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Mazzulla closing on career games record

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- West Virginia point guard Joe Mazzulla needs to play the remaining five regular-season games and a combination of five post-season tournament contests to set the school record for career games played.

Former teammate Da'Sean Butler has the record of 146.

Monday's 63-52 loss to No. 17 Syracuse was his first game against the Orange at the Carrier Dome, though. He has played in every primary Big East home arena, including Louisville's first-year KFC Yum! Center.

Mazzulla was out with his medical redshirt when WVU lost here in 2009, but Monday wasn't his first game at the Carrier Dome. He started WVU's Elite Eight victory against Kentucky and came off the bench in the Sweet 16 win against Washington last March.

"There's a difference with the shooting perspective and how big it is, but when I played in it there were so many other things going on with the Elite Eight and the Sweet 16 that it wasn't much of a concern," he said.

Mazzulla was forced into the starting lineup after Darryl "Truck" Bryant broke his foot in practice after the second-round win against Missouri.

Against Washington, the fifth-year senior from Johnston, R.I., was 1-for-8 from the floor and 1-for-3 from the free throw line, finishing with three points, four assists and four turnovers.

Two days later, in his first start of the year against John Wall and the Wildcats, Mazzulla was 5-for-11 and 6-for-8 to score what was then a career-high 17 points. He even made his first 3-pointer of the season.

Mazzulla was 0-for-2 Monday and finished with two points, seven assists and four rebounds.

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IN HIS FIRST two games back from a three-game suspension for violating team rules, leading scorer Casey Mitchell played 13 minutes against Villanova and 24 against Pitt. He shot a combined 2-for-13 and 1-for-8 from 3-point range in the losses.

He was 4-for-6 and 2-for-3 Saturday against DePaul and scored 11 points. He made 8 of 14 shots and 7 of 12 3-point attempts against Syracuse and scored 23 points.

"I'm past (the suspension) now," he said. "It's just motivation for me the rest of the way."

Mitchell started in the Carrier Dome against Washington in the Sweet 16, but missed two 3s and played 13 minutes. He played two minutes and didn't score in the next round against Kentucky.

"I don't know that this is a tough place to shoot," Mitchell said. "I think it's about being focused and getting your feet ready when you shoot the ball. Do what you do all the time and try not to force anything and take the best shot you can. I don't think it has anything to do with the gym."

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WVU AND Syracuse entered as two of the five teams with four players averaging at least 10 points per game. No. 8 Notre Dame (21-4, 10-3), Seton Hall (11-14, 5-8) and No. 9 Villanova also have four in double figures.

Syracuse's four out performed WVU's. Kris Joseph (14.7 points per game), Rick Jackson (12.9), Scoop Jardine (12.4) and Brandon Triche (10.8) combined for 55. Only Jadrine didn't reach double figures - and he missed by a point. WVU's Mitchell (15.0), Kevin Jones (13.0), Truck Bryant (10.6) and John Flowers (10.0) combined for 39. Mitchell and Flowers (10) reached double figures.

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SOPHOMORE GUARD Dalton Pepper made his only shot of the game and it was a 3. In the past seven games - a stretch that began with Mitchell's suspension and includes the four most recent games after Mitchell's return- Pepper is 15-for-35 from the floor and 11-for-25 from 3-point range. He has scored 48 points after totaling 54 the first 17 games.

"I've tried to go out there and find a groove out there and just get comfortable," he said. "I'm focused on helping the team out as much as I can. I'm playing with a little more confidence now that I'm making some shots."

Pepper made his 3 early in his first action Monday, but a few possessions later, drove the baseline and bounced a pass back into the paint to Deniz Kilicli. The pass was stolen and Syracuse turned it into a layup.

It was a brief display of the lesson he's learned to avoid an early return to the bench and earn extended playing time.

"Don't make a mistake," he said.

*  *  *

THE MOUNTAINEERS fell to 20-10 on Valentine's Day and are 3-2 on Feb. 14 dating back to 1999. On that date a year earlier WVU lost at Syracuse, 73-58.

On Valentine's Day in 2002, former Coach Gale Catlett announced his retirement. Ten days earlier, Catlett returned unexpectedly from a medical leave of absence to coach WVU in an 85-79 loss at the Carrier Dome.

*  *  *

THE MOUNTAINEERS lost both their "Big Monday" games on ESPN this season. WVU is 2-5 on the occasion under Coach Bob Huggins.

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MONDAY'S GAME was the 100th between Big East teams this season. Eleven of the conference's 16 teams are at or above .500 in Big East play.

*  *  *

WVU IS 1-9 against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome with nine consecutive losses. The Mountaineers also are 5-17 against the Orange since joining the Big East in the 1995-96 season. Syracuse is 2-0 in Big East Tournament play against WVU and 15-5 in regular season play - and that includes an 0-2 start to the conference series. 

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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