Evan Turner led the Big Ten in scoring last season before considering the NBA draft, but he is back - along with nearly every other key part of an Ohio State team that felt it exited the NCAA tournament far too early.
Turner’s role this season, however, will be much different.
Coach Thad Matta moved Turner to point guard in the offseason, and the No. 16 Buckeyes’ best player gets his first chance to shine at his new position Monday night against Alcorn State in the 2K Sports Classic.
Ohio State was 22-11 last season and Turner led the way with 17.3 points per game. Though it went 10-8 in the Big Ten to tie for fourth, Matta’s team advanced to the conference title game where it lost to Purdue.
Turner’s presence and that late-season surge figured to give the Buckeyes a chance to make a run in the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed. Their first trip to the NCAAs since losing in the 2007 national championship game, however, turned out to be brief.
Turner had a game-high 25 points but didn’t get much help in a 74-72 double-overtime loss to Siena in the first round.
Only B.J. Mullens is gone from last season’s roster after the backup big man left for the NBA, leaving Ohio State confident it can make a stronger push in the tournament in 2009-10.
“We’ve got so much potential on this team that it just kind of gets everybody excited,” said guard Jon Diebler, second in the Big Ten with 96 3-pointers last season. “We see glimpses of how good we can be and that just excites everybody. We’ve all been through the battles - let’s put it all together and see where it takes us.”
While Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty - limited to seven games last season due to a broken foot - give the Buckeyes some firepower in the backcourt, the three are primarily scorers with limited ballhandling skills.
That lack of a true point guard prompted Matta to insert the 6-foot-7 Turner into the role, a decision that makes some sense despite his natural knack for scoring.
Turner led the Buckeyes and was eighth in the conference with 4.0 assists per game. He had six in Ohio State’s lone exhibition game to go along with 15 points and 14 rebounds in an 86-48 blowout of Walsh University on Wednesday.
“He is just so active on the floor,” Diebler said. “He’s just letting the game come to him. I think he could get a triple-double but he’s the type of player who isn’t going to go out hoping for it.”
Turner says he is already growing into his new position.
“Jon and I have been around long enough to feel comfortable, but right now we’re just trying to get everybody else out there feeling good,” Turner said.
Buford rounds out Ohio State’s perimeter attack after scoring 11.3 points per game and being named the Big Ten freshman of the year, while Lighty also should see plenty of minutes after recovering from his injury.
Lighty is a strong defensive player, and the Buckeyes were No. 1 nationally in scoring defense at 52.9 points per game in the seven contests he played last season.
The question marks for Matta’s club are up front, where they’ll look to fill the void left by Mullens, who figured to be one of the conference’s best big men had he stayed. They will also likely face Alcorn State (6-25) without big man Dallas Lauderdale, who broke a finger in the preseason.
While Lauderdale is doubtful against the Braves, Matta expects he will return by the time Ohio State faces defending national champion North Carolina on Nov. 19.
If Lauderdale can’t go Monday, sophomore Zisis Sarikopoulos, who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama-Birmingham, and senior Kyle Madsen will split time in the middle.
Alcorn State doesn’t figure to pose much of a threat to the Buckeyes, as it lost its top three scorers from a team that went 4-14 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Senior Jonathan Boyd (9.3 ppg) is the leading returning scorer and the Braves’ best 3-point shooter, having connected on 40.3 percent from beyond the arc last season.
Coach Larry Smith’s team lost its lone matchup with a Big Ten opponent last season, 118-60 to Michigan State.
Ohio State, winner of all five season openers under Matta, hosts James Madison on Thursday before heading to Madison Square Garden to face the Tar Heels, all as part of the 2K Sports Classic.