JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore won’t be able to secure a Big Ten title in their final game at Mackey Arena, but thanks to the two seniors, Purdue is one of the nation’s hottest teams.
The sixth-ranked Boilermakers look to win their seventh straight when they face Illinois on Tuesday night in their home finale.
“We’re still in the hunt,” Johnson said after a 67-47 win over Michigan State on Sunday. “We need a little help, but it can be done.”
Led by Johnson and Moore, the Boilermakers have done their best to keep the Big Ten race interesting, winning six straight. In their victory at East Lansing on Sunday, Johnson had 20 points, a career-high 17 rebounds and seven blocks.
Moore, who had 38 points in a win over Ohio State on Feb. 20, added 17 against the Spartans.
Johnson’s double-double was his second in four games. He’s averaging 20.4 points and 8.1 rebounds this season and earned Big Ten player of the week honors Monday after also recording 20 points and nine boards in a 72-61 win at Indiana on Wednesday.
“JaJuan Johnson is playing as well as anybody in the country,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Johnson has not only been an offensive force for Purdue, which is averaging 73.2 points the last five games, but his interior presence is limiting opponents’ effectiveness, especially recently. The last three teams to face the Boilermakers have all shot lower than 40 percent from the field.
Purdue is trying to sweep the season series against the Illini for a second straight year after recording an 81-70 win at Assembly Hall on Feb. 13. Johnson had 24 points and nine rebounds in that victory while Moore added 20 points.
Illinois (18-11, 8-8) is looking to win consecutive games for the first time since winning its first three conference games. The Illini are coming off an 81-68 win over Iowa on Saturday, snapping a two-game losing streak.
Mike Tisdale scored 25 points, Mike Davis added 20 points and nine rebounds and Demetri McCamey had 18 points and seven assists. The three seniors combined to shoot 67.6 percent.
“Everybody’s been hammering us the whole season … (about) the seniors not stepping up,” Davis said. “We took it as a challenge to come out and play well. … We wanted to step up and shut people up.”
After a disappointing stretch, McCamey has been playing much better recently, averaging 16.5 points the last four games. Over the previous six games, he averaged 8.7 points while shooting 29.3 percent, capped by a 1-for-10 outing from the floor in the loss to Purdue.
The Illini, who finish the regular season Saturday against Indiana, are trying to win their final two games and then use good showing in the Big Ten tournament to boost their chances for the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve got to make our legacy in March,” McCamey said.
Illinois, however, has lost four straight to Purdue and three of its last four visits to West Lafayette. McCamey has been held to a combined 10 points in the last two games between the teams.