West Virginia typically stays off-campus the night before home games, and it was in the room of Mazzulla and forward John Flowers that the seeds were sown for Mazzulla's dominating performance. Flowers, along with Mazzulla's father, teased him about the talent of his opponent, Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough, to the point where Mazzulla came out breathing fire. The Rhode Island native played perhaps the best overall game of his career on both ends of the floor in the win, and Flowers, with equal parts explanation and fun, took some credit for it.
"The real story is that Joe is my roommate on the nights before games. So I was talking to him, and saying Hansbrough is a great player, he's going to do it, he's going to bring it. I kept telling Joe that he's good, and I think that got in his head."
Mazzulla added a bit more to the story.
"My dad came into the hotel room and those two started jumping on me for like an hour and a half, and I couldn't take it any more," he laughed as he recounted the night-before preparation.
Obviously, there was some motivation involved, but the teasing and fun of the night before was also important, according to Mazzulla.
"I think it helps more than just sitting," he said of Flowers' ribbing. "The type of personalities we have on this team, I think we need to do things like that. I think today was the first time we had fun out there. I think that's what we need to do more of."
The precedent for such success can be found as recently as a year ago, when WVU's Big East championship and NCAA tournament runs were backdropped by a series of videos posted by Flowers and others. The look behind the scenes at the team showed a group of players having fun, enjoying the moment, and playing hard – and certainly carried over onto the court. While that might not be the recipe for success for every team, it was for last year's squad, and Mazzulla sees the potential for it this year as well. That doesn't mean we're going to see another spate of videos or funny tweet threads, but it could signal a change in the way this team approaches the tough closing slate.
The focus shouldn't be on how the team achieves those results, however. If Flowers has to do a stand-up routine or come up with another method of reducing the tension and and prodding his teammates to practice and play their best, then so be it. The importance lies in the results, and he knows that. While recounting his teasing of Mazzulla, he also admitted there was a point that he wanted to get across.
"The overall message was that he needs to be more aggressive on offense. I think that when he does that, he's a difference maker," Flowers said. "People don't expect him to score a lot, but he can do it. He's capable of doing it. He good at getting the ball in the paint and dishing it out and scoring. I hope he does it a lot more."