January 15, 2010

With Turner back, OSU is hitting its stride

When Evan Turner suffered through a brutal and terrifying fall after attempting a dunk at full speed earlier this season, many thought the junior standout would be sidelined for a good chunk of time.

Instead, the Illinois native returned after missing only six games, and he hasn't seemed to miss a beat.

"He's a great player," UW assistant coach Greg Gard said following a recent practice. "If not the best player in the country, maybe one of the top five. He adds a lot to their team. Obviously he's aggressive offensively and can score a variety of ways.

"But I think he does a lot for them on the other end of the floor, too, with his rebounding, deflections, steals and the pressure he can put on the ball."

Since coming back Jan. 6th against Indiana, Turner has done all of the things Gard mentioned. He's leading the team with 19.7 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the floor. He's also averaging seven rebounds per contest, good for second on the team in nearly 33 minutes of action, all while running the point.

"A 6-foot-7 point guard," Gard said. "They're hard to find. He's developed himself into a very good player. He's obviously put a lot of time in and a lot of work. I don't think anybody that was involved with him or watched him when he was at St. Joes (High School) wouldn't have projected that he was going to become this.

"Obviously he's put in a lot of hard work and dedicated himself to making him a complete player. Growing and adding some weight has definitely helped, too."

For a player that Gard said didn't necessarily dominate the high school courts, Turner sure nullified that notion Tuesday night at Purdue, one of the better Big Ten teams.

In the first half of that game, junior forward Robbie Hummel tied a school record with eight three-pointers and scored 29 points in the opening frame. For most team's, that would likely be the signal that a loss was only 20 minutes away.

But then again, most teams don't have Evan Turner.

With him back in the lineup, Ohio State managed to keep the deficit manageable and eventually, behind Turner's second half outburst that helped him finish with 32 points, stole victory from the Boilermakers.

"We watched the first half," UW guard Jordan Taylor said. "We saw the Hummel explosion. We didn't get to see the Turner explosion. But we saw highlights of it and the coaches told us about it. He's a great player and we know what we can do. Last year he came in here and had 23 as a sophomore on us.

"We just have to try to slow him down any way we can."

Wisconsin opened conference play against Ohio State on New Year's Eve with an easy and somewhat surprising 22-point victory. In that game, it looked as though the Buckeyes were missing more than just Turner. At times they were out of sync and almost emotionless.

When the two teams meet again Saturday night it will be a different story. Not only is Turner back and playing at his pre-injury level that saw him establish himself as one of the nation's best with multiple double-doubles and OSU's first two triple-double's in its history, UW is playing without one of its key players in Jon Leuer.

While the Badgers have proved in recent games that they can with either without Leuer entirely or without his full services due to foul trouble, they still haven't seen a force quite as formidable as Turner and his propensity to contribute in every facet of the game.

"Obviously numbers are one thing," Gard said. "But he adds a confidence and swagger about them that they had last year that maybe took a timeout for a little bit while he was out."

Prior to Turner's injury, Ohio State was averaging well over 80 points per game. During his absence, those numbers dipped down to 63 per, including three losses like the 22-point drubbing suffered at Wisconsin and a nine-point loss at Michigan in conference play and an eight-point loss at Butler.

Now that he's back, OSU's average scoring per game is back up to 70 points per game with a 2-1 record including a loss at Minnesota and a come-from-behind win at then No. 6 Purdue.

"Anytime you get a guy back with that caliber and he's playing as well as he is right now it's a big bonus for them," UW senior guard Jason Bohannon said. "They're playing very well. They went to Purdue and got that huge win for them. They're playing as well as anyone right now. It's going to be big for us to be able to take care of the ball, do the right things and keep playing the way we have been."

But again, UW has not played anyone this season in conference play with the amount of talent Turner possesses. While Kalin Lucas at Michigan State and Talor Battle at Penn State might be two of the better players in the league, they do not have the same size and athleticism of Turner who would be a sure-fire NBA lottery pick if he declared for the Draft.

"He's big enough so he can get to the rim on smaller guys and he's long enough to get there on bigger guys and quicker as well," Taylor said. "He's got a lot of counters and different stuff to get to the basket. He can even knock down jump shots.

"You can't leave him open at any time."

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