by Mike Potter
McDOUGALD-McLENDON GYM/DURHAM N.C. Central coach Joli Robinson never could have guessed she'd have a chance for a major milestone against her alma mater.
But that's the situation tonight as the Eagles host long-time and former CIAA rival Winston-Salem State.
Robinson, who talked the legendary C.E. "Bighouse" Gaines into starting a women's basketball program when she was an undergraduate at WSSU, has a chance for her 200th career victory (against 183 losses) if the Eagles can win tonight. All that with a program that had won 35 percent of its games over the 22 seasons before she arrived on campus.
The two schools were rivals in the CIAA for a couple of generations until they both decided to go to NCAA Division I. But now the programs are headed in different directions. They're not that far apart yet, but the Eagles are better down the stretch and win 67-58.
Two seasons from now, the Eagles will be competing for an MEAC championship and a spot in the NCAA Division I tournament in their first season as full members of Division I. But WSSU has given up that quest, and will be back in the Division II CIAA next season.
The first half is the very definition of "nip-and-tuck," as WSSU leads 32-29 after five ties and six lead changes and neither team is ever ahead by more than five points.
The Eagles make a big run in the middle of the second half to take control, outscoring the visitors 21-6 to go up 54-43 on a Joanna Miller 3-pointer with 5:04 left.
WSSU never cuts it closer than six the rest of the way.
Freshman Miller, who has scored over 20 points nine times, leads the Eagles with 24 points while senior Latoya Bennett has 13 points and 11 rebounds for her first double-double of the year. Blaire Houston adds 14 points, while Danielle DeBerry has 10 points and nine rebounds.
Talnesha Kee and MaLisa Bumpus hit 13 points each for WSSU, while Vontisha Woods adds 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Each team shoots 43.4 percent from the floor, but the Eagles are 7-for-12 from outside the 3-point arc, their best performance from 3-point range since going 7-for-11 in a loss at St. Augustine's on Jan. 10, 2004. NCCU wins the rebound battle 35-29, committing 17 turnovers to 19 for WSSU.
They said it ...
NCCU coach Joli Robinson: "I think back during my years after finishing college, and I never would have thought I'd make it to 100 wins and now to 200. That's very special. I've been fortunate and blessed to have the teams I've had. ... I never really thought I would coach in college. After I coached at (Charlotte) Independence High School, I always dreamed of doing it but never thought the opportunity would come. When the opportunity came I put in my application and was blessed to get the job here. I had a good mentor - when I came here (then men's coach) Greg Jackson took me under his wing. I was at his practices watching and learning from Day One. I also had the opportunity to learn some from (Hall of Famer) John McLendon."
Bennett: "This is great. It's always good to come out here and play well especially against (Robinson's) alma mater. It's a big win for us. Our chemistry is getting a lot better. We started out rocky in the beginning of the year, but we're really like a family out there now and things are coming natural to us now. We just roll around Jo. She's a big scorer and she can score, so we just do what we've got to do."
Miller: "I'm just trying to do anything I possibly can to get wins. I just found out today how big this rivalry is, but I'm happy we beat them and I'm happy Coach got her 200th win. First half we were trying too much, but the second half we gave it all we had. We're playing off each other with better chemistry. We're starting to become a good team."
What does it all mean?
That the Eagles have won three of their last five games and have a chance at double-figure victories this season.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Shanise Blanks' jumper from inside the right elbow that put the Eagles up 46-41 with 11:26 left.
NCCU: Won 1.
WSSU: Lost 9.
NCCU vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore, Thursday, 7 p.m.
WSSU at Delaware State, Saturday, 2 p.m.