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Jeff Eisenberg

Even without Hummel, Purdue looks like Final Four threat

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Anyone who watched a few minutes of Purdue's impressive 76-63 victory over Ohio State on Sunday afternoon probably had the same thought enter their mind: How good would this team be if Robbie Hummel were healthy?

The bad news for the Boilermakers is they might be a national title favorite had Hummel not torn his ACL in October for the second time in less than a year. The good news for the Boilermakers is they're still pretty darn good without him.

In the span of seven days, Purdue has beaten Illinois on the road and No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 2 Ohio State at home, all by at least eight points apiece. If the Boilermakers weren't already a contender for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, they certainly are after those three wins and the tumult in the top 10 this weekend.

At 22-5 overall and 11-3 in Big Ten play, Purdue boasts victories over Alabama, Virginia Tech, Michigan State and Minnesota in addition to the three huge wins this past week. The Boilermakers have also suddenly moved within a game of the first-place Buckeyes in the conference race with four games left to play.

Sunday's matchup was billed as the game that would settle the player of the year race between Purdue's JaJuan Johnson and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, yet little was determined on that front. While Sullinger had another strong 25-point game and Johnson had an efficient 13 points and six rebounds, the best player on the floor was clearly Purdue's E'Twaun Moore.

The senior guard scored a career-high 38 points despite being checked most of the second half by Ohio State's Aaron Craft, a freshman who has quickly developed a reputation as one of the Big Ten's premier defensive stoppers. Moore converted 13 of 18 shots and sank 7 of 10 3-pointers, hitting a big bucket whenever Ohio State threatened down the stretch.

From the moment Hummel went down on the second day of practice, those who doubted Purdue questioned whether the Boilermakers could score easily enough to make a deep NCAA tournament run. Credit coach Matt Painter for not letting the doubts creep into the minds of his players, especially seniors Johnson and Moore who bypassed the NBA draft last spring in part to take one last shot at a Final Four.

If Johnson and Moore continue to excel and different role players can continue to fill the role of third scorer on a night-by-night basis, the ceiling for this Purdue team may be higher than many imagined.

In other words, maybe Purdue making the Final Four without Hummel isn't as unlikely as it once seemed.

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