MONTGOMERY - After pulling out a thrilling 74-70 win Saturday night over Robert Morris-Illinois, WVU Tech is on the brink of doing something it hasn't done in 25 years - go to the NAIA tournament.The Golden Bears advanced to the championship game of the Association of Independent Institutions tournament, playing Voorhees at 3 p.m. at the Baisi Center. No. 4 seed Voorhees ambushed top seed Cal State-San Marcos 80-66 in the first semifinal.Tech last went to the NAIA tournament in 1988, and members of that team were in attendance. Earlier in the day, they had gone to a reunion at the Civic Center, where the last West Virginia Conference championship was played.Tech (20-11) overcame a physical team from a program used to winning in the postseason, and persevered through a 4-minute, 48-second drought to start the second half. The Bears climbed out of a 44-34 hole, and then Terrale Clark put them on his shoulders the final seven minutes, scoring 14 of his team's 21 points.
"I came out slow, a little sluggish," said Clark, who finished with 17 points. "I was trying to force it, get everything I wanted. Coaches were telling me, 'You've got to play physical, you've got to play physical.' I got to halftime and realized my team needed me, and it's my senior year and I can't go out like this."I was kind of excited, couldn't get any sleep, so I just came out, tried to do everything in my will. Once I hit my first 3, I caught fire, and I started rolling [along] with everyone else."Clark's first basket of that hot streak wasn't pretty - a dunk attempt which didn't go down, yet but bounced around the rim and dropped. He had missed a dunk in those early minutes of the second half, when Tech missed its first eight shots.
That one tied the game and got a larger-than-usual home crowd juiced up. The next two baskets were 3-pointers from the top of the key, a few feet off the line, and they put Tech up 61-57.His third 3-pointer, from the left corner, almost put the Eagles away. Coming off David Rawlinson's seventh and final assist, that made the score 69-63 with 49 seconds left. Robert Morris (17-14) still had a rally left in it, though.Dwayne Cureton hit a 3-pointer with 29.0 seconds left and Aubrey McAlpine scored on a drive. Rawlinson and Eddie Gordon both had a pair of free throws, but only hit once apiece for a 73-70 lead, giving RMU one last chance to tie.But McAlpine's 3-pointer fell short, Eddie Gordon picked off the rebound and made the second free throw, setting the final score with 1.8 left.
"Very talented," Tech coach Bob Williams said of RMU. "They didn't play hard at all yesterday [an 82-62 win over Allen], just went through the motions. They're one of those teams that think they can just turn the switch on and off. We told our guys, 'You can't win championships that way.'"I think a week without playing showed a little bit, offensively. We were anxious, we sat here and watched two full days of basketball, with the [first-round] bye. We were nervous, the crowd was a little bit bigger and louder than normal, and that team was very talented, much bigger than us at any position, especially at the guards."Our kids were persistent and mentally tough. ... Terrale Clark really stepped up; he was the best player on the floor in the last 10 minutes."Williams said Voorhees, based in Denmark, S.C., came with something to prove after only being seeded fourth. The Tigers did have two regular-season losses to fifth-seeded Morris College, and they beat them 104-97 in the first round Friday.
"Voorhees is probably the most athletic team in this tournament, the fastest team up and down," Williams said. "Their bigs can do a lot of things inside and out. We're going to have to play another great game tomorrow."VOORHEES 80, CAL STATE-SAN MARCOS 66: Voorhees (21-11) was led by Jeffrey Evans' 27 points. His teammates went 2 of 16 from 3-point range, but he buried half of his six attempts.
Brandon Allen had 15 points and 15 rebounds, helping Voorhees establish superiority inside. The rebounding was nearly even at 42-40, but Voorhees had a 23-7 advantage in second-chance points. The Tigers also led 36-22 in the paint and 17-9 in points off turnovers.Evans gave Voorhees the lead for good at 29-27 with a dunk, and that lead stretched to 40-32 at halftime. The first 61/2 minutes of the second half was a show of domination, as Voorhees took a 61-42 lead on a Willie Waters dunk.The Cougars (23-6) cut the lead to nine points with 7:26 left, but Voorhees answered with a pair of layups to lead 72-59.San Marcos was led by Brian Emanuel and Jose Rivera, who scored 11 points apiece. The Cougars shot just 39.7 percent from the floor and turned it over 15 times.
One factor in the Cougars' loss: They held out point guard Danny Redmon after he sprained an ankle Friday in a practice at the Charleston Catholic complex. The Cougars expect to receive an at-large berth in the NAIA national tournament, March 13-19 in Kansas City, Mo.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com or at twitter.com/dougsmock.