There have to be many collective sighs of relief from Purdue fans after the Boilermakers found a way to collect a true road-game victory on Sunday afternoon in the West Virginia Coliseum.
Terone Johnson played like a senior on a mission, delivering 20 points, six rebounds and a game-clinching block of fellow Indianapolis native Eron Harris' 3-pointer just ahead of the final buzzer, sealing a 73-70 victory at West Virginia.
Poor free throw shooting down the stretch made this one more difficult than it needed to be, but somehow, the Boilermakers improved to 10-3 against this Big 12 foe that never is easy to beat in Morgantown.
Credit Purdue with its best collective perimeter defensive effort of the season, limiting the Mountaineers (7-5) to 3 of 18 from 3-point range, which is only 16.7 percent. West Virginia's strength is its 3-point shooting, and the Boilermakers never allowed Bob Huggins' team to settle into a comfort zone outside the arc on its home floor.
Ronnie Johnson, while driving everyone nuts with missed free throws, contributed 14 points, including a huge no-look pass to freshman Basil Smotherman in the closing minutes for a basket the Boilermakers absolutely had to have.
Smotherman was really good as well with 11 points, helping Purdue compensate for the 24 points Harris put on the board. Interestingly enough, Smotherman and Harris once were teammates at Indianapolis Lawrence North High School.
The victory especially is impressive considering that Jay Simpson had the flu and barely played and A.J. Hammons again was in foul trouble and took a shot to the ribs in the second half that forced Matt Painter to play senior Travis Carroll extended minutes.
Carroll's putback at the end of the first half pushed Purdue into a 35-33 lead through 20 minutes, and the Boilermakers came back with another solid half to win a road game they absolutely had to have.
While this is not a great West Virginia team, considering that the game was played in Morgantown and that Huggins was on the other bench, this was a significant victory for Purdue, a team that almost went 0-3 in the Old Spice Classic and played so poorly in the second half just a week ago against Butler.
It also is significant that in the four-game, home and home series with West Virginia, Purdue is 3-1, winning two in a row. The only loss was when E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson were seniors, and the Boilermakers lost a close one in Morgantown.
Painter said during his Friday teleconference that he hopes to extend the West Virginia series, which provides a rugged opponent just before the start of Big Ten Conference play.
Here is hoping that Huggins and Painter can extend this pact for at least another two years, especially considering the Boilermakers likely will be assigned an ACC/Big Ten Challenge road game in 2014 and that West Virginia could provide a quality home game opponent in non-conference play.
At 10-3, Purdue and Indiana complete non-conference play with identical records with the Boilermakers collecting the most impressive non-league victory by either school by winning Sunday at West Virginia.
Now, the Boilermakers have a bit of momentum heading into Christmas break and plenty of time to prepare for the Dec. 31 Big Ten opener against Ohio State in Mackey Arena.
Sunday also gave Purdue an NCAA tournament resume building victory that it had lacked throughout a relatively soft non-league schedule, which had a highlight victory against Boston College. That was until Sunday.
There are things about this team that still are reason for concern, primarily consistency and free throw shooting, but winning at West Virginia certainly is a step in the right direction for a team that had played 12 games without really inspiring its fan base.
Now, that fan base can begin to get excited about Big Ten conference play and a possible 20-plus victory season, which Painter consistently has produced.