Ohio State was cocky when it entered the Assembly Hall January 20, and it was angry when it left in defeat. Fighting for an NCAA tournament berth, the 17-7 Buckeyes (7-6 in the Big 10) have their backs to the wall. They will no doubt be fired up to reverse the original result.
The Buckeyes are led by sophomore superstar Evan Turner. Evan is one of nine players in the country to lead his team in scoring (17.3), rebounds 7.4, assists (3.3) and steals (1.9). He has earned Big 10 Player Of The Week three times so far this season.
A high school teammate of Illinois guard Demetri McCamey, Turner is tied with the Illini's Mike Davis for tops in the Big 10 in double-doubles with 7. He is third in the conference scoring race, 8th in field goal percentage (.518), 9th in free throw percentage (.770), third in rebounding, 10th in assists, and 3rd in steals. He is also 12th in blocked shots.
McCamey always enjoys the competition with his 6'-7" friend.
"It's always brother to brother with Evan, and you always try to beat your brother. It's gonna be a fun experience like the first time. I'm gonna go out there and try to make it a good game."
Turner is not Ohio State's only weapon. In fact, OSU insiders insist they have three potential NBA draft 1st rounders on their team. Freshmen William Buford and B.J. Mullens may both join Turner in entering the draft after this season.
Buford is a 6'-5" guard who earned Big Ten Player Of The Week Honors last week. He is a tremendous shooter and has excellent athleticism. Mullens is a well-built 7 footer with an aggressiveness rare in someone so big. He doesn't start, but he is being relied upon more and more as the season goes along according to Illini coach Bruce Weber.
"Mullens may be getting a few more minutes. At one time, (Dallas) Lauderdale was getting about equal minutes, but now maybe Mullens a little more. He played well against us and continued to progress."
Lauderdale and Mullens are both in the top 8 in the conference in blocked shots. They have excellent leaping ability to go with their large size.
Jon Diebler, a 6'-6" guard, is a sharpshooter who has been on a hot streak lately. The top scorer in Ohio high school basketball history, Diebler hit 8 of 10 three point attempts against Northwestern. He is scoring at a 10.6 clip on the year, is 3rd in three point goals made and 8th in three point shooting percentage in the league.
Point guard has been a problem area for the Buckeyes, with Jeremie Simmons and P.J. Hill both receiving playing time. Weber says their roles have changed since the first game.
"P.J. Hill has probably played a few more minutes and is now splitting time with Simmons. Maybe before it was 28-12, and now it's a little more balanced."
Weber talks about the challenge ahead.
"Evan Turner's one of the best players in the league. Mullens is a strong inside force. Diebler can spot up and make threes. Buford gives them some creativity and comes off screens and makes some shots.
"Thad does a good job of getting the ball to the guys where they can score with their strengths. And that's the key, not allowing that to happen. And then attacking their zone."
McCamey knows the Illini are in for a battle.
"They want to get in the tournament, and they're still fighting because they're on the bubble. They're fighting for their life right now. They're at home, and they're gonna come out and try to take it to us right from the tip. So we have to be ready for that."