WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — It's rare that a team's top scorer for three straight seasons isn't considered the star, but that's been the case for E'Twaun Moore ever since he arrived at Purdue.
Two years ago, Robbie Hummel played his way into being considered the best player in coach Matt Painter's highly touted freshman class. The forward turned a strong rookie campaign into a Big Ten preseason player of the year honor before the next season, but he suffered a back injury that allowed center JaJuan Johnson to emerge as an All-Big Ten performer.
All along, Moore has quietly put up more points than any Boilermaker. He's at it again, and finally, he's getting some respect. The junior guard is averaging a team-best 17.2 points per game for the No. 4 Boilermakers.
How he gets those points is the difference between the up-and-down freshman from two years ago and steady, silky-smooth star who is dominating the Big Ten. His field goal percentage, 49 percent, is considerably higher than in years past, and his assist totals are similar to those of the previous two seasons.
"I think the biggest thing with him is, when he was a freshman, it was all fast-paced," Purdue senior guard Keaton Grant said. "He was just going off what he did in previous years in high school. Now he understands, learns, sees loopholes, knows when to hesitate and take off instead of going just one speed. He'll walk through, and then go."
Moore's ability to control games late has helped Purdue take an eight-game winning streak into Saturday's home game against Illinois. In the second half at Michigan State on Feb. 9, the Spartans had trimmed Purdue's lead to 65-62 before Moore drained a 3-pointer with 4:15 left.
"We got it down to three, and E'Twaun Moore hit a tough shot behind that ball screen," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "That's what they do, and that's the way he plays, and he played well."
Moore then assisted on a basket by Hummel and followed that with a layup that gave the Boilermakers a 10-point lead in the 76-64 win. Moore finished with 25 points as Purdue won at Michigan State for the first time since 1998.
"He is a very confident player, and when he lets the game come to him, he can quietly score 25 points," Painter said afterward. "He has worked on his game and has come a long way, which has put him in a good position."
Moore is exceptional at breaking defenses down, yet he shoots 38 percent from 3-point range and he's a solid perimeter defender.
"I think he's just improved at all the things he's always done," Hummel said. "He's made tremendous strides in every facet of his game."
Moore hasn't gone entirely unnoticed — he was a second-team All-Big Ten pick both his freshman and sophomore years. His first big step this season came when he scored 22 points on 8-for-16 shooting against then-No. 9 Tennessee in the Paradise Jam final on his way to tournament MVP honors.
Moore doesn't celebrate after baskets, and generally changes his facial expression only when he disagrees with a foul call or makes a mental error. Even then, it's temporary, and he almost immediately goes back to being the most relaxed player on the court.
"Just experience playing the game," he said. "I've played in a lot of big games the last few years. I try to stay under control, stay poised and never get rattled."
Hummel said the 6-foot-4 Moore from East Chicago, Ind., has been that way since junior high.
"When we were in seventh grade, playing East Chicago in AAU tournaments, they always had this one guy that was just taking big shots, making big shots. It was like 'why can't we stop this guy?'" he said. "Then, freshman year of high school, he was averaging 18 points a game. That's why we couldn't stop him. He was a beast."
Painter said Moore deservedly gets more freedom than his teammates, but he's at his best when he plays within Purdue's system. Moore agreed and said his breakout season is a result of figuring out how to make the system work for himself and the team.
"Just being smarter on the court, knowing when to attack, when not to attack," he said. "Just being decisive in my moves, taking it to the hole, being aggressive."