Evan Turner’s return from a scary back injury could happen within a week. It can’t come soon enough for Ohio State.
The 15th-ranked Buckeyes could be gone from the Top 25 if they can’t bounce back from their lowest scoring output in nearly nine years Sunday at Michigan.
Ohio State (10-3, 0-1 Big Ten) is 3-2 since its star forward suffered fractured vertebrae Dec. 5, with its three wins coming against overmatched non-conference foes. The Buckeyes fell 74-66 at Butler on Dec. 12 in their first game without Turner, and the absence of one of the nation’s most versatile players was most evident Thursday at Wisconsin.
Ohio State shot 32.6 percent in a 65-43 loss to the No. 23 Badgers, scoring 18 points in the second half while being held to its lowest point total since a 57-42 defeat in Madison on Jan. 24, 2001.
“We got looks, we got wide-open looks at the basket,” said junior swingman David Lighty, who has averaged 17.6 points since Turner’s injury but was held to 10 on Thursday. “Easy layups, wide-open 3s, I mean they just weren’t falling for us.”
Turner said in December that he was targeting Jan. 9 for his return, but it’s uncertain if he will be back that soon. The Buckeyes averaged 87.9 points in the eight games Turner played but have been held to 63.8 points per game without him.
“I’ve tried to stop thinking about it,” coach Thad Matta said. “… Evan was probably playing as well as any player in college basketball at the time that he went down.”
Turner averaged 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 13.5 free-throw attempts in leading the Buckeyes to two wins over Michigan last season.
Those victories gave Ohio State a 9-1 mark in its last 10 meetings with the Wolverines, with six of the wins coming by double digits.
Michigan (6-6, 0-1) began the season ranked 15th but has been one of the most disappointing teams in the nation. Manny Harris leads the Big Ten with 19.5 points per game and senior forward DeShawn Sims is at 15.8, but the Wolverines have little depth beyond that duo.
Harris and Sims finally got some help Thursday in Michigan’s conference opener at Indiana, as Zack Novak scored a team-high 18 points and Stu Douglass added 16. Unfortunately for Michigan, their star players had rough games, with Harris scoring 13 points and Sims 12. The pair shot 9 of 23 and was plagued by foul trouble in a 71-65 loss.
“To lose that game, I think, will teach us very valuable lessons about the little things,” coach John Beilein said. “This is Big Ten basketball. This is the way it’s going to be every night when you’re at home or on the road.”
Harris hasn’t had problems scoring against Ohio State, averaging 23.3 points in the last three matchups. He shot 39.6 percent in that stretch, though, and had 10 turnovers - a total unsurpassed in the Big Ten for more than 12 years - in a 72-54 defeat at Columbus on Jan. 28.