Ohio State junior guard Evan Turner made his return to the starting lineup and helped lead the Buckeyes to a 79-54 victory against Indiana.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for OSU – losses suffered in Big Ten play – and marked Turner’s return after missing six games with two broken vertebrae in his lower back.
He looked a bit rusty, but it was more than enough for the Buckeyes (11-4, 1-2) to fend off the Hoosiers (7-7, 1-1).
“I’m just glad we won, definitely,” Turner said. “It was a great win and great to have confidence going into a rough environment like Minnesota.
“I’m really happy to be back. It got boring sitting on the couch and would have not been cool going to class and not playing basketball. I’m definitely glad to be doing both.”
In his first game since suffering the injury in a Dec. 5 victory against Eastern Michigan, Turner’s playing time was limited. His final stat line of eight points, five assists and four rebounds did not line up with the 18.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists he was averaging before he was injured, but otherwise it mostly looked like the same old Turner.
After junior center Dallas Lauderdale had a shot blocked near the midway point of the second half, Turner flashed him a cheesy grin and a thumbs up as he rose from his seat on the bench.
The primary benefactor in the situation was junior guard Jon Diebler. After struggling to get untracked with Turner away from the court, he connected on 5 of 8 three-pointers and finished with a team-high 21 points. Sophomore guard William Buford added 16 points and a team-high six rebounds.
After connecting on one of his three-pointers from the corner on an assist from Turner, Diebler pointed at his teammate and smiled as they ran back down the court together. The message was clear: these were looks the sharpshooter was not getting when Turner was on the bench.
“I think everyone was very excited just because you add that extra threat with a guy like Evan who can do it all,” Diebler said. “It seemed like we were clicking on all cylinders tonight.”
The crowd seemed as much focused on Turner as on the game itself. When the team exited the locker room for the final time for pregame warm-ups, the scoreboards showed an eager Turner as the first player bounding through the doors. The last player to be introduced, he received a standing ovation. After a hard foul send him to the floor with 4:44 left and the OSU lead at 32 points, a collective gasp echoed throughout the arena.
It was not the first time he hit the deck in the game, however, and he popped back up looking no worse for the wear. He exited the game shortly thereafter with 4:13 remaining to applause from the few thousand fans still in their seats.
“I was pretty pleased,” head coach Thad Matta said of Turner’s return. “I think the biggest thing is his size out there helps us on the defensive end. He appeared to be pretty comfortable and confident, which was good.”
Turner’s return sent a jolt through the crowd at Value City Arena, but it took some time for it to translate to the court. With him at the point, the Buckeyes limped out to a 9-6 lead by hitting on 4 of their first 10 shots and committing two turnovers in the process.
The lead was expanded to 15-6 when senior guard P.J. Hill hit a pair of free throws at the 11:50 mark, but OSU did not make its run until Turner exited the lineup at the 10:42 mark that things heated up.
With Hill sharing the point guard duties with classmate Jeremie Simmons, the Buckeyes put together a 16-0 run while using the same cast of characters that had suited up for the team’s previous six games.
Of the 16 points, seven were scored by sophomore guard William Buford, Hill had five and Simmons and reserve center Kyle Madsen chipped in two each. Indiana’s Christian Watford hit a three-pointer with 3:44 remaining, stopping the skid that saw the Hoosiers turn the ball over on four consecutive possessions at one point.
Indiana committed 14 turnovers in the first half that OSU converted into 12 points and a 38-20 lead. For the game, the Hoosiers committed a season-high 24 turnovers.
“You can’t win at home with those kinds of turnovers,” Indiana head coach Tom Crean said. “We have to build more of a nasty disposition.”