CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston-West Virginia State basketball game at 4 p.m. today in Institute is quite unlike most others in the long rivalry.
It's the regular-season finale for both, but neither is positioned to win the West Virginia Conference title. UC needs a minor miracle to earn a Division II postseason at-large berth, and State's at-large hopes vanished long ago.
In addition, UC (17-8 overall, 13-8 WVC) already has secured a home-court game for next week's WVC tournament opener, and State (10-17, 7-14) knows it will open on the road.
More than anything, the Golden Eagles and Yellow Jackets are simply trying to gain a bit of redemption for disappointing seasons.
In losing at Wheeling Jesuit 86-80 in two overtimes Thursday night, UC dropped its sixth game in the past 11 and fell to fifth place in the 15-team WVC. By contrast, when they defeated previously unbeaten West Liberty on Jan. 14, the Golden Eagles were 8-2 in the conference and 12-2 overall and were ranked No. 23 in the Division II coaches' poll.
From there, however, UC lost five of its next eight games as part of a second-half slide.
"I really worried how we would respond after that West Lib game,'' said UC coach Mark Downey. "We just didn't handle success very well, and we had a couple injuries, and we had that snowball effect in the wrong direction. We haven't been able to step up and make plays when we needed to make them to win close games against teams that are around us or higher than us in the rankings and standings.''
Last year, UC finished second in the conference with an 18-4 mark and picked up an NCAA at-large invitation. This year, Downey knows a WVC tourney title may be his only chance of advancing in the postseason.
"I think we probably have to win it now,'' he said. "[Thursday] night was a huge game [against Wheeling Jesuit]. We were right behind Wheeling in the region rankings, so if we could have beaten Wheeling, I really think that game would have helped us move up in the region rankings. It'll be tough to get in without winning it. We wanted to get into the NCAA tournament. That was a goal of ours, but now we're making it difficult to do that.''