The Buckeyes have been playing without star Evan Turner for five games now, but they officially hit the wall in a decisive loss to Wisconsin to open up Big Ten play. In a 65-43 loss to the Badgers, the Buckeyes were unable to establish any sort of sustained offensive attack while posting their lowest scoring output in head coach Thad Matta's tenure in Columbus.
According to senior guard P.J. Hill, the most demoralizing part was the fact that no player stepped up to fill the Turner-sized void still being felt.
"That's where we miss Evan at: When things go wrong, or when there are dry spells on the court we can give him the ball and have everyone get out of the way and he can create his own shot," said Hill, Turner's replacement at the point guard spot. "We're not getting that done. We don't have that one person that we can look to all the time. That's why we're trying to share that role."
That process continues this afternoon as the Buckeyes head north to face Michigan (4:30, Big Ten Network). Matta said there is no updated prognosis for when Turner could be back in uniform, only wryly adding that he will not be suiting up against the Wolverines.
It means players like Hill have to continue to try and adapt to new roles thrust upon them in the wake of Turner's injury, suffered Dec. 5 against Eastern Michigan. To that point, Hill was nothing more than an occasional replacement for Turner.
Now, he is averaging 24.4 minutes per game in Turner's stead and 33.5 in the past two games. Where he was being asked earlier in the year to limit mistakes and hold the fort for a few minutes at a time, now he is saddled with taking risks and directing the team's offense.
It is a process that is ongoing for the entire roster, not just Hill. It showed Thursday against the Badgers.
"We were upset because we didn't play with heart," the senior said. "We just let them do whatever they wanted to do and that's not us. We can't wait for (the Michigan game) to come so we can play and redeem ourselves."
It's to the point where Matta said he is watching for signs of doubt creeping into his locker room.
"I really haven't seen the look in their eyes of a ‘Well, we don't have Evan' type of deal," the coach said. "Guys appear to be pretty focused on what we have to do."
That starts with trying to get to .500 in conference play with a road contest against a Michigan team that has largely underachieved this season. The Wolverines entered the year considered a sleeper pick to make the Sweet 16 but instead enter today's game at 6-6 overall, having lost their conference opener to Indiana.
Matta has often mentioned that the goal is to hold serve at home and try to split on the road in Big Ten play in order to be in the running for a championship, making this a potential pivotal game for the Buckeyes. With four of his team's first five conference games being played on the road, Matta is continuing to preach the fact that there remains a lot of basketball to be played this year to his charges.
"I think that's the biggest challenge of keeping the big picture in mind of what the entire season entails," he said. "It's one of those deals where this is the schedule and we've got to play it. It is what it is. That's the big challenge of keeping the focus on us and knowing it's 40 minutes at a time."
Hill said he will take more on his shoulders in this game than he has to this point.
"I look back on the game and I could have controlled the tempo, could have been more vocal," he said. "I regret not doing that. This game, I'm definitely (going to be) in guys' ears more like, ‘We need to get a bucket,' just to stress the importance."
In the process, he said he is hoping to prove that the Buckeyes can be successful even without Turner.
Asked how to respond to criticism that says otherwise, Hill said, "We dispute that by coming out against Michigan and playing hard and winning this game and playing by our rules. People think we're not as good without Evan. Yeah, Evan is a really big part of our team but other guys can step up and make plays, too.
"This is the time to prove that now, to everybody."