Boiling Over

Boiling Over

At times, it was ugly. But the result, at least for the 14,173 gold-clad fans at the WVU Coliseum, was beautiful. West Virginia finally looked like a team that is only months removed from a Final Four appearance, getting critical contributions from several players in a 68-64 victory over No. 8 Purdue on Sunday afternoon.

The Mountaineer student section, part of a boisterous Coliseum crowd that was mind-numbingly loud at some points, rushed the court in celebration as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

The volume inside the venerable 40-year-old arena and the joy on the faces of those students harkened back to some of the WVU program's best wins in the new "golden era" of the last six years.

But the style of play from Bob Huggins' team was also reminiscent of his most successful Mountaineer squad, which advanced to the national semifinals after winning the Big East Conference tournament a season ago.

Much as those Mountaineers did, West Virginia dominated on the glass Sunday afternoon, out-rebounding a Boilermaker team that, like itself, is at its best when it plays hard-nosed defense and collects caroms.

And in the same way WVU did during that magical postseason run of last March, seemingly every player stepped up at the right moment to make a key contribution in a game that was closely contested throughout.

There were heroic rebounds, particularly from Deniz Kilicli and Joe Mazzulla. There were gotta-have-it jump shots from John Flowers, Kevin Jones and Casey Mitchell. There was a series of defense stops when the game seemed to be teetering away from WVU in the second half.

There was, in short, everything the team needed when it needed it most.

"This was as much as maybe any we've had this year of a total team effort," Huggins, the Mountaineers' fourth-year head coach, said. "You can point to Deniz's offensive rebound [with 1:30 to play], which enabled us to run more time off.

"John Flowers hit at least three huge shots to give us the lead. Kevin Jones hit three huge shots to get us back even. And John made two big steals that led to scores. We got good minutes from Jonnie [West]. I thought we got good minutes from Pep [Dalton Pepper] in the first half and good minutes from Danny [Jennings].

"Deniz scored the ball for us, and because he scored the ball, he drew extra help, which enabled us to rebound the ball. He missed some shots he normally makes, but we were able to rebound because they were over-helping on him. Truck [Bryant] makes two free throws to put us up by five [with four seconds remaining]. I thought it was a team effort."

Things were dicey throughout, but the Mountaineers made plays in the final 2:00 to keep hold of their narrow lead.

Purdue's JaJuan Johnson, as he did all game, made a critical shot for the Boilers to make it 62-60 with 1:58 left. West Virginia then called timeout and set up a play for Casey Mitchell, but the senior guard's 3-point attempt was off target.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange
The rebound popped high off the rim, and Kilicli -- oft-maligned by Huggins for his rebounding struggles -- made a desperate leap with his arms extended straight up. Using brute strength, he pulled the ball in, allowing Huggins to call another timeout to set up a play.

The head coach liked his chances with Kilicli getting the ball in the post, but Boilermakers coach Matt Painter anticipated the move as well, and two defenders rushed to pressure the big man as soon as he caught the ball.

But unlike some similar situations earlier in the game, when Kilicli made poor passes, the sophomore found Mazzulla at the top of the key, who made a desperate drive as the shot clock wound down and rolled in a layup to make it 64-60 with 55 seconds left.

Johnson promptly answered on the other end, making an incredible turnaround jumper over Kilicli to make it a 64-62 game with about 36 seconds left.

Needing to foul to extend the game, Purdue hacked Mazzulla, who had struggled at the line. On cue, he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 situation. That gave Purdue a chance to tie or take the lead, but E'Twaun Moore missed a long jumper and Mazzulla grabbed a critical rebound.

He was fouled, but this time, West Virginia was in the double bonus. Again, Mazzulla missed his first shot, but he canned the second to make it 65-62 with 17 seconds to play.

Purdue's Lewis Jackson missed a jumper, setting off a wild scramble on the other end. The ball was saved back in bounds right to the Boilermakers' Ryne Smith, who was behind the arc and had a clear shot at a potential game-tying 3-pointer. But it bounced off the rim with eight seconds left, and Mazzulla again collected the ball.

He found Bryant running down-court for a quick outlet to burn a few more seconds off the clock before Purdue could foul. Bryant stepped to the line with four seconds left and made two free throws to put the game out of reach.

That whole sequence came just minutes after WVU made critical defensive stops while down six points to avoid giving the Boilermakers too much breathing room.

Those stops gave Jones and Flowers time to make plays when the Mountaineers needed them. Jones scored nine of West Virginia's next 12 points after Purdue took a 46-40 lead. Flowers, suddenly a big-time shot-maker after a 24-point outburst on Thursday night against Providence, added the other three points, and WVU had a 52-50 lead. It would never relinquish that advantage.

Flowers canned another trifecta not long after to push the lead to six points. But Purdue, on the strength of the nearly-unstoppable Johnson, rallied back to set up the frenetic finish.

"West Virginia did a good job of stepping up and making some shots," said Painter. "Obviously, our guys knew they were capable of making those shots after watching them on film and playing them last year.

"Kevin Jones hasn't shot a high percentage from the 3 this year...and he made some tough shots. I thought Flowers made some good shots also. Flowers is one of those wild card guys for them -- he can get three [points] or he can get 25."

It was a first half that was as competitive as it was ugly -- and it was very much both.

But WVU played with intensity if not intelligence and claimed the lead for itself shortly after Purdue took an early five-point edge. The final 10:00 of the half was tightly contested, as the biggest lead for either team was a mere three points.

But the Mountaineers missed out on chances to build a sizable advantage because of their inability to take care of the ball.

West Virginia (12-4) committed a staggering 13 turnovers in the first half alone while assisting on only four field goals. But a Truck Bryant jumper in the waning moments gave WVU a 29-28 lead at the intermission.

Purdue (15-3) didn't have quite as much success forcing turnovers in the second half, as the Mountaineers committed only four of those giveaways in the final 20 minutes.

Jones led the way for the hosts, scoring 17 points and snaring nine rebounds. Flowers added 15 more points and seven boards while shooting an incredibly efficient 5-of-6 from the field. Bryant had 12 and Mazzulla added 10.

Johnson, the Boilermakers' star senior, was as good as advertised. He was almost a one-man Mountaineer wrecking crew, tallying 26 points and seven rebounds.

"He's probably as hard to guard as any big guy we've played in the three and a half years I've been here," Huggins said. "He steps out and makes shots. His mid-range is good. He can put it on the floor. He's really good."

Moore added another 14 points and seven boards for Purdue, while Lewis Jackson contributed 10.

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