It has been an interesting last six games for the Ohio State men’s basketball team. Beginning with a loss at Butler and culminating with consecutive losses to open the Big Ten season, the sporadically encouraging, often frustrating series of games has led to one painfully obvious conclusion.
This team really, really needs Evan Turner.
Although there were some bright spots during the stretch, most notably David Lighty’s 30-point game against Cleveland State, Sunday’s 73-64 loss at Michigan was yet another painful reminder that OSU lacks the superstar it began the season with.
After OSU took a 55-54 lead late in the second half, the Wolverines turned to their own stars, DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. The Buckeyes, who would normally go a similar route by letting Turner run the show, frantically searched for an answer — anybody — to take over the game and respond to the Wolverines’ late run.
But alas, an answer was nowhere to be found. Michigan pulled away for a nine-point win and, as has been the theme since Turner broke his back in early December, nobody was able to fill the gaping hole left by his absence.
The most blatant difference in this team without Turner is its ability to score.
In the seven games prior to Turner’s injury, OSU averaged more than 84 points a game. Since then, excluding the game in which the injury actually took place, the Buckeyes have managed less than 64 points a game.
Often, the Buckeyes will go on stretches in which they fail to score a single point for minutes at a time, a drought seemingly impossible to relieve without Turner at the helm. And although the scoring difficulty has been fairly widespread throughout the team, nobody has struggled more visibly than guard Jon Diebler.
Diebler, who had reaped the rewards of defenses diverting most of their attention to Turner, has found difficulty getting any open shots. After averaging 16.5 points per game in the seven full games played with a healthy Turner, Diebler has been constantly harassed by opposing defenses in the last six games.
With virtually nobody getting the penetration that Turner seemed to create at will, defenses have found no need to leave Diebler alone, thus leaving him with very few open shots. And although he has played all 40 minutes in all but one of the games since Turner’s injury, he has been forced to create his own shot, something that is not his strong suit, and has averaged only 10 points a game.
Early in Sunday’s game, Diebler seemed to be back in early season form. Michigan seemed less inclined to designate much attention to him and he was able to catch and shoot just as he had done with Turner in the lineup, scoring 14 points in the first half.
But as the Wolverines became more aware, and allocated more of their attention to shutting Diebler down, it was more of the same. He mustered only three points in the second half, and rarely received a pass without a defender draped over him.
Often times during the recent stretch, Diebler has forced some well-contested shots, possibly out of frustration. Whether it takes more sets designed to get him open, or simply more patience on his part, Diebler has to find a way to find and make more open shots.
The best cure for his and the Buckeyes’ struggles, however, has been sitting on the bench in street clothes for the last month. Although Turner has said that he may be back earlier than expected, the original diagnosis has his return still a month away.
Unfortunately, as the shooting woes continue and with the bulk of the Big Ten schedule on the horizon, OSU can ill-afford to spend much more time without him.