MILWAUKEE (AP)—He returned from a back injury to become perhaps the nation’s best player, and his late-game long shot to beat Michigan in the Big Ten tournament has been played over and over on TV sports highlight shows.
With the NBA player comparisons already flying around, Turner knows that a long run in the NCAA tournament is just about the only thing that’s missing from his resume.
“I definitely do,” Turner said. “We definitely want to make a long run, and we’re in it to win it.”
Turner and No. 2-seeded Ohio State hope that tournament run begins on Friday, with a first-round game against No. 15 seed UC Santa Barbara.
After blowing a comfortable lead in last year’s opening-round loss to Siena, Ohio State coach Thad Matta said his team will be more focused this time around. The Gauchos, winners of the Big West tournament, have a strong scoring combination in guard Orlando Johnson and forward James Nunnally.
“We know what they’re capable of,” Gauchos guard James Powell said. “But (if) we come in scared or intimidated, then we pretty much lost the game before we even started.”
UC Santa Barbara promises to play tough perimeter defense, then will keep its fingers crossed that its best outside shooters all get hot at the same time.
Still, UCSB coach Bob Williams knows what his team is facing in Turner, describing film study of the Buckeyes’ versatile and athletic star as “a little bit like going to watch a horror movie.”
“There’s really not a weakness in his game,” Williams said.
With a strong performance in the tournament, Turner could solidify his status as the game’s top collegiate player.
The Buckeyes returned to the NCAA tournament last year, and Turner had 25 points against Siena in the first round. But he was 8 for 18 from the field and the Buckeyes blew a comfortable lead, eventually losing in double overtime.
Turner said the Buckeyes started making uncharacteristic mistakes in that game and ended up paying for it.
“I think we momentarily lost our minds,” Turner said.
But Matta knew something was wrong right away last year.
“I thought we were ready until the ball got tossed up, and I remember turning to the bench and saying, ‘We don’t look the same,”’ Matta said.
Ohio State’s David Lighty said the team might have been a little too loose in that game, and is vowing not to let it happen again this year.
“People were a little loose and lax, I guess you could say,” Lighty said. “But that’s kind of naturally how we were last year. And I think this year we were a little more focused on the task at hand and coming in and making a statement.”
The Buckeyes also didn’t look like themselves earlier this season, when Turner was missing because of an injury.
He broke two bones in his back against Eastern Michigan game on Dec. 5, missing about a month.
He has been hard to guard since then, capping a stellar stretch of play with his 37-foot shot to beat Michigan. The Buckeyes went on to beat Illinois and Minnesota to win the Big Ten tournament, and Turner said he has more or less put his big moment behind him.
“I haven’t really thought too much about it, to tell you the truth,” Turner said. “We’ve played two games since then and all that is in the past right now. It’s pretty much like a new season.”
For all the talk about Turner, Matta says the Buckeyes are far from a one-man team, praising Turner for knowing that he must get his teammates involved for Ohio State to play its best.
“I’ve seen guys that have become selfish or something along those lines,” Matta said. “But Evan knows he needs everybody on this team to help us win.”
But even if the Buckeyes are more than just Turner, they aren’t particularly deep, either; four players average more than 33 minutes per game.
“I mean, we’re out there playing the game that we love,” Lighty said. “So you really don’t have time to get tired.”
But Williams doesn’t want to wear the Buckeyes out; he’d rather force them to shoot from outside and hope they start missing.
“If our matchup (zone) can keep them on the perimeter a little bit, we keep them in front and they’ve got to hit 3s, anybody can have a cold night from the 3-point line—anybody,” Williams said. “And so we just have to hope that they are not going to get in a track meet up and down the floor.”