Turner Struggles But Buckeyes Persevere

For perhaps the first game all season, a healthy Evan Turner looked mortal as he was held to nine points in the team's opening-round victory against UC Santa Barbara. Find out what the Gauchos did to stop Turner from getting to the basket -- and who one of them would vote for as national player of the year.

MILWAUKEE – If he had a vote, James Nunnally knows who he would vote for as the national player of the year.

It's not Evan Turner.

The sophomore forward for UC Santa Barbara was one of a handful of Gauchos tasked with what has proved impossible for teams all season long: stopping the OSU junior guard. Playing a zone defense that focused primarily on denying the middle of the court, UCSB held Turner to nine points on 2 of 13 shooting.

It was the fewest points a healthy Turner – who missed six games with a back injury – has amassed in a game this season. And Nunnally came away from the experience less than impressed with Ohio State's best.

"He's probably the runner-up for national player of the year," Nunnally said. "John Wall gets my vote."

In what would be a 68-51 Buckeye victory, the Gauchos took satisfaction in that they won their primary battle despite losing the war. In watching tape of Turner, they decided to try and force him to move the ball around instead of allowing him to dribble freely.

That focus, combined with their zone defense, allowed UCSB to take OSU's top offensive threat out of the game.

"We knew if he gets in the paint, he's going to kill us," said junior guard Justin Joyner, who also guarded Turner extensively. "We wanted to make sure we contested all his shots. We weren't really worried about his three-point shooting but we knew if he got in the paint, it was all over. We tried to keep him out of the paint as well as we could and contest really hard on his shots and pressure him up the court as well."

Turner missed both of his three-point attempts. Five of his points came from the free-throw line.

Throughout the game, the Gauchos also played Turner physically and drew constant contact with him. OSU head coach Thad Matta said he was not sure what to make of the officiating in the game but added that players have to play through it when they are not getting tough calls.

Reclined in a chair in his team's locker room, Turner was not as upbeat as following previous OSU victories this season but said he was pleased with the team victory. Similarly, Matta said Turner did not show any different frustration throughout timeouts than he had displayed throughout the season.

"I wasn't frustrated," Turner said. "It was just a different type of basketball, but we got our win and we played well as a team. That's all you can ask for. Now it's onto Sunday night and against a good Georgia Tech team."

His counterparts on the other bench begged to differ.

"There were a couple times when he'd push people's hands off or push us off him and we realized, ‘Oh, OK, he's pretty frustrated right now,' " Joyner said. "It felt good, but at the same time we were down 12 (points)."

Nunnally said he went the verbal route, instigating some back-and-forth trash talking with the OSU guard.

Turner's previous season low was four points in the game against Eastern Michigan when he suffered two broken vertebrae in his back following a missed dunk attempt. His next lowest scoring output was in his return to the court about a month later when he had eight points against Indiana.

Given that Turner stands 6-7 and Nunnally and Joyner stand 6-5 and 6-0, respectively, both knew that they would have to make up for a physical mismatch.

"He's different in the sense that he's big and strong," Joyner said. "There's guys who are tougher to guard off the dribble, but with him he gets his body into you. He's so strong and athletic and he can elevate and he's tall. He's probably the toughest guard we've had all year."

With Turner struggling, a few other Buckeyes picked up the slack. Chief among them were Jon Diebler and William Buford, who went for 23 and 16 points, respectively.

"We felt we got him frustrated but he's still a good player and he made plays," Joyner said. "He was pretty mad, but when we're really focused on one player you get beat by other players. That one player is going to be frustrated, but you've got a nucleus of guys who can really make plays and they can do that."

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