In a game that had been tight from the opening tip, WVU Tech needed a big play late.
It was fitting that, on this night, it came from Junior Arrey.
Arrey capped off a career night with a big defensive rebound to preserve a three-point lead in the final seconds and the Golden Bears survived a battle with rival Rio Grande, 84-79 Thursday in Beckley.
It was already a game to remember for Arrey, who scored his 1,000th career point early in the game. He scored Tech’s first 11 points inside the first five minutes.
The junior point guard finished with a career-high 35 points. His previous high was 33 against Berkeley College on Nov. 10, 2018.
“I give all the praise to my teammates,” Arrey said. “They push me every day in practice. They get the better of me and show me a lot of love. So I really do owe this to my teammates and coaching staff, honestly.”
It was James Long’s first experience in the Rio Grande rivalry as Tech’s head coach, and the game ended up being everything he thought it would be.
The teams went back and forth from the start and Rio Grande led 42-39 at halftime. The RedStorm held the narrow lead for much of the second half as Tech (11-6, 6-1 River States Conference) kept fighting.
“Ken French (Rio Grande’s head coach) has been the greatest guy to me since I got this job. I have the utmost respect for him,” Long said.
“I haven’t been coaching long but I promise you I have not been part of a game like that. He does an unbelievable job, and I told our guys this is one of the toughest teams in our league, and I was being nice. I think that is the toughest team we have played.”
Rio Grande (9-12, 2-5) went ahead 64-60 before Arrey hit a pair of free throws and followed a steal at midcourt with a layup to tie the game. There were two more ties before the Golden Bears went up for good at 70-68 on another shot by Arrey with 6:46 to go.
Tech slowly pulled away and Dominik King’s 3-pointer — Tech’s only make in 11 tries — made it an 81-72 game with 1:39 left.
The RedStorm stayed strong, and back-to-back 3s by Gunner Short made it 81-78. Rio Grande then had possession in the final minute, but Arrey got the rebound on a Greg Wallace miss with 33 seconds and Tech protected the lead the rest of the way.
“(Arrey) was unbelievable. I’m sitting here thinking about it right now and he was unbelievable,” Long said. “He was everywhere. We told him, losing a lot (of players from last year), he had to step up and play a role he didn’t have to play last year. You can’t just get that from the first game. It takes time. He has embraced that role. I’m glad he’s our point guard.”
Short led Rio Grande with a team-high 31 points. Shiloah Blevins had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Wallace scored 11 and Hadith Tiggs 10.
“We knew from film, they have been battling injuries all year, but they have just found ways to stay in games,” Tech assistant coach Payton Sturm said. “They play really hard. This is our first version of the rivalry. It’s always been a battle so we just told our guys you’ve got to have the mindset that it’s going to come down to who makes the big play at the end.”
Freshman Andrew Work scored 18 points for Tech and Darrin Martin had 17.
Tech will host Bluefield State Saturday at 3 p.m. in its last nonconference game of the season.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber