OSU, Turner handle the heat
MILWAUKEE – Georgia Tech put the pressure on Ohio State, gambling its aggressive defense could counter Evan Turner and spark an upset.
The strategy ultimately failed as the Buckeyes adapted while the Yellow Jackets’ vaunted frontcourt found itself in foul trouble.
Second-seeded OSU earned a berth to the NCAA Sweet 16 with a 75-66 win Sunday largely because Turner and Jon Diebler were on the court, while Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal were on the bench.
Turner struck for 24 points, nine rebounds and nine assists to send his team to St. Louis for the Midwest Regional semifinals against Tennessee. Diebler took over in the second half, scoring 17 of his 20 points, and burying four 3-pointers.
“Once we slowed things down and started playing the way we wanted to, everybody was comfortable with being chased around,” Turner said. “Our posts did a great job screening and Jon did a great job getting open.”
With Tech focused on Turner, who had 16 points in the first half, Diebler found himself swimming in open looks. Though he had missed all three of his field-goal attempts over the first 20 minutes, his conscience was clear.
“My teammates have all the confidence in the world in me and so does the coaching staff,” Diebler said. “I had a lot of confidence in my shot. Shooters shoot to get hot. They did a good job of finding me.”
Teammates David Lighty and William Buford also benefitted from all the attention on Turner, then Diebler. Lighty scored 11 second-half points, Buford nine.
“When I start knocking shots down we’re a good basketball team because it really opens things up for everyone,” Diebler said.
Favors (10 points) did not score in the first half, playing just five minutes after picking up two quick fouls. Lawal (11 points) was whistled for three fouls in the first half and became a non factor.
“It was really tough,” said Lawal, who had one basket after halftime. “It took us out of our rhythm.”
The Tech full-court press was successful, especially early, and the Jackets trailed just 28-26 at the half, limiting the Buckeyes to 34.6 percent shooting. They prompted 18 OSU turnovers. Turner himself gave the ball away nine times.
But they couldn’t sustain the effort as Turner just kept finding teammates who didn’t flinch. OSU shot 64 percent in the second half.
“The first half I thought we were really good,” Jackets coach Paul Hewitt said, noting the foul situation sapped the power of the press. “We had to become really passive with the pressure and that probably allowed them to settle in.”
With Kansas bowing out to Northern Iowa in round two, Ohio State becomes the team to beat in the Midwest.
The biggest question remains can the Buckeyes continue to survive with virtually no bench. Turner, Diebler and Buford played 40 minutes against the Jackets. Lighty played 36 and center Dallas Lauderdale 31.
That should give Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl plenty of food for thought when the Vols meet the Buckeyes in the next round.
He could consider using a full-court press to try and stop Turner.
Might even work if he can keep his stars off the bench.