College basketball: Free throws down the stretch seal WVU Tech victory
MONTGOMERY, W.Va. - West Virginia Tech shot almost 50 percent from the floor at the Neal D. Baisi Athletic Center Tuesday evening, including 10-of-20 from 3-point range, but it was solid defense and foul shooting down the stretch that helped the Golden Bears rally in the second half for a 90-85 win over visiting Salem International.
Tech improved to 2-0 on the season, while Salem concluded the exhibition portion of its schedule. Salem will open its regular season Friday at Kentucky Christian.
Tech trailed by four points with 2:13 to play before a 3-pointer by Brandon Burgraff and lay in by former South Charleston player Jaren Marino gave the Golden Bears an 86-85 lead with just 1:36 left.
That's when the defense and foul shooting came into play.
Salem turned the ball over on two of its last three possessions, and junior transfer Leon Cooper, Jr. made them pay by connecting on 4-of-4 free throws in the game's final 18.5 seconds to seal the win.
Cooper was just 2-of-4 from the line prior to his late game heroics.
"He had been struggling actually from the line," said Tech Coach Bob Williams of Cooper. "In the first half he missed a couple and he looked at me and said 'I'm not missing anymore'
"He made those first two big ones and we let him shoot the final two because he'd made the previous two."
Cooper, a transfer from the University of Maine, was glad to contribute in just his second game in the program.
"Coach has a big role for me to fill and I feel like I just try to go in and play defense first and the offense will come. If I get fouled I just to need to make sure I make my free throws," he said.
While a newcomer provided the scoring down the stretch, it was a pair of holdovers that provided the bulk of the scoring punch for the Golden Bears.
Burgraff finished with 26 points, including 6-of-10 from 3-point range and 6-of-6 from the free throw line. Marino added 17 points and six rebounds.
"This was a tough game," Marino said. "I'm glad we got to win and learn a lesson instead of lose and learn a lesson. Our team came together at the end and we just battled through and got the win."
Armond Perez added 15 points and seven rebounds for Tech, while Cooper finished with 10 points and four boards.
Williams wasn't completely pleased with his team's performance, but knows there's plenty to work on.
"Overall it was a great test for us because it was hard," Williams said. "The first game was easy and now these kids know that you've got to come to play because the competition is getting better and better.
"We made a lot of bad mistakes and I thought our defense was awful in them shooting 48 percent and them having 27 offensive rebounds. What helped us win is they had 28 turnovers, but we'll get better and our defense will get better."
Walter Brock led Salem with 29 points and 12 rebounds, while Abel Tillman added 14 points and Darius Roper 13.
Contact Michael Dailey at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelDaileyWV.