When Cheyney State and the University of the District of Columbia meet on the UDC basketball court at 8 tonight, two remarkable winning streaks will be at stake.
UDC has never been defeated in its sparkling new gym at Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street NW. The Firebirds are 15-0 at home, 22-5 overall and ranked third in the nation in NCAA Division II. Cheyney has won its last 20 games in compiling a 28-2 record and earning the No. 1 national ranking.
The game was an instant sellout. UDC fans and students bought all available tickets within 3 1/2 hours when they went on sale Wednesday. WOL Radio (AM-1450) will broadcast tonight's game.
The winner will be South Atlantic Division II champion, one of four teams to advance to the championships next weekend in Springfield, Mass. It marks UDC's first flight to these heights. Cheyney is a perennial postseason contender and was national Division II champion in 1979.
If there is a crucial matchup in this contest it probably will be inside, close to the basket. Cheyney's high scorer is 6-foot-9 forward George Melton, a first-team all-America averaging 21.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. UDC has an equivalent in 6-7 Michael Britt, averaging 21.8 points and 11.5 rebounds.
At center UDC has the edge with 7-foot Earl Jones, who averages 25 points and 11 rebounds, opposing 6-11 Ed Geiger, who was recruited out of a Philadelphia car-wash by Chaney. Geiger's credentials are not comparable to Jones'; he averages 4.3 points and 4.4 rebounds.
But Geiger is far from awed. Asked how he felt about guarding Jones, he said, "They have baskets at both ends. He has to check me, too."
Cheyney starts 6-6 Leonard Goggins at the other forward and 6-6 Kevin Taylor and 6-5 Keith Johnson at guard, which makes for an imposing quintet. UDC's second starting forward is 6-7 Jeff Carmichael; the guards are Kenny Payne (6-1) and Greg Carson, who is listed at 6-4 but is at least two inches shorter than that.
UDC Coach Wil Jones watched Cheyney's final regular-season win over University of Maryland-Baltimore County and found the Pennsylvania team "slow." At that time he said UDC could beat Cheyney handily, because of its superior quickness.
But yesterday when Cheyney rolled into town, Jones said UDC's best hope was over. "I was hoping that they'd get lost and never get to town."
The Cheyney bus did get off track en route. "We got lost in Rock Creek Park," Coach Chaney said. "It was such a beautiful day, we stopped and got our sandwiches out and had a picnic."
In the low-key style of Division II, both teams worked out at UDC yesterday. When the workouts overlapped they played together, and for about 10 minutes UDC star Jones was sharing a ball and a basket with Cheyney Coach Chaney. They fed each other for shots. Neither seemed to think there was anything unusual about it.
Chaney said he was unconcerned by UDC's home-court advantage. Cheyney State played 21 of its 30 games this year on the road and still finished No. 1. The concern, he said, is the quality of officiating.
He scouted UDC last weekend when the Firebirds defeated host Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Md., 67-66. Chaney said he felt that officiating was "partial to Mount St. Mary's," particularly in the assessment of three quick fouls against UDC star Britt.
"There's only eight teams left (in Division II)," Chaney said. "That's four games this weekend. There's no reason why they shouldn't get the best officials in the country for these games."
One thing that is not likely to occur tonight is a slowdown. UDC is noted for fast-breaks and alley-oop passes to the big men.
Chaney said his squad is more conservative, "but we're not capable of holding the basketball. When my guys see the basket, they want to shoot."