustment. We've got a long way to go, thought. Effort and concentration are things we've got to focus on."
Davis: "The win feels great. I've been here a couple of years now and it's the first time we've gotten one this early so it feels good. We know (the first two opponents) were in the ACC. This game was one that we felt confident about winning coming in. At halftime Coach was mainly talking about us defensively. He wasn't really talking about offense because defense will generate offense. He told us to strap up defensively and the offense would take care of itself."
Robinson: "The second half we came out and played better basketball. J'Mia Pollock came in and gave us the high-low we've been looking for from the post. We settled down a lot and ran our offense the way we needed to run it. You can use 'ran out of gas' as an excuse, but you still have to stay in the game mentally better than we did."
Miler: "We were more focused in the second half. In the first half we didn't have to focus we needed and we had no energy. But we picked it up and tried to come back. I'm excited about the season. We're going to get better and then hopefully we'll start winning."
What does it all mean?
That Moton's team is off to a little faster start than the 4-27 teams of the previous two seasons. And that the women's team needs to find some better chemistry early in games.
Stars of the night
Play of the night
Granger's slam to make it 76-63 with 3:41 left.
NCCU men at Florida International, Friday, 6 p.m.
N.C. Wesleyan men vs. Maryland Bible, Friday, 7 p.m.
NCCU women vs. Gardner-Webb, Sunday, 3 p.m.
Campbell women at UNC Asheville, Tuesday, 7 p.m.