MORGANTOWN - If you think there was an extra bounce in the Mountaineers' step Sunday, that their knees were bent a little more on defense, or they were willing in a few of those clutch shots late in a 68-64 victory against No. 8 Purdue because it was guard Casey Mitchell's birthday, think again.
''It's funny,'' point guard Joe Mazzulla said. ''I didn't really know it was Casey's birthday until I saw the sign in the stands because he didn't really mention it much.''
Well, teammate Truck Bryant knew.
West Virginia’s Kevin Jones celebrates in the final seconds against Purdue on Sunday in Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia upset the No. 8 Boilermakers, 68-64.
''That's his birthday present,'' Bryant said. ''He ain't getting nothing else.''
That's OK. All he wanted was WVU's sixth victory against a Top-10 team since Bob Huggins took over four years ago.
And that's what he got, as the Mountaineers put together what Huggins called their best ''whole team effort'' of the season in taking down a Big Ten power and winning their 35th consecutive non-conference game at the WVU Coliseum.
''People were saying, 'oh, you've got to score a lot of points for your birthday,' '' Mitchell said. ''I was saying, 'man, I just want to win. These guys embarrassed us last year on CBS (a 77-62 loss at West Lafayette, Ind.). I don't care if I score zero. I just want to win for my birthday.' ''
Mitchell's contributions were limited as the scouting report is out on him. He didn't have a clean look at the basket all day and wound up with six points, three rebounds, and three turnovers.
''We knew they were going to try to take me away and try to make everybody else score, so I had to do other things like get rebounds, get steals and set screens for the other guys to score,'' Mitchell said.
He did have a key conventional three-point play with 5:29 remaining in the game that broke a 52-52 tie and gave the Mountaineers a lead they never relinquished.
''Casey made a huge play for us,'' Huggins said. ''We ran an (isolation). That's not what we were supposed to get from it, but Casey makes a three-point play down there, which was huge.''
All of that helped make this year's birthday a lot better than last year's.
On Jan. 16, 2010, the Mountaineers were beaten by Syracuse by a single point, 72-71. Mitchell played 3 minutes that day and missed his only shot. He had zeros everywhere else.
Huggins suggested Mitchell could have had a greater hand in Sunday's game if he'd just learn to move without the ball, something the coach thinks keeps him from being great.
''It's hard to get one standing in one place,'' Huggins said. ''Casey's continuing to learn how to play, and Casey's learning how to play at this level.''
It doesn't help that those early scoring outbursts - 31, 27, 25, and 27 - in four straight games put an immediate target on his back. He's combined for 20 points in his last two games.
''And Casey is going to be a marked guy,'' Huggins said. ''They're going to put their best perimeter guy on him and try to keep him from getting good shots.
''We've just got to get him to move. That's sometimes easier said than done. He's really good when he moves. He's really good when he attacks the goal because he's such a good free-throw shooter.''
Mitchell actually thinks it's a mistake to key on him in the West Virginia offense.
''Teams have scouting reports and they know I score a lot,'' said Mitchell, who is averaging 16.7 points per game. ''They don't want that to hurt them so they try to face guard me or take me out of it, but I mean they're going to get hurt regardless. They're better off just letting me play because someone else is going to have a good night.''
On Sunday, Kevin Jones had 17 points and John Flowers had 15. During the last game, Flowers had 24 and Jones had 19.
Pick your poison.
When it was all over, there was just one thing that ruined Mitchell's day. He's got something of a cold.
''I'm from Georgia man, I'm not used to this weather,'' he said.
Jim Elliott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org