The 2020-21 men’s basketball schedule for the WVU Tech men has been far from consistent.
Multiple quarantines and cancelled games have made finding game rhythm nearly impossible, especially offensively.
To compensate for the offensive struggles, the Golden Bears have relied on defense.
Saturday afternoon inside the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center the Tech defense was stifling, holding Point Park (6-8) to just 36 points over the first 30 minutes, eventually chopping down the Pioneers, 87-67.
“We did different things well in spurts, but we are still trying to put the pieces together for 40 minutes,” WVU Tech head coach, James Long said. “ It’s been hard. Being in and out of quarantine this year has been what it’s been, everyone is going through the same thing. We have just had to be creative and constructive with how we are putting things together. We have done some things really well, we just have to put it all together. This is all preparation for the conference tournament.”
The game was far from normal, highlighted by extremely intense play that was a bit chippy at times.
When the halftime horn sounded, the Golden Bears (9-5) had forced 17 turnovers. However, turning the ball over 14 times themselves left Tech with an uneasy, 35-25 advantage.
“We talked about just being us,” Long said of the halftime adjustments. “I knew we were winning by 10, but we weren’t us in the first half and we weren’t proud of how we played.”
Point Park scored the first three points of the second half before the Golden Bears ran off 13 points in a row on the back of senior, Juvante’ Hayes.
“Juvante’ gets himself going on the defensive end. When he is playing hard, he is the best version of himself,” Long said. “Juvante’ is special. He is the energy of our team and the heart of our team.”
Fouled on a 3-pointer, Hayes cashed in all three attempts to put the lead back to double figures where it stayed the rest of the way.
“When Juvante’ plays hard, everyone plays hard because they have to play up to his standard,” Long explained. “When he was doing what he was doing in the second half, it brought out the best version of ourselves. He was a big reason we jumped out to that lead.”
A steal from Hayes on the next Pioneers possession led to a layup on the other end for Bluefield native, Darrin Martin.
After two free throws from Tamon Scruggs, Hayes drove hard to the rack, absorbing the contact for an old-school, 3-point play.
When Martin mimicked Hayes on the next Tech possession, his 3-point play pushed the Golden Bears’ lead to 20, less than four minutes into the second half.
In a game where 60 fouls were called, Tech was forced to play mostly without its two big men, Thomas Hailey and Ashton Parker who were hampered by foul trouble. Both would eventually foul out, playing less than 20 minutes combined.
“We kinda had to play to who Point Park was today where they were kind of small, not that we had the choice with both bigs out.” Long said “When we have five guards on the floor there is better spacing and it allows us to attack. The guys adapted to the circumstances today. There was a lot going on, turnovers, fouls, technicals, but the most important thing was they just figured it out.”
Martin used the space to score a game-high 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor, making all six of his free throw attempts. Hayes added 16 points, going 10-for-10 from the line to along with six rebounds, five steals and five assists.
Kyle Carrington broke the Tech run, but Scruggs reignited the flame when he scored six straight which was followed by two free throws from Hayes.
When Martin slashed to the basket with 10 minutes left in the game, he found a cutting Andrew Work for two of his 10 points, giving the Golden Bears a 29-point lead, the biggest of the afternoon.
In that 10-minute span, Tech had outscored the Pioneers, 30-11 for a 65-36 advantage.
“The defense today was definitely extraordinary. The scoreboard is not going to (fully) portray how we played defensively,” Long said. “We just turned the ball over too much. When you turn the ball over, there are just so many extra possessions. From the start of the second half (until the 10 minute mark) we were just playing phenomenal. We were doing exactly what we wanted to do.”
Scruggs finished the game with 17 points, and had five steals. He too was perfect on six tries from the foul line.
For the game, Tech was 34-of-38 from the foul line, forced 25 turnovers and had 15 steals in the win.
“I think the ball pressure picked up and we played for each other,” Long said of the second half spurts. “The things we had talked about before the game, we weren’t doing in the first half. The message at halftime was that we can’t be a coach-led team, we have to be a player-led team. The guys had to take it upon themselves to execute the game plan and be who we are.”
WVU Tech will now travel to Pittsburgh, Pa. Tuesday to battle Point Park again. While the Pioneers have just two wins on the road this season, they are a prefect in four games at home.
“(Point Park head) coach (Joe) Lewandowski does a really good job. They compete, that is who they are and they just want to play,” Long said.