PoG: WVU - Purdue

Just like it was when West Virginia played its best basketball last March, en route to a Big East Conference tournament championship and a trip to the Final Four, there was no shortage of players who stepped up to make big plays for the Mountaineers on Sunday afternoon against No. 8 Purdue.


Kevin Jones.

When the season started, many wondered if Jones could shoulder the load of a leader -- something the junior would finally have to deal with for the first time with guys like Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith gone.

For the first half of the season, it looked like Jones would probably remain as a solid role player -- the kind of guy you can rely on to play well, but not your first option when the game is on the line.

Finally, Jones played like that leader on Sunday afternoon, even though his incredible statistics weren't all that different from what he has done through most of the season.

The Mount Vernon, N.Y., native had a team-high 17 points and just missed out on a double-double with nine rebounds.

But more than just the raw numbers, Jones made plays when they needed to be made. When Purdue took a 46-40 lead early in the second half and looked ready to blow it open, it was Jones who scored nine of WVU's next 12 points in short order, punctuating that spree with a 3-pointer that gave the Mountaineers a 52-50 lead.

Beyond the big shots, Jones did what he always does: fought for tough rebounds in traffic and made the ugly plays that the team needs to win.

Maybe he's not going to be a first-team All-American, but Jones is the kind of player every team needs on its roster if it hopes to be truly elite. He played like a leader on Sunday afternoon when his team needed him to.


  • John Flowers.

    Some synapse apparently has tripped within the senior forward's mind this past week. Once a mere role player, Flowers has become the guy who actually wants to take the big shot when it matters most.

    Of course, it's one thing to want to take the shot. It's another thing to make it. And it's another thing entirely to take three absolutely pivotal shots and knock down all three of them.

    Flowers did just that in the last 8:00 of Sunday's win over the Boilers, making two huge 3-pointers. The first drew WVU back within 50-49; the second gave the Mountaineers a 58-52 lead, ending a 12-2 run.

    John Flowers
    Then, when Purdue had drawn back within 60-58 with just over 2:00 to play, it was Flowers who found himself open on the perimeter, had the presence of mind to pump-fake to get a rapidly-closing defender to fly by, stepped inside the arc and put home a critical jumper to make it a two-possession game once more.

    Flowers said afterward he didn't know if he would have taken those shots had his 24-point scoring outburst against Providence on Thursday night not happened.

    "That's a good question," he said.

    But the thought here is the forward would have been far more gun-shy. Instead, he now has confidence in spades -- the kind of self-assuredness that can only come with success.

    Flowers is picking a great time -- the last half of his senior season -- to start playing the best basketball of his college career. It's a boon to Bob Huggins and WVU.

  • Joe Mazzulla.

    Sure, Mazzulla missed some critical free throws that could have cost the Mountaineers the game. But he didn't. And it was the senior point guard's play while Truck Bryant struggled at times that kept Purdue from running away with the game early.

    He had 10 points, four assists and two steals. He turned the ball over only once and he played solid defense while grabbing four absolutely crucial rebounds down the stretch, giving Huggins pivotal minutes in the stead of Bryant.

    It was Mazzulla who made one of the plays of the game, recognizing that a play that had been called to give Deniz Kilicli a shot in the final minute wasn't going to work as Purdue sent two defenders the big man's way.

    So Mazzulla freed himself at the top of the key, caught a pass from the sophomore from Turkey and, as time wound down on the shot clock, aggressive drove into the lane and rolled home a pivotal layup to make it 64-60.

    The senior does almost all the little things right, which is why Huggins will likely give him a pass for missing those free throws. Without Mazzulla's play at the point, West Virginia probably wouldn't have earned the win.

  • Winning on the glass.

    West Virginia prides itself on its rebounding prowess. Purdue prides itself on its rebounding prowess.

    It was a classic battle of wills. And the Mountaineers came out on top in a big way.

    WVU grabbed 37 rebounds to the Boilermakers' 29. Huggins' squad had 12 pivotal offensive boards, getting the extra opportunities it needed to pull out a narrow victory.

    But in the first half, those boards were necessary just to keep things close. The only reason West Virginia held a 29-28 halftime lead was because it had owned the glass in the first half, quickly establishing a 22-13 margin there.

    That was enough (barely) to overcome a staggering 13 first half turnovers from the Mountaineers. Once they started taking care of the ball in the second half, things turned in their favor.

    But this game was a classic example of why Huggins preaches the gospel of rebounding as boisterously as he does. It was the difference in a battle of very similar teams.

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