by Mike Potter
JOEL COLISEUM/WINSTON-SALEM N.C. Central plays its fourth of five women's basketball games against ACC competition this season tonight, and as always in this situation the Eagles are road underdogs.
Fortunately for the Eagles they're used to the arena, as they played here many times when Winston-Salem State was a rival in the CIAA and played Wake Forest here last season.
The Deacons (15-11) are looking to bounce back and get ready for the final "weekend" of ACC play, followed by the conference tournament and some certain post-season action to follow.
NCCU (9-15) will have to wait until the year after next for any of that to matter, but need one victory over its final five games to get a second straight season with double-digit wins.
That won't happen tonight as the Deacons get a big early lead and never quite let the Eagles within striking distance, holding on for a 76-63 victory.
The Eagles don't look ready to play over the first few minutes as the Deacons, playing without freshman post Sandra Garcia who is out with a sprained ankle, are quickly up 16-0.
NCCU doesn't get its first points until 13:18 remains in the first half when Joanna Miller hits a jumper from the free-throw line.
And suddenly the Eagles are competitive for the rest of the half, trailing only 42-31 at intermission.
The Deacons stretch their lead to 64-40 on a layup from freshman Southeast Raleigh alum Lakevia Boykin with 9:40 to go, and then the Eagles tease their handful of fans in the house by tightening the score down the stretch.
Shenise Blanks hits a layup with 2:01 left to make it 72-60 and then Miller hits a jumper at 1:17 to make it 74-62, but they can't get it any closer.
Wake finishes with four players in double figures, as freshman Mykala Walker has a season-high 15 points and ties her season high with six rebounds. Secily Ray adds 11 points while freshman Durham Hillside alum Asia Williams finishes with 10 points and eight boards and Courteney Morris adds 10 points.
Miller, who has been recovering from a concussion and missed the two games before Saturday's win over Chicago State, has her best game as an Eagle with 29 points, six steals, a trio of 3-pointers and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. Blaire Houston chips in 14 points for NCCU.
Wake shoots 52.8 percent to NCCU's 37.5 and wins the rebound battle 36-32. The Deacons commit 25 turnovers to the Eagles' 21.
They said it ...
NCCU coach Joli Robinson: "I guess we came out a little rattled. We couldn't do anything right the first few minutes of the ball game. Once we got settled and relaxed a little bit we were able to cut into that lead. We just didn't avoid getting in trouble at the beginning, but we kept working hard and didn't fall apart. I think this is a confidence-booster. We really only had one day to get ready for this game. We probably needed two or three days to get ready for a game like this."
Wake coach Mike Petersen: "I thought we had really good defense in the opening minutes of the game, and we were able to do it again in the second half. There were situations where our offensive focus was very good and other times when it wasn't. The most important thing we wanted to do was win the game. We had to play 40 minutes against a zone, which was good for us because we see so much of it."
Miller: "I feel very happy about the way I played. We were just intimidated early on because of the name and the big gym. But we huddled up and talked about it and told each other that it was all-or-nothing. We actually played to the end, and I'm happy about that."
Ray: "I'm not as satisfied as I should be, but we pulled out a win. We were trying not to underestimate this team and play hard the whole time. They surprised us a little, but for the most part we just took them lightly. We just have to learn from this and move on. We're going to keep working hard in practice and try to get into the NCAA Tournament."
What does it all mean?
That the Deacons have one more check mark in the left column as they try to get the attention of the NCAA selection committee. And that the Eagles showed they're capable of going toe-to-toe against a quality opponent for long stretches.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Lakevia Boykin's layup from Brooke Thomas that puts the Deacons up 64-40 with 9:40 to go.
WFU leads 5-1.
NCCU: Lost 1.
WFU: Won 1.
WFU vs. N.C. State, Thursday, 7 p.m.
NCCU vs. Longwood, Friday, 6:30 p.m.