Ohio State suffered through a disappointing stretch three months ago while Evan Turner was injured - the main reason why the Buckeyes are not seen as a likely candidate for a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
A strong showing in Big Ten tournament could change that.
Turner and the fifth-ranked Buckeyes look to strengthen their case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs when they face eighth-seeded Michigan in a quarterfinal game at Conseco Fieldhouse on Friday.
Turner missed six games from Dec. 12-Jan. 3 with two broken bones in his lower back and Ohio State (24-7) looked ordinary without its star, going 3-3. The stretch included a 73-64 loss to Michigan (15-16).
The Buckeyes’ fortunes, however, have completely turned around since that defeat in Ann Arbor.
Ohio State has won 14 of 17 since Turner returned, claiming a share of the league title with Purdue and Michigan State and earning the top seed for the conference tournament. It is the team’s third regular-season crown in five years.
Turner was the driving force behind the Buckeyes’ strong finish and was a unanimous selection as Big Ten player of the year. The junior, among the favorites to be named national player of the year, led the conference with 20.1 points per game, 2.0 steals and 8.3 rebounds and was second with 5.9 assists.
“That’s really cool, definitely just being recognized. I’m really grateful that I have those honors,” Turner said. “Most of the trophies will probably go to my mom.”
Before turning their attention toward winning a national championship trophy, the Buckeyes will focus on trying to capture the conference tournament for the first time since 2007. Ohio State, winner of seven of its last 10 Big Ten tournament games, lost 65-61 to Purdue in the championship last season.
Big Ten coach of the year Thad Matta relied heavily on a five-man rotation down the stretch, but the Buckeyes should be well rested after being off since a 73-57 victory over Illinois on March 2.
Three days before beating the Illini, the Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines 66-55 behind sophomore guard William Buford’s 24 points and nine rebounds. Turner was also instrumental in the victory, finishing with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and adding 11 boards, seven assists and four blocked shots.
The Wolverines advanced to the quarterfinals by defeating ninth-seeded Iowa 59-52 in the first round Thursday.
Manny Harris had 22 points and nine rebounds for Michigan, bouncing back nicely from an awful performance in Sunday’s 64-48 loss to No. 11 Michigan State. Harris, averaging a team-best 17.9 points, finished with a season-low four on 1-of-10 shooting in the regular-season finale.
“He played confident,” senior forward DeShawn Sims said of Harris after the victory Thursday. “He let the game come to him. He hit his first shot, and that usually does it for him, for a player of his caliber, just being able to hit your first shot. You see the ball going in, and it just gives your overall game confidence.”
Michigan needs its scoring leader to build on that performance Friday. The Wolverines are 2-9 when Harris fails to score at least 17 points, and 13-6 when he reaches his season average. He had 10 points and shot 1 of 8 against the Buckeyes two weeks ago.