by Mike Potter
McDOUGALD-McLENDON GYM/DURHAM N.C. Central gets to begin testing whether the Wizard of Oz' Dorothy was right about home tonight.
The Eagles (4-19) have played 17 of their 23 previous men's basketball games on the road and lost them all, but the next five are in their own nest.
NCCU isn't in position to get an easy victory very often, and the five-game homestand won't provide any gift-wrapped results. But no established national powers are coming to East Durham either, so at least every time the Eagles take the court they'll have a reasonable chance for a mark in the left column.
Tonight's opponent is Western Illinois, which agreed to come to Durham for the front end of a two-season home-and home contract. It's definitely an escape, but the Leathernecks shoot 64.7 percent in the second half and win 53-50.
The Eagles seem to take control early. Only 6-10 center James Granstra is doing much for the Leathernecks as NCCU goes up 18-5 on a layup from Nick Chasten (pictured) at the 12:08 mark. NCCU leads 22-13 at the break as the visitors are shooting 20.0 percent.
NCCU leads 33-20 on Dwayne Sims' jumper with 12:46 left before the visitors make their run. WIU scores eight straight points before Dijon Manns breaks it up on a short jumper at 9:49, then goes ahead for the first time since the opening minutes on a David Nurse 3-pointer at 7:34.
And now we have a battle.
WIU stretches its lead to 48-42 on a pair of Nurse free throws with 54.2 to go, but the Eagles keep coming. It's 50-47 following Michael Glasker's 3-pointer with 28.4 left. Nurse his one of two free throws at 26.8.
C.J. Wilkerson hits the first of two at 19.4 and the Eagles get the rebound, and then he hits two at 15.1 to make it 51-50.
Ceola Clark hits two for WIU on Wilkerson's fifth foul at 9.2 to complete the scoring. Glasker misses two free throws with four seconds left and then Granstra misses two at 2.9, but the Eagles can't get a final shot.
Nurse leads the Leathernecks with 15 points, followed by Clark with 13 all after halftime and Granstra with 11.
Wilkerson leads the Eagles with 20 points and Chasten adds 11.
WIU shoots 40.5 percent from the floor to the Eagles' 43.9, but dominates the boards 34-22. NCCU commits just nine turnovers to WIU's 15, but shoots 45.5 percent from the line to the visitors' 70.4.
They said it ...
NCCU coach LeVelle Moton: "Losses are all tough for me. I felt the same way when we lost at State Saturday. We lost this game in the first half. We got up 10-12 and then we took a couple of bad shots. We started shooting the ball too quick and thinking about ourselves too much. One guy took a bad shot and then another one did, and we were all out of rhythm. They shot 4-for-20 in the first half, and we needed to be up 15-20 points. We gave up three uncontested layups at one stretch. I've got to do a better job putting guys in position because that's not acceptable."
WIU coach Jim Molinari: "I give North Carolina Central a lot of credit. They were so active defensively and made us impatient, and they fought us in the post. We just get confidence when we get stops on defense, and in the second half we went inside and took fewer 3-pointers. And our better players stepped up in Ceola Clark and David Nurse. I think we have good character. We didn't fold. We beat a very athletic team, and we hit some very tough shots."
Wilkerson: "It was definitely a tough loss. Our effort and our heart weren't there in the second half. We didn't play good team defense. When we get down to the closing minutes, we're going to have to find the heart to win."
What does it all mean?
That the Eagles have five more chances to beat a Division I opponent and improve on last season's record.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Nurse's 3-pointer that gave the visitors the lead for good.
WIU leads 1-0.
NCCU: Lost 5.
WIU: Won 1.
NCCU vs. Savannah State, Saturday, 7 p.m.
Western Illinois vs. IUPUI, Sunday, 7 p.m.