COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Ohio State’s Evan Turner had one wish when he joined the U.S. team at the World University Games last summer: Don’t let his roommate be Purdue’s Robbie Hummel.
It wasn’t that Turner didn’t like Hummel. It was more of a rivalry thing.
“Because he’s a Purdue boy, you know? I can’t really … I have to keep my guard up,” Turner said amid peals of laughter on Monday.
Of course, Turner let down his guard and found out he had a lot in common with Hummel, also a junior and like him one of the best small forwards in the Big Ten. Now the roomies will get their first close look at each other since they were teammates when the Buckeyes (11-5, 1-3) travel to play No. 6 Purdue (14-1, 2-1) on Tuesday night.
From that early mistrust, Turner became a friend and a fan of Hummel’s.
“I wasn’t talking to him for like the first couple of minutes,” Turner said with a broad smile. “Then I said this kid seems like a nice kid, it’d be kind of mean not to speak to him. He was a really good guy. He’s definitely a tough kid. I watched him a little bit when we were overseas, a little bit on how he carried himself, what his demeanor was. He’s a blue-collar type kid, definitely a great leader. He was ready for anything when you hit the court. He’s a guy you want to go into battle with.”
Just the kind of player a Top 10 team needs—particularly when it is coming off its first loss of the season.
The Boilermakers matched the school mark with their 14-0 start before dropping a 73-66 decision at No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday. The 1993-94 Purdue squad also opened with 14 wins, and also had its streak end on the road to the Badgers.
“We have to have a better effort than we had in Madison the other night,” coach Matt Painter said on Monday. “They simply just whipped us. Wasn’t happy with the rebounding, wasn’t happy with the effort. … We’ve just got too many people watching.”
Rest assured that Painter will do his best to make sure that doesn’t happen again. In other words, the Boilermakers will be on high alert when the Buckeyes visit Mackey Arena.
“I’m sure it’s a teachable moment for them,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
The loss also dropped the Boilermakers a game back of Michigan State and Illinois in the conference race.
While Purdue adjusts to a loss, Ohio State is still tinkering after the return of Turner. The 6-foot-7 point guard was leading the Buckeyes in every major category (18.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, 6 assists) when his hands slipped off the rim on a dunk against Eastern Michigan on Dec. 5. Turner fell to the floor and broke two bones in his lower back.
Ohio State officials said it would be eight weeks before he returned, although Turner was back in 4 1/2 weeks—and said that the original estimate was intentionally exaggerated by the university so Turner would not feel pressure to rush his recovery.
He played 19 minutes in a home win over Indiana on Wednesday night, then doubled his playing time in a loss at Minnesota on Saturday.
Still, the Buckeyes are trying to reconnect with their best player after not having him dress in a game for over a month.
“We’re trying to get our mojo back a little bit,” Turner said.
Painter recognizes that Ohio State is cracking the books on team chemistry— much like the Boilermakers did a year ago when they lost Hummel, who played in games but couldn’t practice all year due to stress fractures in his back.
“I think they’re in a difficult situation right now, like we were last year, trying to get him (Turner) in the mix,” Painter said. “They have good chemistry, they have guys that have played together, but when you don’t have somebody in your lineup for a little bit, it takes a little bit of time to adjust.”
The Buckeyes also have been victimized by a difficult schedule. Four of their first five conference games are on the road, and at some of the toughest venues in the league: Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Purdue.
“When they were telling us about four out of the first five Big Ten games are on the road, we said, ‘We can definitely take that,”’ Turner said. “But certain things popped up and different situations occurred. You’ve just got to roll with the punches.”
Matta said the Buckeyes have learned there’s nothing to be gained by complaining about the hand you’re dealt.
“As I told the guys when we came back from Christmas: ‘We’ve got 19 battles ahead of us. The war ends in March,”’ Matta said. “It’s really keeping a mindset or focus of you know there are challenges coming, you’ve got to accept it and go out and play.”
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Indianapolis contributed to this report.