MILWAUKEE — Nobody got a bigger boost than Ohio State when mighty Kansas tumbled and the Midwest Regional suddenly went up for grabs.
No way, then, that Evan Turner was going to have another bad game.
Turner shook off one of the worst shooting nights of his career by coming within an assist and a rebound of his third triple-double of the season, lifting Ohio State to a 75-66 victory over sloppy Georgia Tech on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Turner, a leading candidate to add national player of the year to his Big Ten honors, finished with a game-high 24 points.
"The better he plays," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said, "the better we play."
The deeper into the tournament the Buckeyes (29-7) play, too.
With No. 1 Kansas, No. 3 Georgetown and No. 4 Maryland all eliminated, Ohio State has its best chance of returning to the Final Four since Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. took the Buckeyes there in 2007. Ohio State faces sixth-seeded Tennessee on Friday night in St. Louis in a Midwest Regional semifinal.
"It's good to get a win out of the way," Turner said. "Now you just have to focus on the next one. You can't really spend time celebrating."
Jon Diebler added 20 points and David Lighty had 18 for the Buckeyes.
ACC Freshman of the Year Derrick Favors, who played just 5 minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls, keyed an 11-0 run that cut Ohio State's lead to 65-61 with 1:47 to play. Turner made two free throws, Lighty converted both of his after an intentional foul and the Yellow Jackets (23-13) never threatened again.
Beating the Buckeyes might have been a tall order anyway, but Georgia Tech (23-13) had no chance with Gani Lawal and Favors, their two leading scorers and rebounders, in foul trouble for much of the game. Favors, who finished with 10 points and four rebounds, fouled out in the last minute. Lawal, who had three fouls before halftime, had 11 points.
"It was really tough," Lawal said. "Took us out of our rhythm."
Turnovers didn't help, either. The Yellow Jackets had 21 miscues, eight more than they had in Friday night's victory over Oklahoma State.
The Buckeyes weren't exactly careful with the ball, either. They had 18, nine from Turner.
"We were sloppy with it," Matta said. "For Evan, with the nine, as long as he gets me 24 (points), nine (assists) and nine (rebounds), I'll live with it. ... When the time was needed, he delivered for us."
UC Santa Barbara bumped and hounded Turner into nine points on just 2-of-13 shooting Friday night, and the Yellow Jackets didn't give him much more breathing room. Two Yellow Jackets were glued to Turner every time he brought the ball up the court, with top defender Iman Shumpert – Turner's backcourtmate in junior high – all over him.
But there's a reason Turner is up for player of the year.
When the Yellow Jackets eased up on their suffocating press to start the second half, Turner and the Buckeyes simply took it to the Yellow Jackets. With Turner feeding them the ball, Lighty and Jon Diebler lit it up from outside and William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale pounded the ball inside.
As for Turner, well, he just hit from wherever he wanted.
A 3-pointer by Lighty sparked a 14-2 run that gave the Buckeyes a 46-32 lead with 12:47 left. A layup by Favors got the Yellow Jackets within 52-43 with 9:15 to play, but Buford followed his own shot and tapped home the rebound, and the Buckeyes were off and running again.
"I was just trying to take what the defense gave me," Turner said. "I was trying to go at the right time and definitely just try to try my best to make plays and get everybody involved and definitely concentrate a little bit more on finishing shots."
The Yellow Jackets did make that one last run, but it was too little, too late.
"The idea is to wear them down, but we saw what that pressure did for us turning the ball over," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "Some of the fouls we committed in the first half were silly fouls – the ones we stayed away from the latter part of the season and certainly Friday night. That made us a little tentative in the second half. We weren't nearly as good."