COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – The Ohio State Buckeyes are caught between adapting to life without Evan Turner and welcoming him back soon.
This transitional phase for has resulted in a 3-3 record, with the three losses coming in their three most important games — including their first two Big Ten games.
“People outside this team might think, ‘Well, Evan’s not playing …”‘ said Turner’s roommate, shooting guard Jon Diebler. “Obviously the first couple games without him we did struggle a little bit. But we have good players. It takes time to learn to play without a guy like that because he was such an integral part.”
Turner, on the Wooden Award watch list and among the nation’s best all-around players, broke bones in his lower back on Dec. 5 when his hands slipped off the rim while dunking. The original prognosis was that he would miss 8 weeks, meaning he’d be back when the Big Ten season was half over in early February.
But Turner, averaging 18.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 6 assists when he went down, hopes to return almost a month before that.
The 6-foot-7 point guard went in for X-rays yesterday. Ohio State did not disclose the results but in a Twitter update, Turner said he had “an amazing day.”
“He’s doing a little bit more every day shooting-wise,” coach Thad Matta said. “He’s running on a treadmill and up and down the court a little bit. I just don’t know exactly when it’s going to feel right for him. Once the X-rays come back and hopefully they’re positive, from that point then we’ll start to work him in a little bit more and get him ready to go as quickly as possible.”
It seems every opposing coach is wary of Turner just showing up in a Superman cape and saving the Buckeyes.
“They’ve got such good players,” said Indiana’s Tom Crean, whose team visits Columbus on Wednesday night. “Obviously, I know they’ve been missing Evan Turner. We’ll prepare like Evan Turner is going to be out there so that we’re not caught by surprise if he is.”
Even though he’s able to work out, Turner doesn’t appear all that close to being ready to go.
Asked if Turner could play as soon as the game against the Hoosiers, Matta said, “Uh, I don’t think so. No.”
At the time he was injured the Buckeyes were 7-1, the only loss coming to No. 6 North Carolina in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic in Madison Square Garden.
“Every team is a work in progress until the end of the year,” Matta said. “I don’t think by any stretch there’s any team in the country that’s playing their best basketball on Dec. 5. The hard part is, I was very excited with the direction we were heading (then). I felt like the team was really shaping up. I felt like our leadership was in the right direction. I felt like we had a really good feel for what we were trying to get accomplished and where we were trying to go.”
Since then, they have split six games with the wins all coming at home against Presbyterian, Delaware State and Cleveland State and the losses all on the road at Butler, Wisconsin and Michigan.
A year ago, Ohio State lost captain David Lighty at a similar stage of the season and never got him back. That team foundered but Turner took over the leadership of the team and it made the NCAA tournament.
Diebler said Matta has remained upbeat after the latest mishap.
“He always tells us, ‘When something happens like that, the train keeps moving,”‘ Diebler said. “It happened last year and, and at that time we responded all right. The thing with Evan, you don’t expect those kinds of things, but we’ve adjusted to it. We can’t wait until he’s back.”
Ranked all season, the Buckeyes (10-4, 0-2) dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 after they were blitzed by No. 23 Wisconsin 65-43 on New Year’s Eve and then lost their way down the stretch in Sunday’s 73-64 defeat at Michigan.
Sophomore William Buford has expanded his role in Turner’s absence. In the first seven games, he averaged 10.4 points, 2 assists and 3.4 rebounds a game. Since then his numbers are 15.4, 4.4 and 6.1, and he’s set career highs in both assists (10, vs. Eastern Michigan) and rebounds (13, vs. Michigan).
Matta was asked during his segment on Monday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference how much of a transition it has been to adapt to life without Turner.
“I’ve only got 10 minutes,” he joked.