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January 17, 2011

WVU men knock off No. 8 Purdue

MORGANTOWN — It is best, at moments such as these, that being the twilight of West Virginia’s thrilling and vital 68-64 victory Sunday over No. 8 Purdue, a victory that well may propel them back into the national picture, to begin at the end.

Indeed, seconds after the final buzzer went off there was an avalanche of gold-shirted students rolling down the aisles and out onto the floor of the sold out Coliseum, wonderfully whacky kids who at 10 a.m. were standing out in the cold singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”, dancing across the floor, joining in celebration with the West Virginia players.

All of a sudden, these men who a year ago became folk heroes for a journey to the Final Four, now could be regular students themselves, swallowed up by the crowd, dancing and pointing fingers skyward as an alumni named Da’Sean Butler snapped photos.

That was how it was after Joe Mazzulla finally made a free throw, something no one really cared about after he snatched down two key rebounds in the closing seconds; after John Flowers had gone off again, scoring 15 points with two 3s in two attempts, one as clutch as any Butler ever threw down; after Deniz Kilicli showed a better left hook than Joe Louis ever threw while pulling down six rebounds, one an impossible offensive rebound with the game on the line; and after Kevin Jones played nearly the entire 40 minutes, scoring 17 with some shots that ranked at about 9.8 on the degree of difficulty scale, while grabbing nine rebounds.

It was, really, a perform-

ance unlike any this team has had this year and one no one could have imagined back on Jan. 1 when they lost to Marquette in Milwaukee.

What happened to allow them to reel off four victories in a row?

“We started being Mountaineers,” Kilicli would answer. “That’s what Mountaineers do. We play harder than everyone else.”

Coach Bob Huggins wasn’t sure what had transpired.

“All I can tell you is what I told them after that game,” he said. “We have to get better. We have to team guard and we have to share the ball.”

And that is what they have done. The defense has improved spectacularly and they now are working as a unit, sometimes too much as 17 turnovers might indicate, but even that is misleading. After a dreadful first half that accounted for 13 turnovers, they cleaned up their act and committed only four after the most interesting halftime of the year as the crowd was entertained by The Red Dragon, best described as a woman on a 15-foot unicycle tossing saucers from her foot onto her head while balancing on one leg.

If she could do that over and over, can we really marvel at John Flowers making a three or Mazzulla actually canning that key free throw down the stretch after having missed five in a row.

At the end, Huggins found himself in quite a dilemma, having to have Mazzulla on the floor to handle the ball but knowing that he would be fouled at a time when he had missed four in a row. With it 64-62, Purdue sent Mazzulla to the free throw line after he pulled down one of two special rebounds in the closing seconds.

He missed the first with 17 seconds left but made the second, forcing Purdue into a 3-point mindset.

“I couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Mazzulla said of his 4-for-10 day at the free throw line. “Normally you look at the sideline and Huggs is going ‘Oh, crap” but today he had no choice.”

Indeed, Mazzulla’s assets outweighed that negative as shown by the two rebounds, a scoop layup to make it 64-60 and pass to Truck Bryant to set up two free throws that widened WVU’s lead to 67-62.

Even then the game wasn’t secure, with 17 seconds left. The Boilermakers tried for a miracle. JaJuan Johnson, who would finish with 26 points and was the only Purdue player to make a free throw, hit a jumper and the lead was shrunk from five points to three at 67-64 with three seconds left.

West Virginia got the ball into John Flowers, who was fouled with two seconds left. Had he missed two Purdue would need just a 3 to tie, but he calmly sank the first and then intentionally missed the second as the students came pouring onto the court.

A year ago Flowers wouldn’t have been anywhere near the court, being a career 40 percent free throw shooter, but this year as his game has blossomed, so has his free throw shooting, which now stands at 74.1 percent.

“Flowers is one of those wildcard guys for them,” said Purdue Coach Matt Painter. “He can get three points or 25. Some games he’ll shoot five times and some games he’ll shoot 12 or he’ll only shoot once. It’s kind of interesting in scouting. He’s a good player for them and good defender. He rebounds the basketball, and when he punches in 10 or 15 points, it really helps the team.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at

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