If you’re a half-full kind of fan, enjoy the grit and never-say-die attitude West Virginia showed in the Mountaineers 60-55 comeback victory against Northern Iowa in the semifinals of the Cancun Challenge Tuesday night.
If you’re a half-empty type, feel free to wring your hands at the display of offensive ineptness WVU took south of the border. Apparently, made baskets aren’t included in the Hard Rock Casino Resort’s all-inclusive package.
The Mountaineers brought along all of their issues for their trip to Mexico.
Northern Iowa led by as many as 15 points in the second half and led almost the entire game. The Panthers controlled the action and – quite frankly – embarrassed the Mountaineers for much of the contest.
Fortunately for West Virginia, UNI couldn’t match the Mountaineers roster depth. Northern Iowa’s best front-line player, Austin Pfyfe, tallied just 16 minutes and eventually fouled out. Two others Panthers starters – Spencer Haldeman and Isaiah Brown – each played through foul issues and each finished with four personal fouls.
The Mountaineers capitalized on those foul problems and the Panthers thin roster to – eventually – wear down their over-matched opponent. Freshman Miles McBride led WVU off the bench with a career-high 18 points in the rally. He also was strong on the defensive end in the second half. If this was the start of McBride becoming a greater contributor to the Mountaineers cause, WVU coach Bob Huggins is sure to take it.
While the positive contributions of McBride and also Emmit Matthews Jr. and Sean McNeil were welcome, another game with minimal help from freshman phenom Oscar Tshiewbe and sophomore point guard Jordan McCabe ranges from bothersome to frightening.
Early in his career, Tshiewbe has been either fantastic or relatively absent. Tuesday night was the latter. Tshiewbe again had foul issues and appeared to, again, find himself in Huggins doghouse for the majority of a game. Tshiewbe finished with six points, two rebounds and four fouls in just 14 minutes of court time. When he’s on, Tshiewbe is WVU’s best player. His size, strength, quickness, soft hands and smooth footwork is an unmatched combination on the team. And they are all useless when he’s spending the majority of the game on the bench.
As little as Tshiewbe contributed to the victory, McCabe added even less. And unlike Tshiewbe, McCabe couldn’t blame foul problems on his disappearance.
Like he has every game this season, McCabe was in the starting lineup. And like most of season, that was the highlight of McCabe’s night. The sophomore point guard finished with two points, no assists and no rebounds in just nine minutes of action. It’s a disturbing development for a player of whom so much was expected this season. Huggins is obviously not happy – at all – with McCabe’s play. As this continues, McCabe risks becoming an afterthought.
While it’s still early – very early – in the season, it’s no longer a given McCabe will grow into stardom into Morgantown. At this rate, it’s no longer a given McCabe will play his junior season at West Virginia.
Unlike last season, this year Huggins is blessed with a team that can win despite the struggles of its top players. But even with that depth, the Mountaineers aren’t going to the NCAA Tournament – let alone competing for a Big 12 title – with the continuing disappearing acts by McCabe and especially Tshiewbe.
It’s nice that WVU is getting contributions from so many. But the Mountaineers still need their stars to shine.