Turner's Play Key In Crucial Big Ten Contest

Sophomore Evan Turner does it all for the Ohio State men's basketball team, so when he's not right the Buckeyes are bound to have issues. His struggles Wednesday night included eight turnovers as the Buckeyes lost at Northwestern. Afterward, Turner admitted his focus was lacking, something he'll need in spades today against No. 18 Illinois.

Evan Turner's mission, should be choose to accept it, is simple.

The sophomore guard on the Ohio State men's basketball team must rally his team back from a two-game losing streak during a crucial game today at 1 p.m. against No. 18 Illinois – the same Fighting Illini team that limited him to seven shots, two makes and four points earlier this year in a 67-49 OSU loss.

To do that, Turner must improve on his game's inefficiency that includes 29 turnovers over the past five games. Included in that group is a pivotal turnover on a late possession a week ago during a loss to Wisconsin and a season-high eight giveaways against Northwestern during a come-from-ahead loss Wednesday.

On top of that, he has to put on a brave face and lead his team because of the midseason foot injury to David Lighty. Turner by default became the team's on-court emotional leader after Lighty's injury, a role that is added to the physical demands of being on the court at all times as the squad's best scorer, rebounder and playmaker. Oh, and he has to serve as the team's point guard at times as well.

Forget about worrying if the tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Someone better keep an eye on Turner to make sure he's not overwhelmed.

He showed some hints at falling apart in that loss to Northwestern, where those giveaways overshadowed six assists, five boards and an efficient 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Talking with the local media Friday, Turner admitted that his late-game misstep at Wisconsin continued to cloud his focus when he returned to his hometown of Chicago to face the Wildcats at midweek.

"One thing I admit that probably I haven't done all year, I didn't carry (my play) over to the next game," he said. "What occurred at Wisconsin the other night I felt like it was my fault that we lost and it still kind of bothered me throughout the days in practice, so I didn't really get focused on Northwestern.

"When the turnovers came again it kind of reminded me of my freshman year. It was just tough. The refs made good calls. I understand that I traveled. I was just frustrated with myself. That's pretty much it."

That freshman year seemed to be so far in the past. A starter but not the key cog in the Buckeyes' machine thanks to senior point guard Jamar Butler and forward Kosta Koufos, Turner made a nice transition to college basketball by averaging 8.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while dishing out 98 assists.

The blemish on that record? Ninety-nine turnovers, an issue with which Turner had dealt effectively for most of the season. In his first 19 games, Turner had five or more turnovers just twice, the same number of games he had zero.

But the last five games have been problematic, as he's topped four giveaways in four of the contests. In that span he's still averaging 22.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game and shooting 56.9 percent, but the turnovers have helped disrupt the flow of an Ohio State offense that is giving away far too many possessions.

It got so bad that head coach Thad Matta had to take his star player, who is leading the Big Ten in conference-game scoring, out for a few possessions. His 37 minutes in the game were his lowest total in nine games.

"I thought he was exerting," Matta said. "He just needed a quick break to kind of regroup, and he was doing things that he really didn't need to do for no reason."

Some Buckeyes weren't sure how to respond with their leader having an off night in certain aspects of his game. One, sophomore Jon Diebler, replied the right way, making 8 of 10 three-pointers to finish with a game-high 28 points.

Others struggled. Starting guards Jeremie Simmons and William Buford combined to make just 2 of 13 field goals, though they had seven assists and no turnovers between them. Forwards B.J. Mullens and Dallas Lauderdale combined for just seven field goal attempts. Defensively, the Buckeyes struggled, allowing Northwestern to shoot 50.0 percent from the floor and 53.8 percent from beyond the arc and grab eight offensive rebounds in the second half.

Mullens admitted that the rest of the squad can pick up Turner's mistakes, especially on the defensive side.

"Evan has a lot to do on the court, especially taking in David's spot," Mullens said. "He's going to have some turnovers because he's having the ball in his hands a lot in the games. When he gets some turnovers the team has to come together and pick him back up. If he has a turnover we have to go back down and get a steal and get a point out of it."

Getting Turner mentally back in the game will be critical for Ohio State against Illinois, which enters coming off of an unsightly 38-33 loss to Penn State in Champaign on Wednesday. Bruce Weber's team enters fourth in the Big Ten in turnover margin and second in the league in field goal defense.

"I just have to let it go," he said. "You can't really say much. Coach Matta over the summer he did a pretty good job just telling me to move on. I'm going to have to."

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