Freshman guard Miles McBride put the Mountaineers on his back in Mexico, leading West Virginia back from a 15-point deficit for a 60-55 win over Northern Iowa in the semifinals of the Cancun Challenge.
West Virginia (5-0) will face Wichita State (6-0) in the tournament championship game from the Hard Rock Hotel in Maya Riviera, Mexico at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The Mountaineers trailed the Panthers 52-37 with 10:32 remaining, at which point the most appropriate question seemed to be whether West Virginia would even break 50 points.
That’s when McBride took things into his own hands. On West Virginia’s 33-13 run to close the game, the freshman point guard from Cincinnati had 14 points and three assists. In total, he had a hand in 21 of those 33 points. He finished the game with 18 points, five assists, two rebounds and two blocks — all off the bench.
“He said in the huddle ‘Just give it to me, I’m good,'” WVU coach Bob Huggins said in his postgame radio interview.
Just five games into his career, McBride is developing into a player that not even Huggins could see coming.
“I didn’t know. When I was recruiting him, he had a broken ankle,” Huggins said. “[Archbishop Moeller coach] Carl Kremer said he was the second-toughest player he’d ever coached at Moeller. So I said ‘I’ll take him.'”
Even McBride’s misses worked out in West Virginia’s favor.
When he misfired on a jumper with 16 seconds left, Emmitt Matthews came crashing in for the putback to put the Mountaineers up 56-55. Matthews’ bucket may have come at a cost, though. He landed hard on his shoulders, neck and head, flipping over Northern Iowa’s Spencer Haldeman on his way to the ground.
Haldeman was called for a flagrant foul, and Matthews left the game to be treated for the injury. Sean McNeil ended up going to the line for Matthews’ free throws.
West Virginia’s stats were abysmal for most of the game. The Mountaineers shot 37 percent from the field, including 23.5 percent (4 of 17) from three-point range. Northern Iowa’s vastly undersized lineup managed to out-rebound West Virginia 40-35. Primarily playing with four guards, the Panthers (6-1) also dominated the Mountaineers in the paint, outscoring them 34-14.
“We couldn’t make a shot. We didn’t rebound it very well,” Huggins said. “We went to pressure because we had to speed the game up and we were fortunate enough to make baskets off of turnovers.”
West Virginia finished with 17 points off of Panther turnovers.
By the numbers
McNeil added nine points off the bench for West Virginia… Derek Culver had a bizarre stat line, finishing with three points, four turnovers and 15 rebounds… Oscar Tshiebwe played only 14 minutes due to foul trouble… the Mountaineers finished with a 32-16 edge in bench scoring.
West Virginia plays Wichita State, which advanced with a 70-47 blowout over former Huggins protégé Frank Martin’s South Carolina team.