by Mike Potter
McDOUGALD-McLENDON GYM/DURHAM N.C. Central gets an odd sort of test tonight in women's basketball.
A few hundred home fans are going to find out just how the Eagles recover from the largest margin of defeat in school history.
That was, of course, on Monday at crosstown rival and No. 8 Duke, a 117-28 defeat in a series which is going to continue. The Eagles played that night without freshman leading scorer Joanna Miller, who also leads the team in assists.
Tonight's opponent provides a more reasonable challenge. It's former and future MEAC foe South Carolina State (4-6), which topped the visiting Eagles 81-75 in overtime back on Dec. 1. NCCU beat the Bulldogs 72-60 in January in Durham for its only win in the six games of the series.
If the Eagles are still stinging from the loss in West Durham, it certainly isn't showing when they hit the floor. In fact the overall performance is the very definition of resilience, as they blow out the Bulldogs 84-54 with their best game of the season.
It's the biggest victory margin since a 75-41 romp over Virginia State in the quarterfinals of the 2007 CIAA Tournament.
NCCU takes the lead for good at 6-5 on Miller's old-fashioned three-point play with 16:21 left in the first half, and is up 34-25 at halftime.
The Eagles stretch the lead to 46-29 on Miller's layup with 14:09 left, and the Bulldogs never threaten to make it close.
Miller finishes with 23 points to lead five Eagles in double figures. Shanise Blanks hits five 3-pointers and adds 17 points while Latoya Bennett chips in 13 and Danielle DeBerry and Blaire Houston 12 each.
Paris Alston and Sophilia Hipps lead SCSU with 13 points each while Whitney Wiley has 10.
NCCU shoots 45.1 percent to 24.2 for SCSU. Oddly, rebounds (43) and turnovers (25) are even.
And suddenly the Eagles have won two of their last three games, with most of the winnable games on the schedule still ahead of them.
They said it ...
NCCU coach Joli Robinson: "I felt that I had to do something (after the Duke game) to try to get them motivated to get ready for this game. I didn't do anything extraordinary. I just wanted them to be more aggressive on the floor. Even though we lost by 89 points we should be upset behind that. Even though it was Duke, we should play like we were upset. And we came out and did that tonight. Tonight we executed and did exceptionally well on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor."
Miller: "Monday was really tough to watch. We told ourselves we weren't going to let that get to our heads. As soon as I realized I wasn't going to play (at Duke) I told myself, next game I'm going to give it my all and just go out there and win."
DeBerry: "We went to overtime before (against SCSU) so we knew we could get a win. Tonight we played the entire game. We didn't just play the first half or the second half. We played team ball, and when we get more than 1-2 people in double figures that seems to work well for us. Losing like that at Duke hurt, but they're one of the top teams in the country. We talked about it a little at our pre-game meal today, but then we put that behind us."
What does it all mean?
That NCCU apparently knows how to bounce back as well as anyone in the country.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
DeBerry's steal and layup to make it 72-43 with 4:44 remaining.
SCSU leads 5-2.
NCCU: Won 1.
SCSU: Lost 4.
NCCU vs. North Carolina A&T, Saturday, 2 p.m.
SCSU vs. Savannah State, Monday, 7 p.m.