COLUMBUS, Ohio – From all indications, Ohio State junior Evan Turner will become the Big Ten's first consensus National Player of the Year since Glenn Robinson (a 30-point scorer) at Purdue in 1994.
But as brilliant as Turner was again Tuesday night at Value City Arena – 16 points, 12 rebounds, five assists – it was the deadeye long-range shooting by junior Jon Diebler that repulsed a gritty Illini effort.
Diebler cashed 21 points via seven treys, all in the first 24 minutes, and Thad Matta's quintet joined their female cagers and the football team as Big Ten champions, 73-57. Diebler closed the half with a trey and started the second half the same way, providing a 40-33 lead the Buckeyes increased in the final 10 minutes.
That was the one thing the Illini couldn't afford. They might have been able to withstand the swift penetrating skills of the other Ohio State lankies, but not when Diebler was counting by threes. Demoralized and outquicked, the Illini were outscored 25-12 in the last 14 minutes. The driving Buckeyes shot 24 free throws to the UI's five.
For the season, it appears prep teammate Demetri McCamey could prevent Turner from sweeping Big Ten all-games titles in scoring (19-plus), rebounding (9-plus) and assists. In five more games, 30 to 25, the UI's McCamey has 60 more assists and needs seven Sunday against Wisconsin to set a record for conference play.
Illini concerns about a tendency for slow starts were quickly erased as the underdogs, who drained six treys late in the 62-60 loss to Minnesota, bagged 5 of 6 in spurting to a 21-16 lead Tuesday. But McCamey drew his second personal at the 10-minute mark and, when he sat down, William Buford turned a Jeff Jordan turnover into a slam that ignited a rip-roaring 12-0 outburst featuring breakaways by Buford and treys by Diebler, who was 1 for 7 in his previous game.
UI coach Bruce Weber, with no other choice, returned McCamey quickly but the Buckeyes were rolling, and the Illini didn't catch up until McCamey bagged a trey at 30-30.
Still, Ohio State led 37-33 at the break as the Illini cooled down.
In something of a surprise, Matta employed a man-to-man defense for much of the game. After shooting 44.8 percent in the first half, the Illini went 10 for 31 thereafter and were clearly outclassed by the dashing, slashing Big Ten champions.
Meanwhile, Minnesota fell for the second time to Michigan, 83-55, in an astonishing rout that saw the Wolverines rebound from awful showings against Penn State (55-51) and Illinois (51-44) to shoot 60.4 percent with just four turnovers against the mesmerized Gophers. That assures Illinois of a bye in the Big Ten tournament and a Friday afternoon slot at Indianapolis.
– Purdue got big mileage out of Carl Landry, as did Penn State from Stanley Pringle, but junior college transfers in the Big Ten have been spotty in recent years. Two of five seniors honored at Ohio State on Tuesday night, P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons, made modest impacts as juco acquisitions, which has been the case for Illini senior Dominique Keller and his predecessor, Rodney Alexander.
– Former Boilermaker Stephen Scheffler holds the Big Ten record for field goal percentage in a full season with 69.8 percent. Ohio State junior Dallas Lauderdale won't attain the necessary 125 baskets to be recognized, but he entered Tuesday's game with 90 field goals and a 76.9 percentage (he made his only attempt) ... while shooting 43.8 percent this season on free throws.
– How's this for a successful system? Wisconsin beat the three Big Ten leaders at home, lost to them on the road, lost once each to Illinois and Minnesota, and is 8-0 vs. the bottom dwellers ... for an 11-5 audit. Illinois went 8-1 against the bottom five, a fact that won't impress the NCAA selection committee.
– Indiana takes a 10-game losing streak to Purdue tonight, the last seven coming by an average of 21 points. Champaign's Verdell Jones III has 94 free throws in conference play, 22 more than runner-up Turner with two games to play. In league play, Jones has 51 assists against 52 turnovers.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.