Iowa faces Turner, Buckeyes tonight


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It was a horrific play — the kind that makes viewers turn away from the television and cringe as it’s replayed.

Evan Turner, Ohio State’s All-American-class forward, sprinted down the middle of the lane against Eastern Michigan on Dec. 5, 2009. A clear path in front of him, Turner missed a two-handed dunk, as his hands almost-instantaneously slipped off the rim

The junior’s back hit the hardwood with a thundering crash, fracturing the second and third lumbar vertebra in his spine.

At the time, team doctors estimated Ohio State would be without Turner’s 20.6 points and 12.9 rebounds per game for eight weeks. But the Chicago native only missed a month of action, returning to the court on Jan. 6 against Indiana.

With Turner in the lineup, the Buckeyes scored consecutive victories over two of the Big Ten’s elite, Wisconsin and Purdue, less than two weeks ago.

Tonight, a healthy Turner and No. 20 Ohio State (14-6, 4-3) will roll into Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes (8-12, 2-5) inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena at 7:36 p.m.

“I think we all know that Ohio State has got as good of talent as anybody in the league,” Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter said. “If Turner doesn’t get hurt, it’s a totally different situation. They’re not 14-6.”

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Coming off a 15-point drubbing of Indiana on Jan. 24, Iowa, meanwhile, will try to win consecutive Big Ten games for the first time under Lickliter — a streak that has lasted nearly three years.

The Hawkeyes, however, have been in a streak-busting mood lately, getting their first Big Ten road win in 691 days on Sunday. Offensive rebounding, points in the paint, and the inside play of junior Jarryd Cole and sophomore Aaron Fuller propelled Iowa to its second conference win this season.

But tonight, Lickliter and Co. face their toughest interior defensive assignment of the season in Turner, who is averaging 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game since coming back from his injury.

“I know there has been a lot said of Evan Turner — he’s terrific — but he’s not alone,” Lickliter said.

Indeed, the junior is surrounded by the supporting cast of sophomore William Buford and juniors Jon Diebler and David Lighty — all of whom stand at 6-5 or taller and average 12-plus points per game.

The Buckeyes’ athleticism on the perimeter makes them a nearly impossible matchup for their opponents, as evidenced by their scoring defense (61.0 points per game), second in the Big Ten. To compound that, the Hawkeyes rank as the worst scoring offense (62.8 points per game) in the conference.

Even in its win over Indiana on Sunday, Iowa’s offense looked a bit disjointed, turning the ball over 21 times.

“The turnovers — we have to cut back on that, especially [tonight],” freshman Eric May said. “This team is athletic, long.”

In recent games, Lickliter hasn’t hidden his affection for Cully Payne, Matt Gatens, May, and Fuller. Along with spots in the starting lineup, the quartet has seen 30-plus minutes of action in each of the last four contests.

And for good reason.

Over that same four-game stretch, the foursome has combined to score 185 of the team’s 255 points (72.5 percent) and snag 78 of the Hawkeyes’ 137 rebounds (56.9 percent).

To take down the Buckeyes, Lickliter will need similar performances from his four stars tonight.

“Hopefully, we can keep that going and keep this confidence going and see some more success, because it’s a lot more fun,” Gatens said.

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