CLEVELAND — If the West Virginia University men’s basketball team is to return to the NCAA tournament this season after missing out last season, it will need a few signature wins along the way.
The No. 22 Mountaineers entered Sunday’s Cleveland Classic game against No. 2 Ohio State as underdogs but never acted liked it, and now WVU has at least one win before the calendar turns to 2020 for the NCAA selection committee to take note of in March.
Freshman Miles McBride scored a game-high 21 points off the bench as West Virginia capped a bad weekend for the Buckeyes with a 67-59 win in the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse — home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
“[McBride] has done that,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “He did that in Cancun for us. We were struggling a little bit to score and we weren’t sure what we were going to do inside with foul trouble. I thought maybe we could flatten them out a little bit and let him play. he’s good at drawing people and pitching it too.”
The foul trouble began early for the Mountaineers (11-1), when freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe was tagged with two fouls before either team had scored a single point. Tshiebwe was sent to the bench for a long stretch as a result, but was whistled for his third foul of the game with six minutes to play in the first half. Fellow forward Derek Culver, a sophomore, also was called for three fouls in the first half — severely limiting what West Virginia could do on the inside. At the break, Ohio State (11-2) led 37-31 and appeared to be poised to pull away in the second half. Huggins, however, had other plans.
“I wasn’t very happy with them at halftime ,” Huggins said. “I didn’t think we played as hard and we got in foul trouble. We got really tentative, and we can’t play tentative. I thought they came out in the second half and played — that’s as well defensively as we have played all year.”
The Buckeyes went 5 of 24 from the field in the second half as the Mountaineers took a lead early in the half, but Ohio State stayed in the game at the foul line.
“Coach Huggins emphasized to us that 72% of their step-in shots they make, so our biggest emphasis was no step-in shots today,” West Virginia forward Gabe Osabuohien said. “Early, they get step-in shots from 3, which is why they got a lead. But in the second half he emphasized ‘no more step-in shots’ and that’s when we began to grow our lead.”
West Virginia took the lead for good with 3:31 to play on a Culver jumper in the paint to put the Mountaineers ahead 55-54. Ohio State battled WVU over the last few minutes of the game, but when McBride put up a 18-foot floater past Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson and gave a Michael Jordan-esque shrug when the shot went in with 1:14 to play, it was essentially the dagger which put OSU away for good.
“I went to my regular pull-up [jump shot] and Kaleb jumped it,” McBride said. “I stepped through and put it up there.”
Sophomore point guard Jordan McCabe, a starter for West Virginia on Sunday who played limited minutes, came off the bench late to knock down four foul shots to keep any hope of an Ohio State comeback small. Osabuohien intercepted an OSU inbound pass in the final 15 seconds and tipped it to senior guard Chase Harler, who went the length of the court for a layup and an exclamation point on West Virginia’s upset win.
“Chase played really, really well,” Huggins said. “You can hardly measure what he means to us, because he knows everything. He did a great job of coaching on the floor and made open shots. He may be our best on-the-ball defender. I’ve been elated with what he’s given us.”
Harler was the only West Virginia player other than McBride to score in double-digits, finishing with 10 points and a block. Culver scored seven points but hit double-digits in rebounds with 10. Tshiebwe played just eight minutes Sunday, finishing with no points and three rebounds to go with his four fouls.
Osabuohien finished the game with just three points following a 1 of 7 shooting performance, but filled up the statistics sheet otherwise with two rebounds, two assists, a steal and numerous plays where his defense helped make the difference for West Virginia against the No. 2 Buckeyes.
“I thought [Osabuohien] was really good,” Huggins said. “We’ve got to get him to make a layup every once in a while, but defensively he was terrific.”
For OSU, Wesson finished as the Buckeyes’ leading scorer with 17 points to go along with nine rebounds. Duane Washington scored 12 in the loss, while Luther Muhammad and C.J. Walker each had 10 points.
n Sunday’s win kept Huggins unbeaten against the Buckeyes since taking over as the coach at West Virginia. The Mountaineers beat OSU in 2010 — with WVU ranked No. 11 and Ohio State No. 21 at the time — in Morgantown and also handed the Buckeyes their worst home loss in a non-conference home game in program history with a 76-48 win the previous season in Columbus.
n The all-time series between the rivals from neighboring states now sits at 9-8 in OSU’s favor. The Mountaineers, however, have won the last three meetings and eight of the last nine.
n West Virginia is off until Saturday, when the Mountaineers open Big 12 Conference play at league rival Kansas. The game will be streamed on the ESPN+ Big 12 Now platform. Tip-off against the Jayhawks will be at 4 p.m., the school announced early Sunday evening.