WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

(photo via @WVUhoops on Twitter)

West Virginia escaped its first game in Mexico at the Cancun Challenge on Tuesday, clawing back from down 15 points in the second half to grab a 60-55 win against Northern Iowa.

The Mountaineers were flat-out bad for most of the game’s first 30 minutes but got some late-game heroics from torch-bearer Miles “Deuce” McBride and a controversial Emmitt Matthews put-back that ended with Matthews taking a nasty spill to the floor and Northern Iowa being tagged with a flagrant foul.

This game was tough to watch as West Virginia only led for 1:52 against the Panthers and looked like a team that had no business winning for most of the contest. Then McBride scored 14 of his game-high 18 points in the second half and hit several big shots down the stretch as the Mountaineers got back into the game after trailing by as many as 15 points with a little more than 10 minutes to play.

“Deuce made some huge shots for us,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “He’s in the huddle at the end when we needed to get it up the floor, he’s saying, ‘Just give it to me. I’m good.'”

The Mountaineers outscored UNI 33-13 over the game’s final 10:32 after scoring just 20 points in the first half. WVU got more aggressive on the defensive end and slowly but surely found some rhythm on offense.

“We went to pressure because that was what we had to do to speed the game up,” Huggins said. “We couldn’t let them play at their tempo. We were fortunate enough to get some turnovers and some baskets off of turnovers and finally some shots.”

Freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe played like a freshman again, finishing with just six points and two rebounds in 14 minutes of playing time. As a team, in what has gone from a singular occurrence to possible trend, the Mountaineers couldn’t buy a bucket for most of the game. Derek Culver finished with 15 rebounds but when West Virginia was struggling it felt like he was getting beat for possession more often than not.

We could pick this WVU performance to pieces, but the important thing to remember is the Mountaineers won and are playing for a tournament championship on Wednesday. West Virginia takes on Wichita State for the Cancun Challenge title after the Shockers pounded South Carolina in Tuesday’s early game to wipe out any chance of an on-court Bob Huggins-Frank Martin reunion.

Wins were hard to come by last season for WVU, and with a roster that is still pretty young it feels important for these Mountaineers to figure out not just how to win but how to win ugly if need be. West Virginia survived Tuesday’s scare with its unbeaten record, but should be in for another challenge for the Shockers on Wednesday in Mexico. Tip is scheduled for 8:30 with the game broadcast on CBS College Sports Network.