The 2010-11 season was a weird one for Purdue. It started with the news of Robbie Hummel tearing his ACL a second time just 8 months after his first injury. People immediately dismissed Purdue, forgetting it had two other All-Americans in JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. Purdue ripped off a 15-1 start, losing only to Richmond in a neutral site game in the Chicago suburbs, proving that the team was, indeed, pretty damn good. By the time this game came around Purdue was 21-5, and 10-3 in the Big Ten. Narrow losses at Minnesota and West Virginia showed this team’s potential, but a, 87-64 loss at then No. 1 Ohio State had fans concerned when the Buckeyes came to town.
February 20, 2011 - #11 Purdue 76, #2 Ohio State 63
Ohio State entered the 2010-11 season having lost the National Player of the Year in Evan Turner, but they had another candidate in Jared Sullinger. They were crushing everyone too. They came to West Lafayette at 25-1 and at 12-1 in the conference. Their lone loss was eight days earlier at Wisconsin by 4 points. Otherwise, they would have entered Mackey as the consensus No.1 team. That is the one unfortunate thing here. Purdue has only beaten a No. 1 ranked team once, when it beat Arizona in November 2000 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That dropped them to No. 2 for this game, but they were generally considered the best team in the country at that point.
Purdue was merely pretty good. It had lost at Minnesota (by 3), the aforementioned game in Columbus, and at Wisconsin by 7. That was good enough for a No. 11 national ranking. Purdue still had an outside shot at a repeat Big Ten title, but it needed a win over the Buckeyes and some help. That led to a great atmosphere for the game.
This was back before I had a media pass to every game. I had season tickets and went to a few games that year, but I had already foolishly sold this game. Fortunately, reader Ed Sigo had an extra ticket in the lower bowl next to the tunnel for me and I was happy to accept. Juan was also a student at the time and in the Paint Crew.
Let’s go to the highlights:
I don’t think the highlights do it justice for two reasons. First, Mackey Arena was LOUD. I am not talking the usual loud that makes good teams quiver and breaks lesser men. I am talking among the loudest Mackey has ever been. Second, E’Twaun Moore put on an absolute show. This was a Sunday afternoon CBS nationally televised game, and Smooge provided the entertainment from the tip. From his first basket with Purdue down 4-0 just 90 seconds in until the final steal and assist on the emphatic dunk by JJ with 36 seconds left E’Twaun Just. Did. Work.
E’Twaun Moore – 38 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 13-18 FG, 7-10 3FG, 5-7 FT
What a line by the senior. This has to rate among the most impressive performances in Mackey Arena history. JJ finished with a 13 and 6 while Lewis Jackson had nine points, but E’Twaun simply went off all afternoon for his best game during his entire four year career. He even became just the fifth player in Purdue history to reach 2,000 career points in this game.
There were so many moments in this game that stand out for him. There is his gravity-defying breakaway shot with 3:18 left that gave Purdue its first lead (and had him tumbling into the damn scoreboard in the corner). There was his three on the next possession (which got him past the 2,000 point mark). There was Clark Kellogg, after he canned yet another three two minutes into the second half, saying, “You better make sure this man gets as many shots as he needs, because he is doin’ work today!”. In person, I have only seen two Purdue performances that were “Just let him shoot whenever and from wherever he feels like it”: this game and Carsen last year against Virginia.
Secondly, the crowd was incredible As I said, this place was loud even for Mackey. It was so loud that as the game went on you could actually see Ohio State’s players wilt. Sullinger had a great game with 25 points, but by the end of the game you could tell that every Ohio State player would have rather been in any other place on earth besides Mackey Arena. It was magical.
Throughout the second half Purdue tried to pull away. The Buckeyes wouldn’t go away, however, and cut it to 4 at 65-61 with 2:15 left. Fortunately, we had an E’Twaun. He came off a screen by JJ, bobbled the pass, but gathered it as an Ohio State defender swept past and buried yet another three. As Verne Lundquist said, “Well, why not?”. It sparked an 11-2 closing kick capped off by the steal and dunk that blew the damn roof off. Here is what Juan had to say about it from the Paint Crew:
I sprained my ankle when JJ had the dunk at the end. Landed on the bleacher in front of me and then fell on my ass. Like I remember seeing JJ go up, and then next thing I know I’m on the ground trying to get back up. And no one noticed me fall. Told the person in our group next to me that I sprained my ankle, but it was so loud that she couldn’t hear me. Also my voice was gone so that didn’t help.
I was at the other end of the floor and I just remember it was so damn loud in that moment it was almost painful. It was the kind of loud that vibrates your chest and makes you feel like you’re going to explode, but in a good way.
In that moment anything felt possible for that team. Another Big Ten title felt possible if we could get one more loss from the Buckeyes (it didn’t come, though they won in overtime at Northwestern). The Final Four run that felt pre-ordained had Robbie not gone down felt possible. The team felt unbeatable.
That sensation carried over to an 11 point win at Indiana three days later and a 20 point win in East Lansing the following Sunday. I still maintain that something happened between February 27 (the day of the Michigan State win) and two days later on March 1st. I have no idea what, but something happened in that 48 hours that ruined the team’s chemistry. On March 1st, Senior Day for JJ and E’Twaun, the team sleepwalked to an 8-point win over a mediocre Illinois team. That clinched a perfect 16-0 home mark, but something seemed off.
Four days later Purdue lost at Iowa 67-65 in a game it had absolutely no business losing. Not with the possibility of a share of the Big Ten on the line should Ohio State lose the next day. Not to an Iowa team that was 3-14 in the conference. The Boilers would then get blown out by Michigan State in the first Big Ten Tournament game by 18, beat a bad St. Peter’s team by 22 in the first round of the NCAAs, then get absolutely run off the floor by VCU.
Just like that, it was over. Purdue closed the year by going 3 of 4, beating only a 14 seed that wasn’t even a good 14 seed. Combined with the lackluster win over Illinois at home, I still maintain that something happened behind the scenes, and part of that something was Kelsey Barlow, who got himself suspended for the postseason (he did play 14 minutes at Iowa) for undisclosed reasons.
Still, this was an incredible win against a team that entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. It stings even more the way the season ended, but for on Sunday afternoon Purdue was the best team in America.