CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston and West Virginia State are both home tonight with challenges they need to meet, for things don't get any easier come Monday.The Golden Eagles, fourth in the West Virginia Conference standings, host Pitt Johnstown at 6 p.m. at Eddie King Gym. At 7:30 at Fleming Hall, West Virginia State will try to build its late momentum against second-place Fairmont State.After tonight, State begins a stretch of four straight road games Monday against third-place Alderson-Broaddus. The same day, UC heads to West Liberty to face a Hilltoppers squad waiting in ambush.But first things first. In the case of UC (15-5, 11-5 WVC), it must avoid a fourth home loss of the season against the offensively efficient Mountain Cats (13-8, 9-8), who are shooting 51.6 percent from the floor. The Golden Eagles have fared better on the road, going 8-2.
"We haven't played really well at home. I can't figure that out," said UC coach Mark Downey. "Sometimes we think that just because we show up at home we're going to win. We have better focus on the road."Since that watershed 101-96 victory over West Liberty, the Eagles are 3-3, losing to Seton Hill, Wheeling Jesuit and Fairmont by a combined nine points. As Downey indicated, they played better in a 69-59 win at Alderson-Broaddus and a 96-69 win at Ohio Valley.On Thursday, the Eagles righted themselves at home with a 71-66 win over Concord. Terrell Lipkins was dominant that night, scoring 25 points, but the Eagles still weren't at full strength.Robbie Dreher missed his third game in a row with a dislocated thumb and torn ligament in his non-shooting hand. He has passed on season-ending surgery, but his comeback has been difficult.Still, if he can be effective by Monday, the Eagles need him at West Lib.
"We need to get him back. He has been practicing," Downey said. "I haven't felt really comfortable getting him back in there, but I want to get him some time [today], get his feet wet."nn
State (9-13, 6-10) is enjoying its first two-game winning streak of the season and is trying to climb from 10th place to at least eighth by season's end. A finish below eighth puts State in the rare position of traveling for the first round of the WVC tournament.Fairmont (15-5, 13-3) is coming off a loss to Wheeling Jesuit but won five straight before that and lost just 82-77 to West Liberty. On Jan. 14, the Falcons pelted State 88-60.The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 111-97 win over future Mountain East Conference rival Urbana (Ohio), in which Raymon Austin scored 19 points and 10 rebounds. Anton Hutchins is scoring almost 18 points per game over the last five games, pushing his team-high average to 15.1.But what State coach Bryan Poore needs is for Jalen Walker, who had 15 points against Urbana, to pick up the pace."He's had some flashes," Poore said. "Up at Wheeling [85-73 loss on Jan. 28], the first half he was awful and the second half he was outstanding - 5 for 5 from 3 and penetrating to the basket. We need him to become a little more consistent and become a better quarterback."
After today, State doesn't play at home until the regular-season finale Feb. 23 against UC. The Jackets play at A-B on Monday, Ohio Valley on Thursday, Concord on Feb. 18 and Bluefield State on Feb. 21.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@ wvgazette.com, or following him at twitter.com/dougsmock.