WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- When did E'Twaun Moore know? When did he realize he couldn't be stopped?
Was it in the first half of Purdue's 76-63 win over Ohio State on Sunday, when Moore's deep 3 cut OSU's lead to 28-27? Was it the ensuing double-clutch breakaway layup that somehow -- how? -- found its way through the net? Was it the next two shots, a pair of 3s, one of which splashed in after traveling 25 feet from Moore's extended position on the left wing?
Or was it the final possession of the first half, when Purdue cleared out for their hot-shooting senior and watched as he drained a Jordanesque -- yes, Jordanesque -- one-on-one, 17-foot stepback with one of the Big Ten's best defenders (OSU's David Lighty) draped all over him?
Which moment was it, E'Twaun? Take your pick.
Moore smiles. He hesitates.
"I think somewhere late in the first half," he said. "I hit a 3 off a pin-down [screen], and I thought, 'OK, damn. That felt good.'"
"That felt good." Purdue fans, you now have your commemorative T-shirt. You also have three simple words, words that can describe those shots, this win, the maniacs in the crowd, and that classic performance -- and it was a classic -- by one of the nation's most perennially underrated guards.
For his part, Purdue guard Lewis Jackson saw it coming the moment Moore cracked his first smile of the game.
"I know once he gets that rhythm going and steps back and hits a 3 and once he smiles, you know he has it going," Jackson said. "E'Twaun, he may put his fingers up and tell you he hit a 3-pointer, but he rarely smiles. Once he smiles, he's in a zone, and you probably won't stop him that night."
Yes, it was a feel-good day in West Lafayette, but not just because Jackson's smile-based prediction came true, not just because Moore played what he called "definitely the best" game of his collegiate career. Moore scored 38 points on 13-of-18 shooting from the field (including 7-of-10 from beyond the arc!), 5-of-7 from the charity stripe, and added five assists, four rebounds and two steals. It wasn't just that such an insanely efficient, brilliant performance came on the same day Moore surpassed the 2,000 career points mark and became one of only four players in the history of the Big Ten to record 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 350 assists in his career.
It wasn't just because Purdue found a way to frustrate Ohio State from the inside out just enough to make it difficult for the Buckeyes on the perimeter, where Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford, Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas combined for 4-of-15 beyond the arc.
And no, it wasn't just because Purdue's win handed the former No. 1-ranked Buckeyes their second conference loss in eight days and pulled the Boilermakers within a game of OSU's once-impenetrable Big Ten title lead.
All of those reasons would be enough, but as Jackson told reporters after the game, this one felt good for different, more complicated reasons. It felt good because this season wasn't supposed to.
"We remember in October when everybody was like 'It's over for Purdue, there's no chance, they may finish in the middle of the pack,'" Jackson said. "I think that makes it more satisfying to have a week like this.
"But I also know everyone in that locker room is not that happy, because we still want to get a Big Ten championship," he added. "We still want to chase our goal of the national championship and we won't be satisfied until we get there. But I think this is a great day for us. We'll sleep great tonight."
Jackson was referring to the underlying subplot of Purdue's season: The preseason injury to forward Robbie Hummel. Hummel was recovering from last February's devastating ACL tear when he suffered the same injury in October, which would cause him to miss his senior season and the final one he would play alongside his friends and fellow classmates, Moore and Johnson. Talking to Purdue at Big Ten media day in October felt almost sad; even the most die-hard Indiana fans in the state couldn't have wished such a cruel twist of fate on the Boilermakers.
There was still business to attend to, however. With minimal dissent, the college hoops landscape rushed to react to the news, pushing Purdue down their preseason rankings, and suddenly Matt Painter's team -- despite the fact that it still had two very good players in Moore and Johnson -- was mired in doom-and-gloom.
The disrespect did not go unnoticed.
"When you drop somebody in the rankings as much as everybody [dropped us] -- and rightfully so, if you want to drop us a little bit, a lot, OK -- it really spoke to all of our guys except E'Twaun and JaJuan," Painter said. "They take that personal. Wouldn't you take it personal? They take it personal."
The questions about Painter's team -- who else would score, who else could rebound? -- have been answered by a host of role players who fit perfectly inside Painter's high-intensity system. Jackson has taken over point guard duties and defended opposing guards well. Ryne Smith is a knockdown outside shooter. Kelsey Barlow, John Hart, D.J. Byrd and a host of other previously unknown glue guys have crashed the glass, made key shots, and defended at a championship level throughout the 2011 season.
"We have good players on our team," Painter said. "Maybe they didn't get recruited by everybody, but they're good players. It's in the eye of the beholder. I think they're good; I think they fill roles for us."
Those spot contributions -- especially Jackson's -- have been key. But Purdue's impressive season has been all about Johnson and Moore. Together, the inside-out duo scores 38.6 points per game, which is 52 percent of Purdue's total mark. They've also carried the bulk of the rebounding load. Without those performances, there's simply no way Purdue is 22-5, 11-3 in conference, and within striking distance of the Big Ten conference title as of Feb. 20. No way.
Which is why college hoops fans who wrote this Purdue team off in October -- the same fans who have for four years overlooked the historic and underrated production of Moore and Johnson in favor of Hummel's stardom -- finally need to take note. These seniors, and this team, aren't defined by their teammate's injury. Johnson and Moore still want to write their own story.
For as big a win as they got Sunday, for as many capital-M Moments as E'Twaun Moore delivered, his best -- and Purdue's best -- may be yet to come.
That's something every Purdue partisan should feel good about.