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WVC basketball: Rivals to face off in tournament opener

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston has turned its rivalry against West Virginia State into a one-sided affair, winning handily their two regular-season meetings this year.

The Golden Eagles (18-8) will try to make it three this season and four consecutive overall when they face the Yellow Jackets (10-18) at 7:30 p.m. at Eddie King Gym in the first round of the West Virginia Conference Tournament.

Tonight's first-round games are played at campus sites, while the final three rounds - beginning with the quarterfinals on Thursday - will take place at the Charleston Civic Center.

West Liberty (27-1) won the regular-season title for the fourth consecutive year and has a bye tonight, awaiting the winner of the contest between No. 8 Concord (16-10) and No. 9 Pitt Johnstown (14-12).

The Hilltoppers boast two players on the All-WVC team, with guard Alex Falk (20.7 points per game) and Cedric Harris (17.6 points, 5.2 assists).

The other first-round games are No. 13 Davis & Elkins (8-18) at No. 4 Wheeling Jesuit (17-9), No. 15 Ohio Valley (3-25) at No. 2 Fairmont State (19-7), No. 10 West Virginia Wesleyan (12-14) at No. 7 Seton Hill (15-11), No. 11 Glenville State (12-15) at No. 6 Shepherd (15-11) and No. 14 Bluefield State (4-22) at No. 3 Alderson-Broaddus (18-8).

UC, picked second in the coaches' preseason poll, managed the No. 5 seed for the tournament. The Yellow Jackets earned the 12th seed, their lowest position entering the postseason since 2001, which was Coach Bryan Poore's second season at State.

Despite winning 92-56 in the first meeting and holding a 29-point lead in the first half before cruising to a 92-75 win Saturday, UC Coach Mark Downey expects a closer game.

"I don't really worry about our guys overlooking them," said Downey, who is in his third season with the Golden Eagles. "If it was Bluefield that we were playing, or somebody where it wasn't a rivalry, I'd worry about them being ready to play.

"I expect it to be a totally different game, but I expect our guys to be ready to play."

The Golden Eagles boast a strong backcourt led by first-team All-WVC guard Terrell Lipkins.

Lipkins leads the team in scoring (17.1 points per game), assists (4.6), steals (2.3) and is second in rebounding (5.1).

The strength of the Yellow Jackets comes from strong post play led by Anton Hutchins (15.3 points, 5.1 rebounds), David Ford (10.7 points, 6.5 rebounds) and Raymon Austin (10.7 points, team-leading 8.5 rebounds).

This season has been a struggle for Poore's team, which has one winning streak of two games and has three losing streaks of at least three games each.

The Yellow Jackets take a three-game losing streak into tonight's meeting with losses at Concord (81-77), at Bluefield (96-95, OT) and at home against UC.

As for the Golden Eagles, they are in the same position as other WVC teams, likely needing to win the WVC Tournament to entertain hopes for a berth in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region.

"I like where we are right now in terms of the way we're playing," said Downey, whose team's only loss in the last four games was a double-overtime defeat to Wheeling Jesuit.

The latest Atlantic Region standings, released Feb. 20, have West Liberty No. 1, Fairmont State No. 3 and Alderson-Broaddus No. 7. Wheeling Jesuit was No. 10 prior to losing to West Liberty in the regular season finale.

Last season four teams - West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit, Charleston and West Virginia Wesleyan - earned spots, with the field rounded out by Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference member East Stroudsburg and Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference member Winston-Salem State.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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