by Mike Potter
McDOUGALD-McLENDON GYM/DURHAM It's just like old times in women's basketball at N.C. Central.
The Eagles, in the third season of their five-year transition from NCAA Division II to Division I, are hosting their old CIAA rivals from Shaw.
Jacques Curtis' Bears, ranked No. 23 in the Division II coaches' poll, are atop the old conference, riding a nine-game winning streak and a 10-1 record. And the 4-11 Eagles are learning to win in Division I, with victories in four of their last six outings.
There's really no way to tell who's favored, since the competition the teams have played has been so disparate. In a game that could have been dangerous, Joli Robinson's club pulls away down the stretch and wins 80-67.
The Eagles lead 39-34 at halftime, getting outshot 48.3 percent to 40.5 but outrebounding the Bears 21-16.
And they look like they're about to blow it open early in the second, going up 52-41 on Shenise Blanks' fifth 3-pointer with 14:36 remaining.
But the Bears don't give up, cutting the margin back to 52-51 on a Tanisha McGaughey 3-pointer with 12:20 to go.
Shaw never takes the lead and the Eagles get better and better down the stretch, eventually winning by 13 points.
Blanks (pictured) hits a career-high 25 points on a career-high seven 3-pointers. Latoya Bennett, the only active Eagle to have played against Shaw before, adds 12 points and 10 rebounds for her second double-double in three games. Blaire Houston adds a season-high 15 points and Joanna Miller - who has to fight off a box-and-one early on - chips in 10.
McGaughey paces Shaw with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Maggie Tanner comes off the bench for 14 points.
NCCU shoots 46.9 percent from the floor including 55.6 in the second half and 13-for-25 from 3-point range. NCCU has its most 3-point field goals since the Eagles hit 14 in a 99-55 win over St. Augustine's on Jan. 26, 2002.
Shaw ends up at 38.8 including 31.6 after halftime. The Eagles win the board battle 41-37 and commit 23 turnovers to Shaw's 25.
They said it ...
NCCU coach Joli Robinson: "We're beginning to find our way. Players are stepping up. Shanise and Latoya and Blaire were all able to step up and do some good things tonight. Sometimes your best scorer might get in a slump, and it's great when other kids can step up the way they did tonight. ... I worry about every game, but I knew the type of teams Coach Curtis has. They're going to come out hard and they're good shooters."
Shaw coach Jacques Curtis: "They shot the ball well and we missed some assignments on (Blanks). She got some open shots, and I knew if we left her open she was going to hit them. This is a game I think both schools like to have. It was good for my big girl (Tanner) tonight. She got work against some other big girls."
Blanks: "That felt good. I lost my confidence for a while, but I have it back now. I was really into it. We go hard in practice and we've been having good carryover. I heard our seniors talking about playing against Shaw. Shaw came out here talking smack, and I knew it was going to be a big game."
Bennett: "We just wanted to get out and prove we're better, basically. We wanted to go out and get that win from Jump Street. We've been clicking a lot better as a team lately. Coach has been getting on me about having the freedom to take 3-pointers. I shot a couple and made one."
What does it all mean?
That despite their overall record, the Eagles have a better basketball team than they had during most of their time in the CIAA. And that the Bears got a good workout and have a chance to get back into conference play without having lost any momentum.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Blanks' 3-pointer with 8:14 left to put the Eagles up 60-55 and start a 7-0 run.
Shaw leads 43-24.
NCCU: Won 3.
Shaw: Lost 1.
Shaw vs. Elizabeth City State, Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
NCCU vs. Savannah State, Monday, 4 p.m.