MILWAUKEE - Even in victory, Ohio State left the downtown Bradley Center as the clock crept toward midnight Friday night with one grandiose concern - What happened to Evan Turner?
The Buckeyes put on a cheery face in the moments after they took down UC Santa Barbara 68-51 to advance into today's NCAA men's basketball tournament second round game against Georgia Tech. But it was hard to believe they did not share the consternation of many of the scarlet-and-gray faithful after Turner's nightmare of a shooting night.
Ohio State's junior point guard and the Big Ten player of the year went 2-of-13 from the field for his worst performance of the season by far. Turner shot 54 percent on the year, while leading the Big Ten in both scoring (20.3) and rebounding (9.2 rebounds).
OSU sophomore William Buford said Santa Barbara staked its chances in the game on ganging up to slow Turner, who went 12-of-18 while scoring 31 points in Ohio State's Big Ten tournament championship game win over Minnesota last Sunday.
"They were keying on Evan, more than they usually would on any one player," Buford said. "It was something we just had to adjust to, but we know it was kind of a fluke thing. Evan won't have a game like that against Georgia Tech, but we showed that if he has an off-night, we've got different scorers that can lead the team."
Ohio State's Kyle Madsen, who has played a big role coming off the bench during the Buckeyes' run to the Big Ten's regular season and tournament titles, said winning when Turner was having an off night showed the kind of versatility the Buckeyes have.
"Whatever was going on with Evan - we made the best of the situation and we still got the win," Madsen said. "That's not going to happen much - if ever. Evan is just too good of a player."
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt agrees that Turner is not likely to repeat that kind of performance.
"He is very composed, and very skilled," Hewitt said yesterday after his team completed practice in preparation for meeting the Buckeyes (28-7). "We can't foul him. That's one of the things we've stressed - guarding without fouling."
Turner, who missed more than a month of the season after fracturing two vertebrae when he hit the floor after a dunk against Eastern Michigan, had four games this season where he scored 30 or more points. The Chicago native said prior to Ohio State's practice yesterday that he considers Friday night's shooting woes just part of the vagaries of the game.
"I think there's going to be those nights when your shot just isn't falling," Turner said. "If you play basketball, you will have those kind of games. I'm not really concerned about it, because we've got Georgia Tech next, and this will be a whole different kind of game."
Turner attracted a lot of double-teams from Santa Barbara, but Hewitt indicated yesterday that he plans to use his best defender, sophomore Iman Shumpert, solo on Turner. During Atlantic Coast Conference play this season, Shumpert drew the defensive assignment on Duke's John Scheyer, and Greivis Vasquez of Maryland.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta said he thinks UCSB's physical approach to defending Turner might have frustrated the OSU star, but Matta expects Turner will be fine against Georgia Tech. Matta said that the attention Turner's night attracted is just part of being one of the nation's top college players.
"I think Evan has such a spotlight on everything he does ... because of who he is. Everybody is judging every move that he makes," Matta said. "I think the physicality he saw yesterday ... we saw quite a bit of that down the stretch in the Big Ten, so teams are really starting to do that."
Matta said the key for Turner against Georgia Tech (23-12), and beyond, will be to continue to compete, regardless of the defensive attention he draws.
"He's just got to keep his composure and just do a little better job of playing through it," Matta said. "The shots weren't going down for Evan. A lot of the shots he missed are the ones we've seen him make all year long."
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