by Mike Potter
McDOUGALD-McLENDON GYM/DURHAM N.C. Central finally returns from its six-game road trip in men's basketball, and the Eagles are sorely in need of a win.
Tonight's assignment won't be an easy one.
The opponent is High Point (8-6), which is currently on a four-game winning streak and sold out its last home game on Saturday against Radford.
The Panthers are 3-0 all-time against NCCU, including a 70-58 win at the Millis Center on Dec. 29. And Eagle coach LeVelle Moton (pictured) is still seeking his first win over a Division I opponent.
High Point is in its first year under coach Scott Cherry, who played for Dean Smith's 1993 NCAA title team at UNC. One of his assistants is Wes Miller, who played for the Tar Heels' 2005 NCAA champions.
It's the Panthers' second game in the building in as many seasons; High Point is the only in-state Division I opponent to visit the building since 1985.
Tonight will be the first home game as an Eagle for 6-8 junior forward Lamar Pittman. High Point will play without Nick Barbour, sitting out with an ankle injury.
And it turns out to be a good night for the visitors, who survive in a noisy 58-55 decision.
There's a decent crowd in the house, watching the Eagles score the first three points before falling behind by nine later in the period.
High Point leads 31-26 at the break, with the main difference being the Panthers' 21 rebounds - 11 on the offensive end - to a total of 10 for NCCU.
The Panthers stretch their lead to 46-35 on a 3-pointer from Jairus Simms with 14:08 to go before the Eagles make a run.
NCCU goes up 52-51 on an old-fashioned three-point play from Vincent Davis with 5:18 remaining.
The Eagles make it 55-53 when Dami Sapara makes one of two free throws with 2:59 left, but the rest of the game belongs to High Point's Eugene Harris.
He hits a jumper with 2:26 left to tie the score. The Eagles get three chances to go ahead before the Panthers get the ball back, and Harris makes good on a 3-pointer with 36 seconds to go.
The Eagles can't get a bucket at the other end. They do get a break when High Point's Jourdan Morris misses the front end of a one-and-one with :04 left, but Harris comes up with a steal to seal it.
Harris leads High Point with 16 points, while Morris adds 11 and David Singleton 10.
C.J. Wilkerson, who misses some time in the second half with an ankle injury, leads all scorers with 17 points for the Eagles while Vincent Davis chips in 14. Nick Chasten has 10 rebounds for the Eagles to go with his seven points.
NCCU outshoots the visitors 43.5 percent to 39.0, and winds up losing the rebound battle by only 35-32. The Eagles commit 16 turnovers to 15 for High Point.
They said it ...
NCCU coach LeVelle Moton: "Everything is going to happen in cycles and in different stages. We've got to learn how to fight and compete, and then learn how to win. That seems to be the point we're at now, and I have to do a better job of getting us over that hump. I should have done a better job in the huddle drawing up what they were going to do (on Harris' 3-pointer). But he just made a big '3,' a contested shot with a hand in his face. I thought our zone created some problems for them in the second half."
High Point coach Scott Cherry: "Eugene has been doing that a lot for us lately. The last three or four games he's really been stepping it up on the offensive end. He's been solid defensively all year. We put him on the best player defensively. I told him to make a play in one of the last timeouts we had. He told me he would and he did."
Wilkerson: "We wanted to come out with good energy, but we let little things get in the way again. We messed up on some assignments defensively, allowing them to just get easy buckets. When we went into the locker room (at halftime) we came out with a defensive mindset. I thought the crowd really helped keep us in it tonight. We had our opportunities but we just didn't get it done."
What does it all mean?
That NCCU missed a chance to win at home against a Division I team its fans could identify. And that High Point has already matched its win total from last season.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Harris' 3-pointer for the game's final points.
High Point leads 4-0.
NCCU: Lost 8.
High Point: Won 5.
High Point at Charleston Southern, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
NCCU vs. Tennessee Temple, Friday, 8 p.m.