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.'