MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Oscar Tshiebwe entered his collegiate debut with more hype than any other freshman in modern West Virginia basketball history, but it was his fellow freshman who stole the show in the Mountaineers’ season-opening 94-84 win over Akron.
Point guard Miles “Deuce” McBride came off the bench four minutes into the game and became nearly impossible to replace from that point forward. McBride played 29 minutes, finishing with a well-rounded stat line of 11 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals and one extremely well-timed blocked shot.
“I don’t want to say that he’s the ‘other’ freshman,” said forward Derek Culver, who tied Jermaine Haley with a team-high 16 points. “Because they’re both phenomenal players in their own right.”
Coach Bob Huggins said that McBride came to West Virginia with some built-in advantages compared to most incoming freshmen, citing the quality of his high school program (Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller) and the influence of McBride’s dad, a former player at Xavier.
“For one, he’s had great high school coaching. Two, his dad has had a tremendous influence. He was a very good player at Xavier,” Huggins said. “Deuce had an advantage of being coached pretty doggone well before he got here.”
McBride’s performance exemplified West Virginia’s total dominance in bench production. The Mountaineers bench outscored the Zips subs 42-9.
Veteran Chase Harler was one of the faces of that domination, scoring nine points while providing shutdown defense that kept him on the floor for 18 minutes.
“Huggs sees if someone is in the flow of the game to kind of keep them out there a little longer,” Harler said. “I feel like I was doing some things on defense and offense where it was beneficial for me to stay in for just a little longer [than usual].”
Harler’s defining moment came thanks to his natural ability as a pest. He was able to irritate Akron guard Tyler Cheese enough for Cheese to snap and get hit with a technical foul with just under 13 minutes remaining.
“If anyone knows me, they know I’m an instigator. I saw an opportunity to instigate, and took advantage of it,” Harler said. “I blocked [his shot] and kind of said something. He bumped me and I kind of flopped. He bumped me again, and I had to sell it. The referee was right there.
“If I don’t make it in basketball, I can be an actor.”
The strong play of West Virginia’s bench came at the expense of one starter in particular.
Sophomore point guard Jordan McCabe started but played only nine minutes, never again appearing after going to the bench with 18:54 remaining in the second half.
Clearly, the coach was sending a message.
“We’re trying to win. When you’re trying to win, you put the people out there that you think will give you the best chance to win,” Huggins said. “There’s going to be a lot of times where he’s going to give us the best chance to win.”
Oscar’s ordinary night
Early foul trouble kept Tshiebwe’s debut from being anything to write home about. The freshman finished with five points and five rebounds while also picking up three fouls in his 12 minutes on the floor.
“I think you learn as you continue to grow,” Huggins said. “I’ve beaten Derek over the head with it constantly. You can’t take plays off. When you take plays off, you get taken advantage of. Then you end up in a situation where you get a foul that you shouldn’t have gotten.”
Akron coach John Groce’s wide-open offensive style is very much a risk-reward venture. Going back to his time at Illinois and Ohio, Groce’s teams are often among the nation’s best in three-point shooting volume.
The downside to that approach is that it leads his team susceptible on the glass, especially when it comes to offensive rebounding. His past five teams have finished 190th or lower in offensive rebounding nationally.
So Huggins was obviously troubled to see the Mountaineers only out-rebound the Zips by a 37-36 margin.
“We can’t out-rebound someone by one and expect we are going to win many games,” Huggins said. “We have to dominate the glass, and we should. We should particularly when we have Derek, Oscar and Emmitt [Matthews] in. That’s a pretty big front line. A pretty athletic front line. They should rebound it.”