WVU Tech's Stephen Coles has a clear path to the basket against Lindenwood.
MONTGOMERY, W.Va. - Coach Bob Williams just might have an enduring, rewarding birthday present in Stephen Coles, who gave WVU Tech a major inside presence Friday night.
Coles, a 6-foot-7 senior from Danville, Va., flexed his muscle in a 94-74 win over Lindenwood University's Belleville, Ill., campus, scoring 20 points and hauling down 13 rebounds. He also dished out four assists.
He also helped the Golden Bears (9-9) break their eight-game losing streak and gain a not-so-ordinary win over a fellow NAIA Division I independent.
It was the second game for Coles, who became eligible last week for the Bears' 88-83 loss to Bluefield (Va.) College. He scored 12 points in that game, but was much more assertive this time around.
"He's that big body we needed," said Williams, who celebrated his 49th birthday. "First semester, we were playing a lot of zone just to try to stay in the game. And now we're a little bit bigger, a little bit deeper. When we get our whole team together, we can be better."
Which the Bears were against the Lynx (11-7). They outscored the visitors by 10 points in each half, forced 16 turnovers and dished out 27 assists on their 35 baskets. After Ra'shaud Kincaid hit a 3-pointer to give Tech a 10-8 lead, the Bears did not trail again.
Coles made his biggest statement in the second half, scoring 14 points, collecting nine rebounds and even hitting a 3-pointer. That long shot gave Tech a 54-40 lead early in the second half, a margin Lindenwood-Belleville couldn't cut to single digits.
Coles last showed up on a stat sheet in 2011-12 at Arkansas Tech, averaging 2.7 points and 1.9 rebounds in 9.6 minutes. He did start five of his 24 games for the Wonder Boys, but played just 10 minutes in three games of the NCAA Division II South Central Regional tournament.
After leaving there, Tech became the end of his collegiate road.
"I had so many stops, I had four schools in four years," Coles said. "My junior year I had a little bump in the road; I had to sit and think about everything. Coach [Williams] was a blessing, gave me my final chance and I stuck in there, he stuck with me.
"I've been to Catawba College, then after that year I went to juco, Indian Hills in Iowa. Then my junior year I went to Arkansas Tech. I signed with Lamar out of juco, but things didn't work out. So I was blessed to come here to Tech."
Williams, who was doused by a player as he celebrated the "big four-nine," is being blessed - finally - with his roster. Bahamas native Leon Cooper Jr., who had 17 points and 12 rebounds, was out for several weeks with a shoulder injury, and Eddie Gordon has missed some games.
With more or less a full roster, the Bears are jockeying for position in the small world of NAIA independents. Again, there will be a six-team tournament for the loosely aligned Association of Independent Institutions, played at Life University of Marietta, Ga.
Tech and LU-Belleville, who will play in the regular-season finale March 1 in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis, are jostling for position, with Cal State-San Marcos ranked fourth nationally.
But that has two months to play out. Next up for Tech is Virginia University of Lynchburg, which visits the Baisi Center at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Still, the birthday boy likes where his team is.
"I'm really proud of these guys, I told them, for staying together through the adversity," Williams said. "We've had a lot of injuries; we added Stephen Coles the last game. We've had so many different lineups every game. And then we went through a brutal stretch of good teams on the road in a condensed period.
"But we knew we had some home games coming up, and we have some talent. I thought we put it together tonight, in a decent 40 minutes of basketball."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.