INDIANAPOLIS – Swaggering off the court at Conseco Fieldhouse, Evan Turner looked into the crowd full of fans from a number of different Big Ten teams and shrugged.
What could he say? One day after hitting a 37-foot jumper as time expired to propel Ohio State to victory, Turner scored 11 of his game-high 31 points after regulation ended as the Buckeyes earned an 88-81 double-overtime victory against Illinois in the semifinal round of the Big Ten tournament.
“We probably needed this from the standpoint of getting in (tough) situations,” head coach Thad Matta said. “From here on out it becomes momentum. It becomes swings. You see it every year in March.”
As Matta said, it was a game of wild point swings, clutch shots and plenty of dramatic moments. Matched up against his childhood teammate in Demetri McCamey, Turner showed more emotion than he had all season against a team the Buckeyes had defeated handily in two meetings earlier this year.
“It was (an emotional game) due to the simple fact that when they started hitting shots they started talking a little more smack,” Turner said. “They were front-runners and I didn’t like that too much. This was the day they chose that they wanted to win as opposed to the rest of the season. I didn’t like that at all. We weren’t having that.”
That the game made it to the first overtime, much less the second, was partially thanks to the fact that the fifth-seeded Illini (19-14) were unable to get shots off despite having possession at the end of both regulation and the first overtime. After entering the game’s fourth stanza tied at 75, the Buckeyes got the first basket of the frame on a three-pointer from junior guard Jon Diebler.
The basket made him the school’s all-time leader in treys and allowed OSU to draw first blood. Turner then scored two possessions later to push it to a five-point lead, and Illinois would never again have possession of the ball with a chance to tie the game.
Getting to that point took plenty of drama, however. After trailing by a game-high 11 points with 12:52 left in regulation, the Buckeyes put together a 20-0 run capped by a five-point possession: two free throws from Diebler on a flagrant foul from Illinois’ D.J. Richardson and a trey from Buford that made it 59-50 with eight minutes remaining and OSU appeared firmly in control.
Instead, the Illini answered with a 6-0 run to claw back into it and twice led in the final minute and a half. McCamey hit two free throws with 31.6 seconds remaining, but Turner drove from the right corner and laid it on along the baseline to set the score at 66-all.
He would reprise that role in the second overtime as OSU battled back from a four-point deficit with 2:23 remaining. Trailing 73-69, Turner scored his team’s next six points – four from the free-throw line – and converted a layup with 22.0 seconds left to knot the score at 75.
Turner’s late-game performance came despite having picked up his fourth personal foul at the 5:13 mark. He would foul out with 1:00 remaining in the second overtime, gesturing to the crowd as he found his seat on the bench with OSU ahead 84-80.
Illinois got a free throw from Tyler Griffey to make it a one-possession game, but junior forward David Lighty’s slashing drive to the basket with 34.6 seconds left put it out of reach.
“Evan fouled out and it went back to when he got hurt (earlier this season) and I’m in the position to come off the ball-screen now,” Lighty said. “That’s exactly what we did. I came off the screen and made a good play.”
Turner’s primary partner in crime was sophomore guard William Buford, who had 22 points on a game-high 20 shots and also added 10 rebounds. Diebler had 14 and junior forward David Lighty added 12.
The Buckeyes got off to a hot start and jumped out to a 15-7 lead but the rest of the first half proved to be more difficult. After a basket from Lighty at the 13:14 mark, OSU would not score again for more than six minutes.
During that stretch, Illinois seized control to the tune of a 14-0 run that made it 21-15 when freshman forward Tyler Griffey hit a jumper at the 7:30 mark. Meanwhile, OSU missed all six of its shots and committed four turnovers – two from Lighty and two from Turner.
It was so tough, junior center Dallas Lauderdale went to the line and missed two free throws. That in itself was not terribly surprising – he entered the game shooting 34.8 percent (35 for 80) from the charity stripe – but he was afforded a third chance when Illinois’ Mike Davis was called for a lane violation.
Lauderdale then calmly missed his third attempt as badly as he missed the first two.
Diebler picked up his second foul at the 10:14 mark and sat for the remainder of the half. Seldom-used senior guard Jeremie Simmons spelled him the rest of the way and hit on 1 of 2 three-pointers and added an assist.
The OSU drought came to an end when Buford canned a three-pointer at the 7:01 mark, making the score 21-18.
After shooting a combined 36.2 percent (46 for 127) in the first two meetings between these teams this season, Illinois went 15 for 32 (46.9 percent) in the first half.
“We didn’t have it in the first half,” Diebler said. “They made a run, and for playing how bad we did in the first half and be only down six we were still very confident. We knew we were going to make a run.”