"He [Moore] is a very confident player and when he lets the game come to him he can quietly score 25 points," said Purdue head coach Matt Painter after the game. "He made some big plays tonight and some big shots. He has worked on his game and has come a long way, which has put him in a good position (quote courtesy of msuspartans.com)."
JaJuan Johnson added nineteen and Robbie Hummel fifteen in the win, which moved Purdue to within a half-game of the Spartans with the rematch in West Lafayette on February 27th. Getting out to the 47-33 lead at the half was huge for Purdue, who looked more like the team some expected to make a run at the Final Four earlier in the season, because they didn't execute as well while the Spartans made their run. But just as important as having the ability to put together solid margins is to have a player (or players) who can make things happen offensively when the team needs a crucial bucket.
And if Tuesday's finish is a sign of anything it's that Purdue has that man in E'Twaun Moore. "We got it down to three and E'Twaun Moore hit a tough shot behind that ball screen and that's what they do and that's the way he plays and he played well," said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. As for Michigan State, who next plays at Penn State, they need to find consistent production from Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers if they're to remain the favorite in the Big Ten as well as make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Three Key Happenings
1. Go ahead and write Illinois into the NCAA Tournament...in pencil. It's too early to refer to Bruce Weber's team as a lock for the Big Dance but they took one giant leap in that direction, beating Wisconsin in Madison 63-56 to move into a tie for first place. Demetri McCamey (27 points) and Mike Tisdale (19) led the way for an offense that made 53.3% of its shots while defensively limiting Wisconsin to 35.7%. In the second half the Badgers, who were led by 15 points from Jason Bohanon, made just 25.8% of their field goals and whenever they made a run either McCamey or Tisdale would answer. In fact, how well the Illini fair the rest of the season will likely depend on McCamey's play.
"Every time he does something good and you compliment him, he seems to go back to his old ways," remarked Illinois head coach Bruce Weber after the game. "He had a slow start and some turnovers and some bad decisions and then he got clicking and had a great finish to the half. He did some big time things throughout the game; he's really playing like we've wanted to (quote courtesy of uwbadgers.com)." With guard play being such a vital component it should be seen as a sign that Illinois has a realistic chance to win the Big Ten.
2. Texas Tech remains alive on the bubble while likely ending Oklahoma's hopes. Neither team in Norman was going to sew up an NCAA berth with a win but a loss would be devastating to either squad. And after the Red Raiders' 72-71 win in Norman they've kept their hopes alive. Oklahoma was able to cut the lead to three on a couple of occasions but the Red Raiders were able to hold them off, sweeping the regular season and surpassing a team that beat Texas Saturday in the Big 12 pecking order. John Roberson led all scorers with 22 points while Tommy Mason-Griffin scored 16 for the Sooners. But when three of your four starting guards don't shoot well from the field you're going to be punished, as Oklahoma was on this night.
Willie Warren, Mason-Griffin and Cade Davis combined to shoot 11-for-35 from the field, and when you're on a team that lacks consistent bench scoring you need something from all major contributors in order to entertain thoughts of winning games like this as well as remaining a competitive out in games against ranked opponents. This is a lesson the Sooners are likely to remember next season while Texas Tech picked up a crucial road win before taking on a treacherous foursome in Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas and Kansas State.
3. Tennessee's in more trouble than some may think. It's bad enough to lose in Nashville given the Commodores' recent triumphs at Memorial Gym but Bruce Pearl's teams wasn't particularly competitive in their 90-71 loss. Jeffrey Taylor scored a game-high 26 points and Jermaine Beal added twenty as Vandy made 47.1% of their shots on the night. Those numbers simply underline the Volunteers' recent defensive struggles (on the road their defense is similar to what Clemson's press does away from Littlejohn Coliseum) and if they don't correct this area Tennessee is going to be a rather quick out come March.
How can Tennessee improve defensively? One solution is to simply get tougher, especially on the boards. The Commodores were a plus-9 in rebounding margin and Coach Pearl alluded to that in his postgame press conference. "They are physical; they did a great job on the boards. They particular did great on the offensive end. They were more physical than us, they were tougher than us (quote courtesy of vucommodores.com)." Outside of Scotty Hopson (8-12 FG) the Volunteers didn't shoot well from the field and finished with just one less turnovers than the Commodores. And things could become worse before they get better with a trip to Lexington next up for the Vols. Finesse is fine but every once in a while a team needs to throw its weight around.
Top Three Games
1. Vermont 76, Boston University 75 The Catamounts needed an Evan Fjeld layup with 9.4 seconds remaining to move into sole possession of second place in America East. John Holland led the Terriers with 29 points and seven rebounds but Vermont's Marqus Blakely was just as important with 21 points, 12 rebounds three assists and two blocks.
2. Texas Tech 72, Oklahoma 71 See above.
3. Houston 74, Western Kentucky 72 Aubrey Coleman led the Cougars to a road win with 29 points and 11 rebounds, but the game was decided on a technical foul called on WKU head coach Ken McDonald after a foul was called with two tenths of a second to go. Kelvin Lewis made both free throws to provide the final margin. Sergio Kerusch led the Hilltoppers with 19 points.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Tommy Freeman (Ohio) Freeman made eleven of fifteen from the field, scoring thirty points in the Bobcats' 90-74 win over Western Michigan.
2. G Aubrey Coleman (Houston) Coleman accounted for another double-double with 29 points and 11 rebounds in the Cougars' 74-72 win over Western Kentucky.
3. Evansville and Tennessee-Martin These two teams get a special nod due to them both picking up their first conference wins of the season. The Aces knocked off Wichita State 65-62 while the Skyhawks beat Southeast Missouri State 73-70.