INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Evan Turner has accepted his mission at this year’s Big Ten tournament.
He’ll rescue No. 5 Ohio State from any sign of trouble.
One day after making a 37-foot buzzer-beater in the quarterfinals, Turner bailed out the Buckeyes again Saturday, scoring 12 of his 31 points after regulation to lead Ohio State past pesky Illinois 88-81 in double overtime.
“Coach (Thad) Matta and I always talk about if I get my teammates shots I might find myself open a little bit more, and you know maybe hitting more shots,” Turner said. “Sometimes you just have to will your way and make things happen and that’s it.”
That’s what the Big Ten player of the year did on a wacky day in Indianapolis.
The result: Ohio State will play in Sunday’s title game against sixth-seeded Minnesota, a 69-42 winner over No. 6 Purdue, the defending tourney champ. Ohio State, which shared the regular-season title with Purdue and No. 11 Michigan State, is trying to make its case for a No. 1 seed.
Turner finished with a rare triple double—31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 of Ohio State’s 18 turnovers. Turner also had six assists and two steals.
Still, Turner and the Buckeyes (26-7) almost didn’t get their chance.
Twice Illinois had shots at the buzzer for the win. But Mike Davis didn’t get a wide open layup off in time at the end of regulation, and D.J. Richardson missed a long jumper after the red lights lit up on the backboard at the close of the first overtime.
So when Turner got a third chance to save the Buckeyes, he didn’t let them down. The junior swingman found Jon Diebler for an open 3 to start the second overtime, then made back-to-back layups to give the Buckeyes enough breathing room.
Turner played more than 14 minutes with four fouls and never went to the bench until he fouled out with a minute left in the game. He said afterward he still didn’t need a break.
“We were in it to win it—we could have went for 80 minutes,” he said. “We were going to win the game, however long it took.”
Illinois (19-14) heads home to mull over another close call and whether its resume is strong enough to get one of the selection committee’s 34 at-large bids.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously, I think we had a good showing here, but that doesn’t mean anything,” said coach Bruce Weber, whose voice was hoarse. “Hopefully, the word got out because I think if we’re one of the top 65 teams in the country and we get in the tournament, I think we can do some damage.”
Turner was unstoppable when it mattered most.
He tied the score in regulation with a nifty drive down the baseline for a reverse layup. He scored the final eight Ohio State points in the first overtime, tying it with a layup with 22 seconds left, and then dominated over the final five minutes.
Diebler finished with 14 points, joining the Buckeyes’ 1,000-point club. His fourth 3, just 15 seconds into the last overtime, gave him a school record 273. Jamar Butler held the previous mark of 272.
William Buford had 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Ohio State has won six straight, 12 of 13 and has not lost to an unranked team since Jan. 9.
Illinois was led by Demetri McCamey, who had 22 points, five assists and four steals. Richardson had 15 points, and Davis had 13 points and 18 rebounds, one short of Greg Oden’s single-game tournament record (19).
It was almost enough.
Ohio State endured two long scoring droughts, more than 7 minutes in the first half and more than 4 minutes in the second half. The combination left the Buckeyes in a 45-35 hole.
That’s when Ohio State started to rally around Turner. He scored seven points in a 20-0 run that gave the Buckeyes a 59-50 lead with 8 minutes left in regulation and seemingly had the them headed toward a rout.
Not so fast.
Illinois scored six straight points to get back in the game and took a 64-61 lead when McCamey hit a 3 with 1:17 to go. Buford tied the score with a layup, McCamey hit two free throws and Turner drove in for the reverse layup that tied it with 12 seconds left to force overtime.
Turner was just getting started.
“What a tremendous college basketball game and the turn of events, the changes of momentum,” Matta said. “There were so many guys making great plays, I can’t remember them all. They showed great toughness to win this basketball game.