When Ohio State lost at Michigan in its first game of 2010, the Buckeyes were without their best player and on their way to a 1-3 start in Big Ten play.
They’re looking a lot less vulnerable now.
With eight wins in their last nine games, Evan Turner and the ninth-ranked Buckeyes appear primed to avenge their loss to the Wolverines and stay in the hunt for the regular-season conference title as they host their struggling rivals Saturday.
Ohio State’s 73-64 loss in Ann Arbor on Jan. 3 was the last of six games Turner missed due to a back injury, and Michigan took advantage by earning just its second win in its last 11 meetings with the Buckeyes.
DeShawn Sims had 28 points and Manny Harris added 24 in that game as the Wolverines’ top players stepped up.
“It kind of left a sour taste in our mouth, and it’s Michigan,” Ohio State’s David Lighty said. “When you think of Ohio State and the school up north … it doesn’t matter what it is. It could be badminton out there playing, but it’s Ohio State vs. Michigan, so it just makes it that much more competitive.”
Michigan may have a tougher time with Turner involved. The Buckeyes (22-7, 12-4) went 3-3 without the Big Ten’s leading scorer - including an 0-2 mark in conference play - but they’re 12-3 overall since his return, outscoring opponents by an average of nearly 10 points.
The only player in Division I averaging more than 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists, Turner has been especially hot lately, averaging 24.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists in his last three games. The junior swingman had 25 points in Wednesday’s 75-67 win at Penn State, including several difficult jumpers.
“What you saw tonight, he’s done that several times,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “A lot of people forget he’s 6-foot-7. He’s long … he was able to get up over the guards, a couple pull-ups.”
Lighty added 18 points against the Nittany Lions and Jon Diebler had 16 as the Buckeyes avoided a letdown following Sunday’s 74-67 win over then-No. 11 Michigan State. That victory put Ohio State in the mix for the Big Ten regular-season title, tied in the loss column with the Spartans just behind Purdue.
Michigan State faces the third-ranked Boilermakers on Sunday.
The Buckeyes have the benefit of playing their final two regular-season games at home, where they had been 15-0 before a 60-57 loss to Purdue on Feb. 17. Ohio State closes out its schedule Tuesday against Illinois.
Michigan (13-14, 6-9) plays two of its last three on the road as it jockeys for better seeding in the Big Ten tournament, but Wolverines coach John Beilein suggested that may actually help his team after a pair of lackluster home efforts.
Last-place Penn State won 55-51 at Michigan last Saturday. Three days later, the Wolverines shot 24.6 percent - the lowest by a Big Ten team in any game this season - in a 51-44 loss to Illinois.
Harris and Sims were a combined 8 of 29 from the field against the Illini.
“They’re shooting not to miss,” Beilein said of his players. “Or they’re thinking they’re going to get fouled. We just aren’t clean with what we’re doing. They’re thinking too much.”
Coming off its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998, Michigan’s only route back will be to win the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines have dropped seven of 10 overall.
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