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Turner, OSU eyes Big Ten title

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Anyone who saw the ghastly fall that Ohio State star swingman Evan Turner took on Dec. 5, breaking two bones in the process, had to expect Turner to be out for the season. Well, it turned out the Buckeyes said Turner would just miss a few months.

We all were wrong.

Turner, who already has two triple-doubles this season and might have been on his way to national player of the year honors, amazingly was back in action Wednesday night against Indiana – a mere six games since that mishap. He finished with eight points, four rebounds and five assists in 20 minutes in a 79-54 win over the Hoosiers.

Now, beating a rebuilding Indiana doesn’t mean much, but the Buckeyes fell out of the Top 25 without Turner. The Buckeyes lost their first two Big Ten games and had gone 3-3 (not covering in any of them) -- losing all three road games -- without their leader in scoring (18.5), rebounding (11.4) and assists (5.9). OSU was 7-1 with Turner (6-1 ATS), and the only loss was to then-No. 6 North Carolina.

Ohio State was averaging only 53.5 points (and shooting 35.2 percent from the field) in the two conference games without Turner and obviously it well exceeded that number on Wednesday.

The original prognosis for Turner was that he would be out eight weeks, but he was back in 32 days. Turner said he was cleared by doctors to play "four or five days ago," but coach Thad Matta said he had not participated in a hard practice with "live defense" until Tuesday night. Turner was given the green light to play only 15 minutes before tipoff Wednesday, although his mother told a local paper that Turner would be playing a few hours before that and the news spread quickly.

Does this change the dynamic of the Big Ten race? Possibly.

The Buckeyes were somewhat likely to lose those first two conference road games anyways – at Wisconsin and Michigan. And it’s hard to gauge routing Indiana, which – get this – was playing its first true road game of the season.

Guard William Buford bettered his play in Turner's absence. In the first seven games of the season, he averaged 10.4 points, 2 assists and 3.4 rebounds a game. In the six games Turner was out, Buford’s numbers were 15.4, 4.4 and 6.1. Wednesday against Indiana was a good sign, as Buford had 16 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. If he can emerge as Turner’s “wingman” then the Buckeyes may have something. OSU isn’t very deep, either (three players played all 40 minutes against Michigan), so at least Turner’s return stretches the bench by a player as well.

The key to whether a run at the Big Ten title is possible will be answered within a week. OSU travels to Minnesota on Saturday, and the Buckeyes never play well there. Then comes a major test early next week with unbeaten and No. 4 Purdue. Obviously a 1-4 start in conference play all but ends OSU’s regular-season title hopes with Purdue and Michigan State threatening to run away and hide. But a road sweep means the Buckeyes are major threats – not to mention a great ATS bet again.

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