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Johnson, Moore carry load for Purdue

JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore don't care who scores as long as Purdue wins.

They've both done their share this season.

Moore was Purdue's leading scorer for three years, but in a clutch moment against Penn State, he was perfectly fine doing the dirty work for this season's top scorer for the Boilermakers. Moore set a pick to free Johnson, who drained an 18-foot game-winner with 3.4 seconds left.

"I happened to get a good screen on him, and J.J. had an open shot," Moore said. "I'm very confident in him."

Moore took over the next game, scoring 26 points to lead the Boilermakers past Michigan State.

That's how they've done it for four years — each deferring to the other when necessary for the greater good. They considered leaving for the NBA after last season, but they decided to hone their skills and come back with Robbie Hummel to chase a national title.

Hummel re-tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during preseason practice and is gone for the year. Johnson and Moore have had to pick up the slack — and they have.

Johnson, a slender 6-foot-10 center, averages 20.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Moore, a 6-foot-4 guard, averages 18 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

"You've got one of the greatest combinations right now in basketball with Moore and Johnson," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "Those two guys are getting it done."

No. 12 Purdue (17-4, 6-2 Big Ten) is in second place in the Big Ten heading into Saturday's game against No. 16 Minnesota.

"I think they've both done a very good job of leading the team and getting us baskets when we need them," Hummel said.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said the game plan is simple: go through Johnson in the post and Moore on the perimeter and watch the pieces fall into place.

"He's really grown as a decision-maker in the post," Painter said. "He's always had the ability to make plays, make baskets. His strength has really helped him grow in that area and be more confident. His understanding, having a sense of where he is on the court, and taking his time, and being patient and just making the right play has really improved in the last month."

Johnson is averaging 24.4 points and shooting 53.5 percent from the field the past five games.

He left an impression on Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in Purdue's win on Jan. 22. While being guarded by Delvon Roe, a player Izzo feels should be at the top of the Big Ten defensive player of the year conversation, Johnson scored 20 points.

"I think he is maybe the best player in the league," Izzo said of Johnson. "I thought a couple of times, Johnson made shots when Delvon was right on him. Wow, give Johnson credit."

Johnson had to be convinced he could become a dominant player. He averaged just 5.4 points as a freshman, but increased that to 13.4 as a sophomore and 15.1 as a junior.

"He wasn't the 13-year-old kid that was leading his team in scoring," Painter said. "He didn't grow up as a second, third, fourth grader on with that kind of confidence like, say, an E'Twaun Moore had and still does. Now, he's coming into his own."

Johnson's offseason work has extended an already effective mid-range game out to 3-point range.

"I think JaJuan's added some guard skills to his game," Hummel said. "He's shooting pullups that are actually really tough shots and making them. He's done a great job of picking the slack for the offense when they need a basket."

Moore went through a shooting slump early during Big Ten play, but Painter was pleased that he still had an impact on games by guarding his man and setting up his teammates.

"He's doing a better job with his decision making," Painter said. "He's given more of a concentrated effort on the defensive end, and also on the glass."

Moore's 3-point shooting has improved from 34.9 percent last season to 39.8 percent this season.

"When he's ready to shoot and he's got his legs under him, I'm surprised when he misses," Painter said.

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