Cleveland, OH – The No. 22 West Virginia Mountaineers (11-1) end the decade beating the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2) 67-59 at the Cleveland Classic. Deuce McBride led WVU with a career-high 21 points and Chase Harler tacked on another big 10 but several Mountaineers stepped up throughout the game in what was a big team win.
West Virginia set the tone on the defensive end, forcing four-straight turnovers to start the game. However, the Mountaineers had two turnovers, both coming on questionable charging calls before Culver buried a mid-range jump shot from the wing to put the first points on the board.
Oscar Tshiebwe picked up two fouls in the first minute and a half and fouls were quickly beginning to add up against the West Virginia frontcourt.
Neither team valued the ball in the opening moments of the game, combining for eight turnovers but Ohio State held an 8-4 lead while the Mountaineers started 2-8 from the field. Then, Deuce McBride started his career night hitting a three after losing control of the ball, gathering it and getting the shot up as the shot clock was about to expire. He followed it up on the ensuing possession following a CJ Walker three, with a jab step and pulling up behind the arc and buried another three to keep West Virginia within one.
“He's done that. He did that in Cancun for us," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. "We were struggling a little bit to score. Weren't sure what we were going to inside with foul trouble. I just thought we needed to flatten them out a little bit let time play. He’s good at drawing people and pitching it to them. I thought Sean coming in hitting those two big threes for us really kind of got us back into the game. Got us going.”
West Virginia took their first lead in the game at the 7:25 mark of the first half when Ohio State’s Andre Wesson missed a three, Tshiebwe gathered it, dropped it off to McBride and he pushed it ahead to Jermaine Haley who found Chase Harler for an open three in the corner giving the Mountaineers a 20-18 lead.
Despite a tough jumper at the top of the key from Brandon Knapper and a grown man’s offensive rebound and a putback from Emmitt Matthews Jr, the Buckeye’s built a seven-point lead at the 3:42 mark and a three went from Luther Muhammad drilled a three with 48 seconds left in the half to go up nine.
West Virginia guard Sean McNeil responded with a deep three while the shot clock was about to run out to get the Mountaineers within six, 37-31, before the half.
“I wasn't very happy with them at halftime," said Huggins. "I didn't think we played as hard and we got in foul trouble - got really timid. We can’t play timid. Then I thought they came out in the second half and played as well defensively that we've had.”
Ohio State held a six-point lead mostly due to poor foul shooting, going just 4-10 from the free-throw line and the duo of Tshiebwe and Culver both had three fouls. Although McNeil’s three was a reminder the Mountaineers weren’t going away quietly, it appeared the Buckeyes were taking control of the game.
The Mountaineers opened the second half missing three consecutive three’s and a turnover before Sean McNeil pulled up and knocked down a three from the right of the circle.
Deuce McBride put up 10 points in the first half and quickly went to work in the second hitting back-to-back buckets including a three to get West Virginia within a point of the Buckeyes.
West Virginia grabbed the lead when Emmitt Matthews drove down the right side of the lane and went strong to the basket for an old fashioned three-point play to give the Mountaineers a one-point lead, 46-45, near the midway point of the second half.
Following a pair of free throws from the Buckeyes, West Virginia regained the lead on a wide-open corner three by Chase Harler and the Mountaineers started imposing their will on the Buckeyes when
Our other guys played well. We didn't get much from our inside guys. I mean, Derek got us a couple of baskets toward the end, but Chase played really, really, well. You can’t hardly measure what he means to us because he knows everything. He did a great job coaching on the floor. Made open shots. And he may be our best on-ball defender. Jermaine Haley pulled down an offensive board, the putback and the foul for a three-point play.
West Virginia grew its lead to five but a couple of trips to the free-throw line and a straightaway three from Andre Wesson ripped away the lead but an answer at the other end on a left-hander in the middle of the paint by Derek Culver put the Mountaineers back out front 55-54 with 3:31 to play in the game.
Deuce hit a pair of free throws to extend the West Virginia lead to three, then Gabe Osabuohien drew a charge to give the Mountaineers the ball back with just under two minutes to play.
On West Virginia’s ensuing possession, Deuce ran the shot clock down, got a screen from Gabe, hit Kaleb Wesson with a pump fake, went under and hit the shot putting the Mountaineers up seven with 1:14 remaining in the game.
Huggins brought Jordan McCabe back into the game in the final minute for a steady hand and his free throw shooting and he delivered going 4-4 from the line to help close out the game along with a pair from Deuce. West Virginia cleaned up the abysmal free-throw shooting in the first half going 11-15 in the second half.
The final nail in the coffin came in the way of a one-handed steal on an inbound pass by Osabuohien, who then tapped it to Chase Harler as he raced down the floor for a layup as the Mountaineers pulled away with a 67-59 upset over Ohio State.
West Virginia opens Big 12 play on the road next weekend. The Mountaineers travel to Lawrence to take on the fifth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks at 4 p.m. ET Saturday, Jan. 4, on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.