Joe Mazzulla was at his chest-thumping, self-endangering, team-leading, game-changing best Saturday night. Was it his best game? It’s debatable — and we can have that debate here – but it did have all the trademarks of Mazzulla on a roll, except the kamikaze lunge to save a ball from going out of bounds.
That’s a sidebar to the main point, though.
Mazzulla’s two most memorable games were against Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and against Kentucky in last season’s Elite Eight. The end of the season came at the end of the next game. Mazzulla never had a chance to string together a series of big games.
Well, he scored a career-high 18 points against Louisville Wednesday and went 16-7-8 against Cincinnati Saturday. The end is nowhere near the Mountaineers, who have 10 regular season games left and at least two postseason (Big East and NCAA/NIT games) to play. So the question is not whether that was his best game, but whether this is the time he finally keeps it going.
Kevin Jones remains the team’s top offensive player with leading scorer Casey Mitchell indefinitely suspended. John Flowers does more things to fill up the box score and help the Mountaineers.
It’s Mazzulla, though, who has taken control the past two games after Mitchell’s suspension and Dan Jennings’ bizarre voluntary exit left WVU with eight scholarship players.
“The expectations I have for myself have changed,” he said.
The next opportunity is Wednesday at home against suddenly dangerous Seton Hall (10-12, 4-6). The Pirates have beaten Syracuse and Providence, which had beaten Louisville and Villanova in back-to-back games.
“It just depends,” Mazzulla said. “(Saturday) was my night to lead a team. Seton Hall might be John’s night or K.J.’s night. When Casey comes back, obviously we’ll look to get him shots because he’s our leading scorer. The one thing that keeps me on the floor is I do what I’m asked to do.”
Let’s add a bonus question that ties this all together. Mazzulla has played 132 games in his career. Da’Sean Butler set the school record at 146. Can Joe get to 147?
This WVU team will play at least 12 more games, which means Mazzulla and the Mountaineers have to make a March run to set the record — and doesn’t longevity, desipte all he’s been through on and off the court, seem like appropriate recognition?
To get it, the Mountaineers and will have to play some combination of five postseason games. Figure Mazzulla will have to play a significant role in that, which means staying healthy as he takes on this evolving role and the mass of minutes and brutality that comes with it.