It is hard to adjust to the fact that we have seen our next ICON play his final game in a Purdue uniform. I had the privilege of talking to him at Big Ten Media Day back in October and he never came off as a big star. I think that is one of the things we love about E`Twaun Moore. He is incredibly unassuming, yet he scored more points than all but two players in Purdue basketball history. He was almost shy with the media, as if he felt he didn't deserve the attention he was getting at Media Day.
He led the Boilermakers in scoring for three out of four seasons, joining Charles "Stretch" Murphy, Paul Hoffman, Terry Dischinger, Dave Schellhase, Rick Mount, Walter Jordan, and Troy Lewis as players who led us in scoring for three seasons, and he would have been the only Purdue player to lead us in scoring for four seasons if JaJuan Johnson hadn't played at an All-America level.
Best of all, he had the greatest nickname: Smooge. With 134 votes E`Twaun Moore is #22 on our countdown.
In the Womb: Before the Baby Boilers
The high school class of 2007 was one of the most talented in state history. The boys from the Hoosier state one both game in their annual series with Kentucky by 18 and 19 points, respectively. Players on that roster went on to have excellent careers: Eric Gordon led Indiana to
the promised land of a 6th national title a first round NCAA Tournament flameout before jumping to the NBA. JaJuan Johnson, Robbie Hummel, and E`Twaun Moore set records at Purdue, but was derailed from greatness by bad luck. Scott Martin turned traitor and fled to Notre Dame after a year, where he had a solid 2010-11 season. Jeff Teague spent time at Wake Forest and is having a coming out party against the Bulls in this year's playoffs for the Atlanta Hawks. Matt Howard and Zach Hahn helped lead Butler to consecutive national title games (and should have won this year if they could hit anything in the title game). Even Clint Hopf and Brian Bouchie are having good careers as they revive the Evansville Purple Aces.
Of all of them, Smooge had the best senior season as he, Angel Garcia, and our solid defensive tackle Kawann Short won the 2007 Class 4A state championship for East Chicago Central. The Cardinals went 23-3 that season losing to Pike (with Teague), North Central (with Gordon), and Lake Central. Once in the tournament, Moore put the team on his back as they had a tricky path to the championship. Munster, with fellow all-star Michael Bizoukas pushed them to overtime before falling 58-54 in the sectional final. Hummel and Martin fell to Smooge in the regional, while he did me a favor and took out the evil Marion Giants in the semi0state.
The state championship was one of the most entertaining in state history. The Moore vs. Gordon showdown reminded fans of when Glenn Robinson (headed to Purdue) faces off against Alan Henderson (headed to Brebeuf) faced off for the 1991 state title. Like that game, the Purdue-bound player won. North Central had won the regular season meeting 73-62, but a highs coring affair erupted at Conseco Fieldhouse with EC Central winning 87-83. Moore was 10 for 17 from the field for 28 points, while Short had 20 points and 10 rebounds (Sidebar: I asked Short about playing basketball this coming season and he said, "If my coach lets me". He's only listed at 6'4", but who is going to move him off the low block?)
Gordon countered with 25 points, but Moore and Short (with Garcis) were too much to handle. It was Short who gave EC Central the lead for good on a putback with 4:40 left. The Cards took home the title, while Gordon went on to have the most storied one-year career while doing ultimately nothing in IU history.
Smooge moves to Purdue
We all expected a lot from the Baby Boilers, but let us not forget what Carl Landry and David Teague left them. They had returned from injury to bring Purdue back to the NCAA Tournament after a four year hiatus. They even won a game and fought a dominant Florida team like mad bastards before falling in the second round. They were gone, but the Baby Boilers walked in with Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer ready to help them transition. I firmly believe that Landry and Teague set the stage for the baby Boilers to have immediate success.
The best part is that this very young team only had one truly embarrassing loss: a 69-66 defeat at home to Wofford that was bad at the time, but served as the worst loss Smooge would have, and he didn't have many.
E`Twaun performed immediately in his role as a scorer and guy who could create his own shot. The first truly memorable game was January 8, 2008 when Purdue played its second Big Ten game of the season. Hummel was out with the flu, but Purdue stunned several by staying with the Spartans in a 78-75 loss in East Lansing. Purdue then ran off its next 11 games in league play to move to 12-1 despite playing four freshmen a ton of minutes. Two of the victories came over Wisconsin, which were the only two conference losses the Badgers had that season. On February 9th, little more than a month after that Michigan State game, Purdue went into the Kohl Center and shocked the Badgers 72-67. Suddenly, we were talking Big Ten title as opposed to merely a return to the NCAAs. Smooge's biggest game in this stretch was a 24-point outing at Illinois where he ripped Fighting Illini hearts out Temple of Doom-style.
Unfortunately, our biggest game came February 19th at Indiana. In what would prove to be Kelvin Sampson's final game (and the last time Indiana was remotely relevant in college basketball) the Hoosiers won 77-68 to end our streak. Indiana imploded into the mess you currently see afterward, so I officially hate this game.
A close 80-77 loss at Ohio State cost us the Big Ten title, but this would be Purdue's best Big Ten record in E'Twaun's four years. The team that lost to Wofford finished 15-3 in the conference, a game behind Wisconsin. A first round NCAA victory over Baylor was nice, but Xavier proved to have too much experience in the second round.
Naturally, hopes were high for the next season, but other than a late season run to the Big Ten Tournament title and Sweet 16 something seemed off all year. Purdue missed out on a preseason NIT title when the officials decided to let Blake Griffin and Oklahoma shoot 4,720 more free throws (approximate). We got pantsed at home by Duke. A much improved Big Ten battered us to an 11-7 league mark. Smooge increased his scoring from 12.9 to 13.8, but a loss to UConn in the Sweet 16 showed we needed a little more experience.
It all came together in the 2009-10 season. E'Twaun blew up for 16.4 points per game and we raced to an impressive 14-0 start. Even a three game slide against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Northwestern wasn't bad as we reeled off the next nine games before heading to Minnesota. We were in control of the Big Ten, had avenged the OSU and Wisconsin losses, and E'Twaun was doing his act that we started to call The Red Button. One of my favorite moments occurred during this stretch as he helped us to a big lead early at Michigan State. The Spartans fought back, however, and cut the lead to three on a Chris Allen triple with 4:34 left. Purdue called timeout, but the crowd was back into it.
It took a little more than a minute for E'Twaun to assassinate them.
First, he hit a huge 3-pointer just 18 seconds after the timeout. Then he assisted Robbie on an easy backdoor layup after a turnover. JJ then made a block, giving us the ball to allow Smooge to hit his patented teardrop runner in the lane. 104 seconds later the lead was back to 10 and the game was over.
This is where the story turns tragic. I would like to say that Smooge helped a team playing about as perfect as it possibly could win the 2010 National Championship. I would like to say they then came back to defend their title successfully as they ran roughshod over a pretty mediocre college basketball field to an undefeated title defense in 2011.
I would like to say that, but the Demon Wood of Xibalba at The Barn conspired with the Secret Indian Burial Ground disturbed by the Mackey renovation to make sure the last two seasons will always be a painful "What If" in Purdue history. Even the 2010 Big Ten regular season championship seems hollow when you consider what could have (and probably would have) been accomplished.
You see, as much as E'Twaun did at Purdue: 2,136 points (third all-time and one of just five to crack 2,000 points), over 500 rebounds and 400 assists, we will always wonder what his legacy would have been had Robbie Hummel's right ACL cooperated. Smooge and JJ did a great job this past season of keeping Purdue in contention when many felt they would struggle, but the truth is Hummel, with both his ability and his leadership, made a very, very good team nearly transcendent.
And they were close even without Hummel. I was in the building when he eviscerated Ohio State with 38 points this year. It seems like this team just peaked a little too early and ran out of gas after the Michigan State game in East Lansing. Something was never right after that game, and I doubt we'll ever know for sure what it was.
Up next for E'Twaun
Smooge now leaves Purdue as one of the greatest scorers in our history, but he was never a First-team All-American like so many others. Off the court he set an excellent example by earning Academic All-American status, as well as being a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. In June he will likely be drafted, where we will wait to see what his professional impact is.
Sadly, we also lose one of the best running gags of the Open Threads. We named E'Twaun The Red Button because he always seemed to deliver a basket when we needed it. I even told him that I found myself saying "E`Twaun, I need you to hit the Red Button" at Media Day (which he loved). Mrs. T-Mill bought me a very nice stitched #33 jersey for my 30th birthday, and I wore it for nearly every game these past two years. We will miss the Red Button, as few did it better than him.