Tonight marks the end of an era for Boilermaker basketball, as we celebrate the last home performances of two all-time great players. I will be in person tonight to pay my personal tribute to E`Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, but I wanted to offer an online tribute as well. They were counted on from the beginning, and have delivered some amazing performances throughout their careers. Now, it was hard to select, but I decided to assemble a "Top 10" JJ and Smooge performances over their careers. Undoubtedly I missed some; let me know in the comments! While writing this article, I decided that ranking these 1-10 would be completely arbitrary. However, feel free to voice your opinions in the comments for this as well.
E'Twaun explodes against the Illini - 2/2/08
E'Twaun used a 20 point second half to keep the Illini from erasing an 8 point halftime deficit in what was then a breakout performance for the young Boilermaker star. Visions of the future of clutch were running wild through the heads of Boilermaker nation.
E'Twaun is a cold-blooded assassin vs. OSU in BTT - 3/15/09
The Baby Boilers were rising, and found themselves in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game against Evan Turner and co. waiting for them. While the star of the tournament was Hummel, this game belonged to E'Twaun, in my opinion, due to how clutch he was in crunch time. This game was an early example of Moore as the "Red Button," hitting clutch shot after clutch shot to keep the Buckeyes at arm's length. Smooge had 14 of his 17 points in the second period, including 4 for 8 from beyond the arc. He tied his then-career high of 5 triples in this game as well. Having been a personal witness to this game, I can think of a phrase to describe Smooge's performance beyond the numbers: cold-blooded assassin.
JJ says no to Washington - 3/21/09
I was fortunate enough to be at this game at the Rose Garden in Portland, OR. Purdue was a 5 seed playing thousands of miles from home, while UW was the 4 seed playing basically in their back yard. This game basically amounted to a home game, and the purple and gold arena was loud in support of their Huskies. JaJuan dropped 22 points in this game, but the story of this game came on one fateful possession in the closing seconds. The Huskies were down two, on a roll, and poised to tie or take the lead with about 60 seconds to go. On that possession, JJ blocked not one, but two shots, the second of which was rebounded by Rob. The small contingent of Purdue fans in attendance went nuts, and Purdue sealed the game at the charity stripe. In one shining moment, JaJuan put the team on his back and said "We are not losing this game." Epic.
JaJuan dominates West Virginia - 1/1/10
New Year's Day, 2010. #4 Purdue vs. #6 West Virginia: the lowly Big Ten vs. the mighty Big East. Pundits were picking the Mountaineers left and right, as I remember, and JaJuan must have taken it personally. He had a career day against a team who, although blessed with 6'8'' and up players, had no answer for him. The Boilers fed JJ early and often, and he ended the day with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks, helped along by an 89% FT percentage. Bigtime.
E'Twaun vs. MSU - 2/9/10
Purdue hadn't won in East Lansing since 1998, and E'Twaun emphatically put the kybosh on that little statistical tidbit. This was a giant game between two top 15 teams vying for positioning in the Big Ten race. Sparty was slumping and Purdue was surging, setting up a gigantic matchup in the Breslin Center. While this win was definitely a team effort, E'Twaun was sensational, scoring a season-high 25 points to go with 3 boards, 6 dimes and a steal. E'Twaun also had another "Red Button" moment towards the end, banking in a dagger 3 pointer as Sparty drew near.
JaJuan vs. Penn State 1/19/11
Being the shooter of the two Seniors, E'Twaun has probably had more clutch game enders than his 86 inch tall buddy has. That's to be expected. However, on this night, those roles were reversed. Paying evidence to his career-long improvement in shooting from longer distance, JaJuan buried a 19 foot jumper with mere seconds remaining to preserve a victory at home against Penn State. The ramifications of this game were huge at the time, and continue to remain big. The Boilers could've easily lost that contest against a game Nittany Lion squad, but JJ's clutch jumper has ultimately kept Purdue in the running for that Big Ten championship that we all so desire. Clutch.
JaJuan vs. Illinois - 2/13/11
JaJuan threw down 24 points, 9 boards, and 2 of just about everything else in this game, which, at the time, served as Purdue's first good road win of the 2010-11 season. What I'll remember this game for most, though, would be some of the sickest dunks of JaJuan's career. The cream of the crop of these thunder dunks was his 18 foot crossover drive with a slam finish, making the whole Illini squad look quite silly, and probably making a few NBA scouts pretty excited. One word: thunderous.
E'Twaun slays the Buckeyes while nation watches 2/20/11
This one, of course, is still fresh in our minds. Smooge went off in the biggest game of the season, to that point, torching Brutus for 38 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists with the nation watching. Not only that, he managed to accomplish Matrix-like bullet time for the trickiest layup I've ever seen. Words cannot describe that shot. Words cannot describe how on fire he was. Words cannot describe the energy in Mackey Arena that afternoon. Speechless.
Winning on Every Big Ten Court
Winning on the road in conference is never an easy task, and this duo proved, over the duration of their careers, that they would be able to help the Boilers pick up W's away from Mackey. Perhaps the most impressive wins for the Boilers on the road came at the Kohl Center in 2008 and 2009, as those represent one-third of Wisky's total home losses under Bo Ryan. These road wins played a big part in the Boilers finishing top 3 in conference each year JaJuan and E'Twaun were lacing them up.
JaJuan vs. MSU - 2/27/11
Again, this one is fresh in our minds, so I'll keep it short. In what might be his best overall performance as a Boilermaker, JaJuan destroyed Sparty for 20 points, 17 boards, and 7 blocks. Amazing happened in East Lansing.
So, again, I'm sure I've missed some great performances, and picking out only 10 was very difficult. These were among the most memorable for me, how about you?
Tonight will be a teary-eyed night for all of us as we say our first goodbyes to two all-time great Boilermakers. However, while their time in Mackey Arena is drawing to an end, their journey is by no means complete. I have a feeling that, if I were to write this article two weeks from now, I'd have a few more contenders for the top ten spots. Said differently, I'm confident that the best is yet to come from these two.
Thank you, JaJuan and E'Twaun.