Purdue Rides Moore's Shooting, Home Crowd To Championship
INDIANAPOLIS -- For E'Twaun Moore, this has to seem like deja vu all over again.
After all, it's only been two years since Moore's high school team, East Chicago Central, beat current Los Angeles Clipper Eric Gordon's school in the state final to win a championship at Conseco Fieldhouse.
On Sunday, Moore returned to the scene of his last title and won an even bigger one.
The Purdue sophomore guard tallied 14 of his 17 points after intermission to carry the third-seeded Boilermakers to their first-ever Big Ten Tournament championship with a 65-61 win over Ohio State.
"It's the same feeling as before, but a bigger stage," an excited Moore replied when asked to compare the two tournament victories. "Every moment is different, but it definitely felt great to come out here and win the championship."
Moore drained five three-pointers in the contest to help his squad overcome a five-point halftime deficit and win its 25th game of the season.
As the second half unfolded, Moore seemed to assert himself more on the offensive end, mixing outside jumpers with pump fakes and mid-range floaters.
"I saw areas that I could attack", he said afterwards. "We were down. My teammates told me, 'Hit one outside and we'll keep feeding you.'"
Purdue coach Matt Painter saw all three members of his much-heralded sophomore class named to the All-Tournament team, including Most Oustanding Player Robbie Hummel.
Painter reflected on how far his team has come in the last few years: "It was huge to land those three guys, because really, when they committed to us, we were in last place in the Big Ten. They walked into a situation where they were needed, and now they've made the most of their opportunity."
Hummel especially has come full circle during a difficult season. After being named the Preseason Player of the Year, injuries and illnesses kept the Purdue forward from contributing in a significant way. Now he finally seems to be playing like the Boilermakers were hoping he could all along.
"Rob had a great tournament", Painter summarized. "Obviously, Rob's a guy that's going to always give you big-time effort. But I think that at the end of the year, from watching film...he has to rebound the basketball for us to be successful. I thought he did a great job in this tournament of rebounding the ball. It's good to see somebody that works so hard be rewarded for it."
The Boilermakers dominated the rebounding glass, 44-33, which was a key coming in for a team that actually got outrebounded by its opponents during the regular season.
Purdue's second-half surge was fueled in large part by a pro-Boilermaker crowd here in Indianapolis. Painter was glad that his team finally gave the thousands of fans wearing old gold and black a reason to get excited: "Once we started to get a series of baskets where we scored two, three, four possessions in a row and got some steals, I really thought [the home-state advantage] helped us in that second half.
"We had to give them more to cheer about. In the second half we did, and I thought our guys fed off that."
All of the Boilermakers spoke of how much this win means for the program's seniors. If anything, that seems like an understatement: Marcus Green had the championship net draped around his neck in the locker room.
Fellow senior Bobby Riddell believes this win will carry over to the Big Dance.
"I think this game helps us--we were struggling coming in. The last few years, we've lost in the second round [of the NCAA tournament]. We have a lot of confidence now because of this weekend."
The Boilers will take their newfound momentum west for a first-round NCAA game against Northern Iowa on Thursday. Their aims are lofty, to say the least.
"At the beginning of the year, our goal was to get to the Final Four," Hummel told me with the tournament trophy sitting behind him in his locker. "That hasn't changed."
For now, though, let's give the Boilermakers time to savor the victory. In the twelve-year existence of the Big Ten tournament, Purdue had only advanced to the final one other time, a 1998 loss to Michigan.
Hummel called the win the highlight of his career to date: "I've never really won a championship in a structured, organized basketball league, so it feels really good.
"It was a great feeling to watch those seconds tick off the clock."
A great feeling, indeed--and one E'Twaun Moore is getting used to.
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