Moore's 25 pace Boilermakers' win
Purdue center JaJuan Johnson choreographed the perfect birthday bash Tuesday night.
All he really wanted was to beat Indiana a fourth straight time. Turns out he got a chance to thank teammate E'Twaun Moore in front of 14,000 fans, walk off the Mackey Arena court carrying a sign with a birthday message, and even get serenaded by a smattering of fans while signing autographs.
What a night.
Moore scored 25 points, Johnson added 15, and each grabbed eight rebounds in a 67-53 victory, No. 100 in the careers of the two seniors who helped Purdue re-establish itself as a national power.
''I can't really do too much,'' Johnson said when asked about his postgame party plans. ''It's kind of like this every year. I'm sure I'll probably relax tonight and probably do something at the end of the week.''
He'll take this postgame celebration any time.
Indiana (12-13, 3-9) mixed and matched post defenders, contesting Johnson's shots and, at times, frustrating the 6-foot-10 center who was expected to dominate the middle. Johnson wound up just 4 of 10 from the field, but he finished with four blocks, one steal and one assist, and most importantly, he helped open up things for his teammates.
Moore responded by going 7 of 15 from the field with three three-pointers and sparked almost every key run Purdue made. The Boilermakers (19-5, 8-3) have a four-game winning streak against their biggest rival for the first time since 1996-97.
"E'Twaun answered the bell in a couple of those stretches and really helped stopped their runs,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said. ''Obviously, you want your three points, you want your basket, but it's more important to stop the opposition's momentum.''
Not everything went according to the script. Teammate Lewis Jackson told Johnson he would buy him breakfast, lunch and dinner and would even serve as his chauffeur for a day if Johnson could set a career-high with 16 rebounds against the Hoosiers. The fiesty Hoosiers stopped that chase.
Freshman Will Sheehey scored a season-high 14 points, Bloomington native Jordan Hulls had 13 and Verdell Jones added 10, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Hoosiers from falling under the .500 mark for the first time all season.
''I'm looking forward to the day we don't have to deal with those two guys,'' third-year Indiana coach Tom Crean said, referring to Johnson and Moore. ''It seems like they've been around forever.''
Before Crean can bid farewell to Johnson and Moore, the teams have one more game scheduled, Feb. 23 in Bloomington. They also could meet again in the Big Ten tournament, and perhaps after that, the Hoosiers can get this rivalry turned around. Indiana has lost four straight at Mackey Arena, dating to March 1, 2006.
They are getting closer. Starters Maurice Creek (kneecap) and Christian Watford (hand) both sat out again with injuries, and while most expected the undermanned Hoosiers to get routed, they hung around almost all game.
Jones, Tom Pritchard and Hulls connected on three straight baskets midway through the first half, giving the Hoosiers a 16-12 lead. It didn't last long.
Moore started a 13-2 run with consecutive threes that put Indiana on the ropes late in the first half. The Hoosiers answered with six straight points to make it 25-24, and Purdue closed the half on a 6-0 run to make it 31-24.
''We had the psychological edge, and our guys battled at a high level,'' said Crean, in no mood for moral victories. ''But every time we got close, their guys made plays.''
It was that kind of night for the Hoosiers, who were trying to upset their third ranked team since Jan. 27. Purdue finally started to seize control with a 6-2 run that gave the Boilermakers a 49-38 lead midway through the second half.
That's when he Hoosiers charged back again, closing to 56-49 on Sheehey's dunk with 5:20 to go. Purdue closed it out by making 9 of 10 free throws over the final 2:09, giving the Boilermakers and Johnson a reason to celebrate.
''We'll probably still go out to dinner since it's his birthday,'' Jackson joked.