Saturday afternoon inside the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, the WVU Tech men and women looked to maintain the momentum gained after wins Thursday night when they entertained Indiana University-Kokomo..
Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, a split was the final result of the day.
In the opener, the Tech women used a big third quarter to roll past the Cougars 93-74, before the men dropped a heartbreaker, 64-63 to the leaders in the West Division of the River States Conference.
“I love Beckley. Beckley loves basketball. I have been coming here for a long time. Anytime you can come here and win, it’s big. It’s not easy here,” IU-Kokomo head coach Eric Echelbarger said. “It was a great college basketball game and a great environment. We have had a lot of good battles here with WVU Tech. Every time you come here, it is going to be a war. If you don’t play your best, you are not going to win. My guys hung in there and fought really hard. I was proud of them.”
The Tech men were riding a three-game winning streak and jumped on the visitors for a 7-0 lead that eventually went 10 points at 15-5 for Tech’s biggest lead of the game.
Cutting the advantage back to one at 26-25, the visitors knocked down three straight triples for a 34-26 lead that was 36-33 at the break.
“They are a really good team and we knew that coming in. Out of the gate, we couldn’t get a feel for them and they jumped out on us. I thought our guys adjusted well though,” Echelbarger said. “We rotate a lot out of our defense and you have to trust those rotations. I thought our guys did a good job of trusting that as the game went on,”
As the clock ticked towards two minutes to play, a hard drive by Andrew Work broke a 58-58 tie and was fouled. Work’s ensuing free-throw gave Tech the lead, but when Xavier Hines knocked down a jumper with under a minute to play, Kokomo was back in front.
A smooth jump shot from Bryce Radford flipped the lead back to the Golden Bears with 40.7 to play, before Kokomo standout Hunter White made a tough shot along the baseline for the lead with 26 ticks left.
“We had a misdirection play. Hunter White is our guy,” Echelbarger said. “He got the ball and went baseline. He got jammed up a little, but he was able to finish the play off. We still had to get a stop though”
Tech turned to Work for the final possession, but the Cougars defense was up to the challenge and poked the ball loose as time ran out.
“We wanted our best play-maker to get downhill. He had been making those tough shots,” WVU Tech head coach George Wilmore said. ” I should have called timeout there and I am still beating myself up about that. We had two, but it was just one of those things. I told the guys it just came down to making plays. They made one more play. We had opportunities to win, but they just made one more play than we did.”
“Andrew is a load. (Ashton) Parker is a load and they have a lot of very good shooters around them. We have a lot of respect for them,” Echelbarger said. “We had some good help-side (defense) on that final possession. Andrew was trying to get to the rim and we made a couple of good swipes to disrupt him there.”
Work led the Cougars with 19 points, while Radford and Parker scored 12 points apiece. Tech shot almost 46 percent for the game, but the Golden Bears only managed 48 shots on the afternoon.
“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but they are the third best defense in points per possession according to Synergy,” Wilmore said. “They want to be in the gaps and they press up on you. They are big and physical and they do a really good job of rotating. The second half however, we got open looks, we just didn’t make them”
Thursday night the women snapped a two-game skid with a much needed win over Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Head coach Roger Hodge was hoping his team would maintain that momentum Saturday.
That hope gained plenty of traction when Tech jumped out to a quick start.
After trailing for the only time in the contest at 4-2, WVU Tech went on a 13-2 run and eventually led 38-27 at halftime, but the veteran coach admitted he knew the Cougars would come out fired up to start the second half.
The visitors were true to Hodge’s prediction and came roaring out of the locker room to cut the Tech lead back to five points in just the first three minutes of play.
A 3-pointer from Kokomo sharpshooter Kristen Ridner to open the half was answered by a bucket from Faith Silva before the Cougars scored five straight to close the gap to 40-35 with 7:15 left in the quarter.
“I told them at halftime that (Kokomo) would come out geared up to make a run in order to get back in the game,” Hodge said. “Sometimes it is not necessarily about stretching the lead, it’s about holding them off. I felt like as long as we could hold them to that gap, not get them excited and let them back in the game that we would be OK.”
After sitting the majority of the second quarter with two fouls, Silva and especially Berry took over for the next seven minutes to lead a massive Tech explosion.
Silva dropped a crucial 3-ball to get the eruption started before Alyssa Taylor blew by her defender for an easy deuce and a 10-point lead. Ella Wolfe scored for the Cougars on the next trip, but it was the last time the lead dipped to single digits.
A stick back from Alva Hedrich was followed by a triple from Valiyah Yazzie and you could feel the Tech tide washing over Kokomo. The tide became an all out tsunami when 5-foot-7 freshman Janaya Berry began to rip up the taller Cougars in the paint.
Over the final four minutes of the quarter, Berry riddled the Kokomo defense for 12 big points. When she converted an old school 3-point play with 29 seconds left in the quarter, the lead was 20 points. Yazzie’s bucket with 5 seconds on the clock pushed the advantage to 69-47 with 10 minutes remaining in the contest.
An early score in the final period from Berry and back-to-back deep swishes from Silva and Yazzie gave the Golden Bears their biggest lead at 77-50 with 7:40 to play.
“I thought it was the most complete game that we have played since early in the season,” Hodge said. “There was a lot of growth and excitement to play. We had more consistency than we have had in a while. We talked about building off Thursday and I thought, at least for this day we did.”
Hodge credited his depth off the bench for its solid play, especially when Berry and Silva were sitting in the second quarter with two fouls. Berry, however, clearly stood out in the decisive third period. Coming off a stellar defensive performance in Thursday’s win, Berry finished the game Saturday with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
“I feel like our depth really helped us today, but I’m going to give Janaya Berry a lot of credit again,” Hodge said. “She brings such energy and intensity. She got us going and got us on that roll. She is just that type of kid and I am really proud of her.”
Silva scored 19 points, while Hedrich added 14 points and had eight rebounds. Yazzie finished with 13 and Taylor scored 12 to go along with her eight rebounds.
“(Kokomo) has really talented kids. Three of their kids were hitting shots from about 25 feet,” Hodge said. “They were physical on the boards. That is a really good win over a solid team that is very well coached. We were not only fortunate to win, but also fortunate to win by the gap.”
Lost in the 93 points scored might be the fact that the Golden Bears were again solid on the defensive end. For the game, Tech held the Cougars to 36.3 percent shooting from the field.
“That is what we have focused on quite a bit. I am hoping some lights came on today,” Hodge said. “All year long we have had some ups and downs offensively, but for the most part we have been a solid offensive team. We have not been as good on the defensive end. I hope that is starting to catch on. If we can continue to improve from where we are and continue to have pride in our defense, the things we have wanted all season are still in front of us.”