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WVU Tech rallies for win

MONTGOMERY, W.Va. - WVU Tech's Leon Cooper Jr. vowed Tuesday night he wouldn't miss another free throw.

Cooper was true to his word, sinking four straight foul shots in the last 18.5 seconds as the Golden Bears put away Salem International University 90-85 in a men's basketball matchup at the Neal D. Baisi Athletic Center on Tech's campus.

"He looked at me and said, 'I'm not missing any more,' '' Tech coach Bob Williams said of Cooper's declaration after misfiring on two foul shots near the end of the opening half. "He made those two big ones and then we said, 'You're going to make two more.' ''

The Golden Bears' double-team forced Salem senior Walter Brock to fumble the ball out of bounds with 35 seconds to go and Tech clinging to a one-point lead (86-85). Cooper was fouled with 18.5 seconds and calmly sank the front and back ends of a 1-plus-1 for an 88-85 advantage.

Tech forced another Tigers' miscue when Salem junior Christopher Miller lost the ball out of bounds because of more pressure with 7.2 seconds left. Cooper was fouled again with 5.9 seconds remaining and made the 1-plus-1 to set the final score.

Cooper, a junior, finished with 10 points, including 6 of 8 at the foul line, with four rebounds, four assists and two steals in 26 minutes.

"I hurt my shoulder earlier in the week and I had to get adjusted to the wrap I had on,'' said Cooper, a transfer from the University of Maine who is from Freeport, Bahamas. "After I missed those two [free throws] I knew I had to pick up my team after that.''

"The week before he had a concussion,'' Williams said of Cooper. "He's missed several practices. He had been struggling from the line. He's practiced one day before each of the games so he's rusty. He wasn't his normal self in the first half. He came up big in the second half.''

The Golden Bears (2-0) trailed 85-81 with 2:13 left in the game, then reeled off the final nine points to secure the victory.

Senior guard Brandon Burgraff, who is from Matewan, began the rally with a 3-pointer, then junior guard Jaren Marino, a former South Charleston High School player, added a layup as Tech took the lead for good at 86-85.

Burgraff paced the Golden Bears with 26 points, including a 6-of-10 performance on 3s, and Marino added 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting and six rebounds. Tech senior forward Armond Perez pitched in 15 points on 6-of-9 accuracy with seven boards.

"We forced some big turnovers down the stretch,'' said Williams. "We were fortunate we made some big plays.

"[Salem] can turn games around with their pace. Their zone is hard to deal with. They do a good job with changing defenses. They don't do the same thing all the time, then they change up out of timeouts.''

Brock finished with a team-high 31 points for Salem, which counted Tuesday's game as an exhibition. The Tigers shot just a little under 50 percent and forced Tech into 20 turnovers.

"We made a lot of bad mistakes,'' Williams said. "Our defense was horrible. I thought their big guys outplayed our big guys. You've got to come to play.

"The competition is going to get better and better. These guys are really good kids. They have high character so they keep battling and play hard all the time. The want to be good.''

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.

 


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