No matter how Saturday afternoon’s West Virginia State-University of Charleston men’s basketball game shakes out, the Yellow Jackets and Golden Eagles are locked into their Mountain East Conference tournament seeds. They were locked in before the ball even tips at 4 p.m. at the Wehrle Innovation Center on the UC campus.
Win or lose, UC is the No. 2 seed and WVSU is the No. 4 seed. Both earned first-round byes in the conference tournament and play their first games Friday. Will that reduce the intensity of the game between these Kanawha County neighbors?
“Anytime these two teams get together, throw everything out the window,” State coach Bryan Poore said. “Throw records, throw the last game, throw seeding, throw everything out. It doesn’t matter. It’s Charleston and State.”
And it’s a game both teams are itching to win, even if tournament seeding won’t change with the outcome. The Golden Eagles (22-5, 16-5 MEC) want to turn a five-game win streak into six. A win Saturday would also match UC’s 23-5 regular-season record from 2011-12, a season in which Charleston made the NCAA regional tournament and finished with 26 wins.
State (18-8, 13-8 MEC) hasn’t won 19 games in a season since the Yellow Jackets finished the 2010-11 campaign at 20-10. This season’s 18 wins already mark a six-win improvement from last season. State also wants to get back on track after digging too deep a hole at Concord on Wednesday and ultimately losing 89-75.
State knows it can beat UC because it already has this season, taking a 74-72 win over the Golden Eagles at the Walker Convocation Center in Institute. That came in part because the Yellow Jackets held a UC team shooting nearly 52 percent from the floor for the season to 44.4-percent shooting in their first meeting.
While the loss smarts for the Golden Eagles, UC coach Dwaine Osborne doesn’t want to blow up the game plan from last time. He saw plenty of things that worked that he feels just need to be more effective this second time around.
“We’ve just got to be a little more disciplined in what we do,” Osborne said. “We need to do what we do better. We just didn’t do it well in that game.
“That’s a credit to [WVSU],” he added. “They played hard and did what they were trying to do. The reality is ... we didn’t shoot well from the 3 or shoot well from anywhere and had a couple of killer turnovers in the last 90 seconds and had the ball down 1 with 10 seconds to go.”
State’s loss to Concord, which sits just 11-16 overall and 8-13 in the MEC, was the Yellow Jackets’ second in the last three games. Poore wants to see his team return to what worked in what has been a successful run this season.
“When we play on edge, I feel that we’re as good as anyone in the league,” Poore said. “The last week or so, we haven’t consistently been playing on edge. It depends on what bunch shows up.
“I have a good feeling we’ll be on edge [Saturday],” he added. “I think we’ll be OK as far as that goes. If we don’t, if you’re not on edge, you look really bad.”
Poore wants his team to play uptempo and speed up the game. Osborne wants his to slow things down for a more methodical approach. The Golden Eagles and Yellow Jackets will see which strategy wins out.
“I think it’s just about who can almost impose their will on the other,” Osborne said. “How they want to play is different than how we want to play.”