Flowers: I Always Could Shoot Free Throws

MORGANTOWN – West Virginia forward John Flowers was standing at the free-throw line with 1.4 seconds left to play in Sunday’s upset of then-No. 8 Purdue, wrestling with some advice from coach Bob Huggins.

The Mountaineers led by three, 67-64, and one made free throw would make it a two-possession game and put the Boilermakers away.

”I told John to make the first one, miss the second one,” Huggins said. ”He said, ‘you’re going to screw up my free-throw percentage.’ That’s a guy who is a 40-percent career shooter. And I’m gonna screw it up?”

Flowers made the first, then drilled a laser shot off the front of the iron that was rebounded by a finally helpless JuJuan Johnson.

As it turns out, the coach wasn’t being fair to Flowers.

Flowers is a 52 percent free-throw shooter for his career. He’s improved it each season he’s been in Morgantown – from 38 percent as a freshman to 44 percent as a soph, 49 percent as a junior, to 74 percent this season, third-best on the team.

And let’s face it, he’d be up to 76 percent if he’d made the second one.

”I like to think that I always could shoot free throws,” Flowers said. ”I didn’t shoot that bad in high school. I worked a lot on it this summer. It was my main focus.”

During those summer months, he pored over those percentages for his first three years and realized he needed to do something, so he overhauled his mechanics prior to this season.

It’s worked, as Flowers is 40 of 54 from the line.

Home-court advantage

The announced attendance for Sunday’s game was a season-best 14,173, and the Mountaineers players and coaches couldn’t have been happier about it.

”They were up the whole game for us,” forward Kevin Jones noticed. ”We just wanted to play hard for them. It definitely gave us a lot of energy, especially at times when we were struggling.”

The students rushed the court when it was over, something that certainly added to the wild atmosphere but will likely be a subject of debate for days, considering the Mountaineers were in the Final Four last season where they finished third in the final polls, and jumped into them for the first time this season at No. 21 via Sunday’s victory. A year ago to the day, West Virginia was ranked No. 10 in the country, so it’s not as if Mountaineers basketball fans are starved for success.

Then again, it was only the second victory against a Top-10 team at the Coliseum since Huggins’ arrival. A triumph vs. a No. 10 Marquette team during the coach’s first season was the other.

”Last year, they supported us very well,” Jones said. ”Just by rushing the court, (it was obvious) they enjoyed the win as much as we did. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we play hard. For the fans of West Virginia.”

Huggins, who has said from the first day he returned to Morgantown that he wanted the WVU Coliseum full every game and asked fans earlier this season if they weren’t going to be able to make a game to give their tickets to others who could, liked what he saw from the jubilant crowd.

”I can’t stand seeing empty seats,” he said. ”It was a great crowd. Those who didn’t come missed a heckuva basketball game. There’s nothing like being there.”

Getting better

Earlier this season – well before this four-game winning streak – Huggins tried to hammer home the things the Mountaineers weren’t doing well.

Which was basically everything … sharing the ball, defense, rebounding.

”We have gotten progressively better in those areas,” Huggins said. ”We rebound the ball better, we defend better, we’re sharing the ball better. Now we’ve got to run better offense. Either that or I’ve got a couple of them that are just going to have to stand in the corner and hope they guard them and we’ll play 3-on-3.”

And you thought he was going to be 100-percent satisfied.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: