When former Big Ten player of the year Robbie Hummel was lost for the season with an injury, Purdue looked to JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore to step up their play.
If more unexpected contributions come from their supporting cast, the Boilermakers may be even more dangerous than anticipated.
Eighth-ranked Purdue visits Minnesota on Thursday night looking for its first 5-0 start in conference play since 1989-90.
Johnson (19.4 points per game) and Moore (18.8) have helped lead the Boilermakers (15-1, 4-0) to a hot start despite the loss of Hummel, who tore his ACL in a preseason practice.
However, Johnson has scored below his average in his last three games and Moore has a combined 17 points in his last two after a 31-point performance Dec. 31 against Northwestern.
With the duo in a minor slump, junior guard Ryne Smith has picked up the offensive slack since the start of Big Ten play. Smith’s season high was 11 points prior to the conference schedule, but he’s averaged 17.0 and shot 66.7 percent (18 of 27) from 3-point range in his last four.
“When you think about Purdue, you think about E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson,” coach Matt Painter said. “That’s where it starts, and if you’re going to double up on Johnson, or if you’re going to kind of shade E’Twaun Moore on a screen, there’s going to be people open.”
Smith found himself with plenty of room Sunday against Iowa, scoring 18 points and hitting 6 of 9 3-point attempts in a 75-52 victory. The Boilermakers have won 10 straight overall and a school-record 10 consecutive road games.
“We have guys stepping up and we had guys making shots,” Moore said. “It’s not just us (Johnson and Moore), it’s a team thing.”
They’ll look to continue those streaks against the Golden Gophers, who are 10th in the Big Ten giving up 67.9 points per game. Purdue has won 34 straight when scoring more than 70, which it has done 12 times this season.
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith decided not to suspend leading rebounder and co-leading scorer Trevor Mbakwe following his arrest Monday for allegedly violating a no-harassment order filed by a former girlfriend.
“I believe his actions were well intended, but misguided, and we have made the decision not to suspend him after looking into the matter further,” Smith said in a statement.
Mbakwe scored 16 points and grabbed 12 boards Sunday in a 67-64 loss at No. 2 Ohio State. Al Nolen appeared to be fouled on a last-second shot, but no call was made.
Minnesota (12-4, 1-3) played three of its first four Big Ten games on the road and fell each time.
“We just need to get back to the friendly confines of ‘The Barn’,” Smith said, referring to the team’s Williams Arena.
The Gophers have won eight of nine there and took then-No. 3 Purdue down to the wire at home Feb. 24, eventually falling 59-58. The Boilermakers also beat Minnesota 79-60 last season.
Purdue has won five straight regular-season meetings, but the Gophers upset the Boilermakers 69-42 in last season’s Big Ten tournament semifinals.