Point Guard 'Experiment' Paying Off

Remember when the thought of Evan Turner running the point for Ohio State was a scary one? It was not long ago that the possibility seemed remote, but now more than midway through his junior season Turner has shown that he is capable of both scoring and directing the Buckeye offensive attack.

It is a safe assumption that Ohio State head coach Thad Matta is happy with the grand experiment of moving Evan Turner to the point guard position.

"You need not assume – I'm very pleased with how it's working," he said.

One year ago, the idea of playing Turner at the point was nothing more than a crazy thought.

Heading into a Feb. 7 home contest against No. 19 Minnesota last season, the then-sophomore was leading OSU in scoring at 17.0 per game but had as many turnovers as assists (68) while playing the power forward position vacated by the injured David Lighty.

Now heading into Sunday's home game against Iowa, Turner leads the Buckeyes with 97 helpers against 66 turnovers and his assist-to-turnover ratio sits at 1.47. He is on pace to finish with more helpers than turnovers for the first time in his collegiate career.

As the catalyst for the OSU offense, Turner has the Buckeyes riding a six-game conference streak that has pushed them to the No. 13 ranking in the country. The junior leads the team in points (18.9) and rebounds (9.5), numbers that include his abbreviated performance Dec. 5 against Eastern Michigan when he went down with a back injury, proving that the switch has not hampered his personal productivity.

He has done it all from his spot at the point, all the while wondering why anyone doubted the proposed switch in the first place.

"I just thought it was weird that everyone kept making a big deal out of it," Turner said. "I just thought, ‘It's basketball. I can make plays. I can play basketball. It's not much different than anything else.' "

Matta said he had not contemplated moving Turner to the point prior to this season. The Buckeyes had a point guard during his freshman season in Jamar Butler, and last year's team needed him to play out of position to cope with the loss of Lighty.

However, the coach said Turner found himself in point guard-like positions last season.

"Last year we used him at that position at different stages," Matta said. "We may have been running something and all of a sudden there he was with the ball at the top of the key and at that particular moment he was the point guard."

Turner entered OSU as the nation's No. 14 small forward prospect in the class of 2007 as ranked by Scout.com. He broke into the starting lineup eight games into the season and averaged 8.5 points per game. He also earned the nickname "Evan Turnover" in some circles after committing 99 as a freshman while dishing out 98 assists.

He committed five or more turnovers in nine games that year but kept working at his craft.

"When we finished practice every day since I was a freshman I would work on dribbling," Turner said. "(Matta) knew slowly and slowly as I started gaining more game experience and started making more plays then he saw I could see things. He supported me with it and that helped a lot."

Coming into his junior season, Matta said he wanted to see improvement from Turner in two arenas. First, he had to learn to tighten his handle on the basketball better by dribbling closer to his body. Second, he had to improve his ability to make quick decisions.

"If you remember last year or in the first two years when he'd make a move, his head would be over his toes," the coach said. "Balance was a big issue for him."

To improve on that, Matta said he showed Turner footage of former OSU running back Chris "Beanie" Wells running the football as a point of comparison.

"Now I can split screens and come off ball screens and split them," Turner said. "Before, I held it out too far and the defender might have been able to get their hands on it. I would've had to do that regardless of whether I was playing point guard or not."

He remains a work in progress and has committed five or more turnovers in six games this season with a season-worst 10 miscues in a loss to North Carolina, but his ability to make plays and fill out the stat sheet from the point guard spot has vaulted him into consideration for national player of the year honors.

"What you've seen over the years is a young man who has gone from being that third or fourth option to evolving his game and last year learning what it takes to be the man, learning what it takes to have leadership," said former OSU standout Jim Jackson, now an analyst for the Big Ten Network. "Now it all has come together and you can see it in his play right now. He's just a dominant force out there on the court. Without him you can tell the difference with that Ohio State team."

His teammates are supportive of the job he is doing as well.

"I don't think we were really concerned about it," Lighty said. "We knew he could handle the ball and he'd be ready for the challenge. Having the ball in his hands, I don't think we can go wrong with that at all."

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