MORGANTOWN – A spectacular tip by Emmitt Mathews Jr. that ended with him smashing the back of his head violently on the floor capped off a furious West Virginia rally from 15 points down with 10:30 to play as they beat Northern Iowa, 60-55, in the Cancun Challenge.

But this game belonged to freshman Miles “Deuce” McBride, who took over the comeback, scored 16 points to lead the way and hit key free throws in the final minute to clinch it.

“In the huddle, he was saying ‘Just give it to me, I’m good,’” Coch Bob Huggins said, his fifth straight victory safely tucked away.

Brash words for a freshman but this kid is looking special.

“I really didn’t see him play when I was recruiting him,” Huggins said. “But I’ve known his coach at Moeller in Cincinnati, Carl Kremer, a long time and asked him about him. He said ‘I don’t know about the basketball but he’s the second toughest kid I’ve ever coached.’”

That’s all Huggins had to hear. He took him.

Wichita State advanced to the tournament final with an easy 70-47 victory over Frank Martin’s South Carolina team from the SEC. The Shockers will bring a 6-0 record into the meeting with the Mountaineers at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night.

Before the game, Huggins was talking about how his team had been unable to put things together yet this year.

“I don’t think you’ve seen our best yet,” he said.

Halfway through the game, he had to change that comment to say, “I think you now have seen our worst.”

If Dr. James Naismith knew what these two teams would do to his game in the first half, he would have probably invented volleyball instead of basketball.

Northern Iowa came away with a 23-20 lead, but that was only because someone had to lead.

WVU’s shooting was atrocious. They shot 25% from the floor and made just 1 of 10 threes and hit only 55% from the free throw line.

The kids in the final shot shootout at halftime at the Coliseum do better than that.

Still, Northern Iowa didn’t do much better. The Panthers shot 36% and made 1 of 12 from 3.

If there was anything separating the two teams it was a statistic that had to have Bob Huggins setting off fireworks in the locker room. Northern Iowa lead 16-6 in points in the paint, which is the one area you would expect the taller, stronger Mountaineers to dominate.

The good news was that there was 20 minutes of basketball left, but if it was the same brand of ball played in the first half that might not have been such good news at all.

The troubles continued for WVU early in the second half. After Tshiebwe scored the first basket to cut it to a point, NIU ran off six in a row, the last on a disaster for Jordan McCabe, who turned the ball over while dribbling, then let the man who took it from him beat him off the dribble to the basket.

The Panthers lead was at 29-22 and Huggins gathered his team around him for a chat during a time out.

It did not good that Northern Iowa ran off six straight points out of the time out, the last two by back up center Justin Dahl, who averages two points a game. That stretched the lead to 11 at 35-24 and as the media came, Dahl walked off the court flexing his muscles, a gesture that could not sit well with the Mountaineers. The lead stretched out to 42-27 and it looked like WVU had come a long way for nothing, but Chase Harler led a fuse by canning a 3.

With that shot, everything changed and baskets started falling for WVU and the Mountaineers had a bounce in their step as they gnawed away at the lead until they got it to six points at 46-40.

WVU kept pouring it on — not on the court, although the court was gathering moisture on it as players kept slipping and moppers kept mopping — and when McBride canned consecutive jumpers, the lead was down to 48-44 with 4:16 to play.

After McNeil hit a jumper, McBride grabbed the game by the throat and began choking the life out of Northern Iowa. He hit a 3 and then a two to give WVU it’s first lead since 2-0 at 51-50.

With it tied at 53, Dahl grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a jump hook and went to the other end of the court flexing his muscles again but it was a premature celebration as he committed his fifth foul.

Emmitt Matthews Jr. hit one of two free throws to narrow it to a point and then McBride made his presence felt again, blocking a shot to get the ball back and set up a spectacular, athletic tip by Matthews.

McBride was fouled as he made the shot and crashed to the floor, hitting his head violently.

The foul was deemed flagrant. Sean McNeil was sent to the free throw line with 16.5 seconds left and hit one of two free throws to make their lead 57-55.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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