by Mike Potter
McDOUGALD-McLENDON GYM/DURHAM N.C. Central is on a winning streak with three straight victories over Division I teams at home.
But if the 7-20 Eagles are going to continue it, they'll probably have to play their best game of the year tonight.
The opponent is Big South leader Coastal Carolina (22-5), mentored by former Clemson and Auburn coach Cliff Ellis who is currently No. 15 on the active Division I wins list. It's the schools' first meeting in basketball, and NCCU will return the game next season.
It's the Eagles' final home game and of course Senior Night, with Joshua Worthy and Clee Sherrod II being honored. Worthy already graduated in December.
It's no surprise as Coastal wins 68-57, getting a huge early lead and then never letting the Eagles any closer than eight back in the second half.
The Eagles get off to an awful start, trailing 17-0 before Dami Sapara finally scores at 11:37.
And they get it going the rest of the half, trailing only 31-20 at the break as Joseph Harris leads the Chanticleers with 11 points. The problem is rebounding, as the visitors dominate the boards 22-9 before the break.
The Eagles never really threaten, but bolstered by a noisy home crowd of 2,421 never give up either.
Mario Edwards leads Coastal with 18 points, followed by Harris with 16 and Kierre Greenwood 13.
Nick Chasten (pictured) paces NCCU with 17 points, followed by C.J. Wilkerson with 16 and Vincent Davis 11.
The visitors shoot 50.0 percent from the floor to NCCU's 42.1 and win the rebound battle 41-26. CCU commits 21 turnovers to 16 for the Eagles.
They said it ...
NCCU coach LeVelle Moton: "We didn't come out with the energy that was necessary. We drank the poison. We started thinking we were good and ranked in the nation. We had a poor practice yesterday. It's tough to go back and humble yourself and accept praise when people tell you you're good, because you have to come back and play. We didn't come with the focus and passion and energy that's necessary to play with a team of this caliber. We could have played with them for 40 minutes if we'd come out and done what we were supposed to do. You just can't dig a hole like that."
CCU coach Cliff Ellis: "We've got a conference tournament in which we play Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. The purpose of putting it with this is to give us that conference tournament feel. We've been on the road. We're tired and beat up. We got off to a great start. We played tired and sluggish the second half. We've been on the road since last Wednesday, so this was good for them."
Wilkerson: "We didn't come out mentally ready. We needed to come in and play hard. They kind of hit us in the face for the first few minutes. Those 10 minutes that Coach put on the board - we've got to play 40 minutes, not 30. We eliminated ourselves."
Chasten: "The start was a lack of energy, low intensity. We got punched in the mouth early. Coach told us in the locker room we had to fight to the end, and we came out and did that."
What does it all mean?
That Coastal marches on toward post-season play, while the Eagles showed they didn't want to quit.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Greenwood's layup to make it 61-46 with 4:53 to go.
Coastal leads 1-0.
NCCU: Lost 1.
CCU: Won 2.
NCCU at Longwood, Feb. 25, 7 p.m.
CCU vs. Charleston Southern, Saturday, 2 p.m.