WVU finds Final Four focus
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia didn't need Da'Sean Butler this time.
The Mountaineers used what coach Bob Huggins called a total team effort to beat No. 8 Purdue, 68-64, on Sunday afternoon at WVU Coliseum.
Fans from the capacity crowd rushed onto the court as the buzzer sounded, and Butler -- who was sitting behind the Mountaineers' bench -- stood and cheered as his former teammates celebrated less than a year after he led the team to the Final Four.
"Da'Sean used to take the ball, and he would make the play. In the beginning of the year, it was like, 'Where's Da'Sean?' " forward Deniz Kilicli said. "Now, we're getting used to it, and it's working."
West Virginia has won four straight, including two against ranked teams. (They won at then-No. 13 Georgetown last weekend.) After the game, players for the first time this season discussed their opportunity to make a second straight Final Four.
"We're starting to get confidence in ourselves and in everybody on this team," forward Kevin Jones said. "We know we have a lot of capable scorers, and we have a lot of guys that made big shots tonight."
Jones scored 17 points -- nine in the final 11 minutes -- and grabbed nine rebounds. Forward John Flowers had 15, and point guards Truck Bryant (12) and Joe Mazzulla (10) also reached double figures.
"I just put it on myself to be more aggressive," Jones said. "Our team needed a spark ... and that's what I did."
Purdue's Rhyne Smith missed a 3-pointer with eight seconds to go, and Bryant hit two free throws to build a four-point lead with four seconds to go. A jumper by JaJuan Johnson -- who finished with a game-high 26 points -- with two seconds left kept the Boilermakers' hopes alive, but Flowers made the first of two free throws to seal the victory.
The Mountaineers had to fight back in the second half. They were down by six points with less than 12 minutes to play, but an 8-2 run put them up, 52-50.
"We've been through this before," said Bryant, citing last year's Final Four run. "We're an experienced bunch, and we know what we're doing out there in the clutch."
West Virginia made clutch shots down the stretch in a game that included 11 lead changes, seven ties and no lead greater than six points. After 13 turnovers in the first half, the Mountaineers committed only three in the second.
"That's the reason why we won the game today," Bryant said.
The Mountaineers also dominated the boards, posting a 37-29 edge.
"We're offensively challenged, but defensively we played pretty well," Huggins said. "We've gotten much better defensively."