WVU basketball: Jones and Flowers lead Mountaineers past No. 8 Boilermakers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- New Year's Day wasn't that long ago, but West Virginia's loss at Marquette that day is a distant memory.
"I don't remember that game," said forward Deniz Kilicli. "The only thing I remember after that game is we lost and in the locker room we said, 'We're not doing this any more. It feels bad. We don't like it.' Now, we keep getting better."
The Mountaineers haven't lost since, and Sunday they won their fourth consecutive game.
Winning out was not the goal that day in Milwaukee, though. WVU was instead determined not to give away any more games, and to grab the wins that were within reach.
A 68-64 win against No. 8 Purdue before 14,173 inside the Coliseum pushed the Marquette memories further back in their brains as the Mountaineers made the needed plays to snap a six-game home losing streak against top-10 teams and get their first win of that variety since 2008.
"That was a much of a total team effort as any we've had this year," Coach Bob Huggins said. "I think you can point to a lot of guys who made huge plays for us near the end to allow us to win."
In the final 4:23, John Flowers made a 3-pointer and a jump shot to sustain WVU's rally from down six to up six in the second half.
Kilicli hit a hook shot and later grabbed a critical offensive rebound with 1:30 to go.
Joe Mazzulla followed Kilicli's rebound with a layup as the shot clock expired and then made up for missing free throws and letting Purdue linger by grabbing two defensive rebounds.
He followed the second with a quick pass ahead to Truck Bryant, a significantly better free throw shooter who made two with 4 seconds to go to clinch the game.
"This was a last-year's-team kind of game," said forward Kevin Jones. "We weren't worried about not winning. We were more worried about going out there and playing our game. That's when we're at our best.
"It's taken some time for everyone to learn their different roles, but I think you see the progression of this team as we go forward. As long as we keep doing that, we can be a really good team."
The contributions toward victory were not limited to the late action. WVU had a lull in the second half and went from up six points to down six in five minutes, but Jones kept WVU close with an offensive rebound and basket along with a pair of jumpers.
He and Flowers made 3s on consecutive possessions and Casey Mitchell followed that with a three-point play before Flowers' second 3 put WVU ahead 58-52 with 4:23 to go.
The Mountaineers (12-4) might have enjoyed the ending a little more, but Mazzulla missed the front end of a 1-and-1 - his fifth straight miss in the second half - in a 64-62 game with 36 seconds left. He rebounded Purdue's miss and was fouled, but missed the first and made the second. He rebounded another Purdue miss and found Bryant for the decisive free throws.
"I'm going to get the ball, so the free throws had nothing to do with that," said Mazzulla, who was 4-for-10 at the line. "If you can't get in a rhythm on the free throw line, it makes it a lot tougher."
Mazzulla finished with 10 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals and was one of four players in double figures. Jones had 17 points and nine rebounds. Bryant added 12 points and was 3-for-11 from the floor, but made all five of his free-throw attempts.
Three days after a career-high 24 points against Providence, Flowers had 15 and added seven rebounds. His previous career high was 16 points - and that's quadruple his career average.
"Thursday night definitely helped me with my confidence," Flowers said.
"A lot of people have been telling me, 'Good job.' They're still congratulating me on the Providence game. It's over, but it helped me this game."
Purdue (15-3) was led by JaJuan Johnson's 26 points.
"He's probably as hard to guard as any big guy we've played in the three-and-a-half years we've been here," Huggins said.
E'Twaun Moore added 14 points, but on 6-for-18 shooting. Lewis Jackson scored 10 points. The Boilermakers made 16 of 30 field-goal attempts in the second half, but couldn't stop WVU, which was 14-for-27.
"West Virginia did a good job of stepping up and making some shots," Purdue Coach Matt Painter said. "Obviously, our guys knew they were capable of making those shots after watching them on film and playing them last year."
Purdue beat WVU on New Year's Day last year, 77-62, and while the Mountaineers found some retribution for that one, they were more satisfied with changing the way they felt about this year's Jan. 1 outcome.
WVU lost to the Golden Eagles, 79-74, but committed a series of errors late that kept it from winning, including turnovers, messy possessions and allowing a second-chance basket.
The only mistakes against Purdue were Mazzulla's missed free throws and one bad pass from Flowers through Kilicli's hands that led to a Purdue layup and made the score 60-58. Flowers made a jumper on the next possession and Mazzulla made up for his free throws with his rebounds.
"One reason we've been so frustrated is we haven't met our own expectations," Mazzulla said. "I think we know how good we are and how good we can be, but I think we can get complacent and when we have we've lost. That's the reason we've lost two or three games this year we shouldn't have."
WVU endangered itself in the first half with 13 turnovers on 31 possessions. Purdue, which didn't force the turnovers as much as accept them, turned the mistakes into 18 of its 28 first-half points. The Mountaineers still led at halftime, though, despite the turnovers, 9-for-23 shooting, two points from Flowers and none from leading scorer Casey Mitchell, who finished with six points.
"If we keep getting better every day, we can do the things that last year's team did," Kilicli said. "We have the talent and every day that's our goal."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.