Buckeyes, Turner keep pace in Big Ten race
COLUMBUS — Evan Turner stayed up late on Saturday night, watching Michigan State lose to turn the Big Ten race into a free-for all.
Then he got up early on Sunday morning to make sure No. 13 Ohio State stayed in the mix.
Turner matched his career high with 32 points, leading the Buckeyes past Iowa 68-59 on Sunday and stretching the their Big Ten winning streak to seven straight.
“We got here at 7:45 in the morning,” Turner said after the rare Ohio State game with a noon tip-off. “We caught the Michigan State versus Illinois game last night, so we were up kind of late. We came out and competed and got the job done.”
Every time that Ohio State needed a big basket, Turner had a part in it. He also had five assists and seven rebounds.
“You probably saw about what he is,” Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said. “It’s not unique to us, what happened. He’s tough to contain.”
Buckeyes coach Thad Matta was asked if Turner is the best player in the nation.
“If there’s one out there better than him, then I look forward to seeing him,” Matta said. “Because he’s playing really well right now.”
Jon Diebler added 12 points for the Buckeyes (18-6, 8-3), who have won four in a row overall and seven of eight.
Eric May scored 16 points, Aaron Fuller and Cully Payne 11 each, and Matt Gatens 10 for the Hawkeyes (8-16, 2-9), who have lost four in a row and won just once away from home.
It was Ohio State’s second win over the Hawkeyes in 12 days. The Buckeyes finished strong in Iowa City to win 65-57 on Jan. 27. They moved to 15-0 at home this season, where they are shooting 54 percent from the field and 42 percent on 3-pointers.
But this was not a typical hot-shooting home game. Ohio State made just 22 of 49 shots from the field for 45 percent, and was only 2 of 13 behind the arc.
Ahead by five at the half, Ohio State pulled away when it held Iowa to 1-of-9 shooting to start the second half.
Turner, who had 20 points in the last 20 minutes, got things going on what would become an 11-2 run, including Kyle Madsen’s bucket to close the half. Turner hit a 15-foot jumper on the first possession and later hit another shot off an inbounds pass. William Buford hit two foul shots and had two assists, including on Diebler’s 3 from in front of the Ohio State bench that made it 41-29.
The Hawkeyes were able to get as close as 51-43, but Turner responded with a baseline jumper and a slashing drive through the lane. Iowa was down 55-46 but missed three consecutive 3-point shots on the same possession, thanks to two offensive rebounds. Turner finally ended the lengthy trip down the floor with a rebound, then dribbled the length of the floor, faked May out of his shoes on a drive and coasted in for an easy finger-roll.
There was another point in the game where, after some physical defense from Iowa’s John Lickliter, son of Iowa’s head coach, Turner dribbled to the top of the key and held the ball behind the Iowa defender’s head. The crowd laughed.
There are moments when it appears Turner, a 6-foot-7 junior, can score at will.
“It’s cool to see the ball go through the net,” he said. “Just for a moment you feel unstoppable. You kind of feel like you can do almost anything.”
The Buckeyes were without Turner for more than a month when he fell while dunking in a game on Dec. 5 and broke two bones in his lower back. Ohio State went 3-3 without him, losing its first two Big Ten games and another game at No. 22 Butler.
“I’m going to state the obvious here but when he was out, they were a good team, a very good team,” Todd Lickliter said of Turner’s absence. “But when he came back, they were elevated to one of the best in the nation.”
Now, with Turner leading the way, the Buckeyes are among four teams that started Sunday just a game back of Michigan State in the suddenly wide-open Big Ten. They play four of their last seven league games on the road, including a gigantic one on Feb. 21 in East Lansing, Mich.
“I’ve got faith this team can do anything,” Turner said. “We control our own destiny. We decide what goes on. If we stay focused and play Ohio State basketball, we can do anything.”