Evan Turner was in the house and on the bench, but his Ohio State teammates needed little help Wednesday night in dispatching visiting Presbyterian.
The No. 18 Buckeyes (8-2) kicked off a three-game non-conference homestand by dominating the Blue Hose (2-9) from the Big South Conference, 78-48.
The only drama in this one concerned the status of Turner. Initially projected to be out of commission for as many as eight weeks after suffering two fractured vertebrae, an article from OSU student newspaper The Lantern reported that Turner told a source close to the paper that he would be back in three weeks.
After the game, head coach Thad Matta said he did not know if a return of three weeks would be possible.
“I have no idea,” he said. “He told me three days. He told me Saturday. He’s a young kid that’s getting antsy. It’s just good to see him smiling and moving around and back on the bench.”
He was not present for his team’s shootaround, but Turner first made an appearance on the scoreboard in the final moments before the game began. As the team gathered in the hallway outside the locker room and began jumping up and down and yelling, there was Turner right alongside the rest of the Buckeyes.
The junior walked to the team’s pregame huddle and then to the bench, where he sat for the entirety of the game and offered encouragement and tips to his teammates.
“Evan Turner will be a coach some day and a heck of a recruiter too,” Matta said. “He knows everything that’s going on in our recruiting and knows kids all across the country. He’s unbelievable about that.”
Turner did not accompany the team to Butler for a Dec. 12 tip that came one week after he suffered the injury.
At the half, the only thing worth sticking around for minus the blowout in progress was the halftime show featuring the Red Panda acrobat, a woman who rides a tall unicycle and catches bowls on her head. The Buckeyes led 53-21 thanks to a balanced scoring attack that saw five players score either eight or nine points in the first 20 minutes.
For the first several minutes, it looked as if a shutout was possible. The Buckeyes jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and it was not until forward Jay Reynolds scored on a lay-up with 14:47 left in the half that the visitors got on the board. To that point, the Blue Hose had turned the ball over on five of their first eight possessions. The other three saw them miss three shot attempts and have a fourth hit nothing but air.
The OSU lead steadily climbed, and a three-pointer from junior guard Jon Diebler with 9:55 left pushed the margin to more than 20 points – 29-7 – a figure Presbyterian could get no closer than the rest of the way.
At the half, five different Buckeyes had connected on three-pointers, and the team shot 52.9 percent (9 for 17) from beyond the arc. Leading the way was Diebler, who hit on 3 of 7 after making only one four days earlier against the Bulldogs.
The second half was much better for the Blue Hose, who hit their first shot of the second half but then missed their next five. A switch to man-to-man defense for the first time all season caught the Buckeyes off-guard and allowed the visitors to out-score OSU by a 27-25 count.
“If you look at it or just listen to it, that’s their first time ever playing man and they hold us to 27 points,” junior swingman David Lighty said. “What does that say about us?“
After the game, the message preached to the team was the need to play a full 40 minutes of basketball.
“You could just tell the difference in the halves when we play smart and play with intelligence,” Diebler said. “I think tonight we took a step back as a mature basketball team. We can’t have that happen.”
Lighty led the way with a game-high 20 points, while sophomore guard William Buford added 11 and Diebler finished with 10.
Walk-on guard Eddie Days made his OSU debut when he was inserted along with fellow walk-ons Mark Titus and Danny Peters with 1:05 left in the game. Of the three, Titus got on the scoreboard with a free throw – his first point of the year.
It marked the second matchup between the Buckeyes and the Blue Hose, the first being an 87-43 OSU victory in a game played almost exactly two years: Dec. 15, 2007. Presbyterian, with its enrollment of 1,200, is in its third year of a four-year transition into being a Division-I program.
“There are moral victories when you play the No. 18 team in the country with six freshmen,” Presbyterian head coach Gregg Nibert said.