by Mike Potter
McDOUGALD-McLENDON GYM/DURHAM Now it's N.C. Central's turn for a "PinkZone" women's basketball game.
The Eagles have had good fortune in their baby-pink outfits, never having lost a game while wearing them.
Today's opponent is Chicago State of the (10-16) of the Great West Conference, which has become a holding area for teams in Division I transition as well as a couple whose geographic situation makes it difficult to find any other conference affiliation at all. CSU won the teams' first meeting 68-47 in the Eagles' first game in Chicago.
NCCU (8-15) has won eight of its last 14 games and once again seems to be playing its best basketball in February. The Eagles are playing their first home contest after six straight on the road, and with a 5-3 record here are hoping to clinch another winning record on the home floor.
The Eagles get revenge today, using a huge final 10 minutes to win 77-64.
CSU hits the first bucket on a Natalie Marlowe layup at 19:30, but the Eagles score the next 10 ending on a Latoya Bennett layup at 14:41.
NCCU leads the rest of the half and 40-36 at the break. Shanise Blanks (pictured) is on fire, knocking down five 3-pointers, and the Eagles have 19 rebounds at the break to the Cougars' 14.
CSU goes on a 12-2 run midway through the second half, going up 54-46 on a Courtney Waldon 3-pointer with 12:00 left.
But the rest of the game is all NCCU. The Eagles take the lead for good at 63-60 on a Shanise Blanks 3-pointer with 6:40 to go and keep going.
Blanks finishes with a career-high 22 points while Bennett chips in 14, Blaire Houston 13 and Joanna Miller 12 with 11 rebounds.
Tressa Beckel paces the Cougars with 15 points and Courtney Waldon 12.
The Eagles finish shooting 45.3 percent to CSU's 39.7, win the rebound battle 37-32 and commit 20 turnovers to CSU's 21. NCCU is 21-for-26 from the free-throw line.
They said it ...
NCCU coach Joli Robinson: "This means a lot to us. I have family members and friends who are breast cancer survivors, so it does have a special meaning to me. This is an awesome idea they've had to have all the schools buy into (PinkZone games). In the course of a ball game you're going to have momentum changes. Fortunately we were able to pull back out of it when they went on their run. We made some substitutions that changed some chemistry and settled down a little bit. We didn't panic and didn't drop our heads when things weren't going well for us."
Blanks: "I have a lot of confidence in my shot. I worked at it a lot over the summer, but it actually comes from my coaches and teammates. Without them, I still wouldn't be shooting. They were looking for me so I just took the shot. I didn't want to let them down. ... We were playing for all the women and everybody who's been through breast cancer, so it means a lot to me. We're not going to lose on our home court. They beat us last year so we had to come back and get them, and we got them."
Bennett: "This game means a lot to us, because we're playing for a different cause, not just for us. Everybody out there is fighting for a cause, the cure for breast cancer. ... Basketball is a game of runs. It was their turn to get one in (in the second half). We just made sure we came in and got ours and finished off the game. We're playing great at home and real good as a team."
What does it all mean?
That the Eagles have learned how to win consistently against equal opposition at home.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Danielle DeBerry's layup from Bennett to make it 67-60 with 5:25 to play.
NCCU: Won 2.
CSU: Lost 3.
NCCU at Wake Forest, Monday, 7 p.m.
CSU vs. South Dakota, Thursday, 6 p.m.