While most of the nation was captivated by the battle for the Big East football title between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Ohio State was blowing out Eastern Michigan in Columbus 111-60. But it was a costly win for the Buckeyes, who lost All America guard Evan Turner for eight weeks with two broken vertebra in his back. Turner suffered the injury on a dunk attempt early in the first half, landing squarely on his back on a fall after being fouled. The original thought of head coach Thad Matta was that the junior would be OK but that was before the tests were done at the hospital. Turner's loss means that a number of players will have to step up and it won't be as simple as simply finding one player to score more points.
Arguably the most versatile player in the country, Turner is Ohio State's best scorer, rebounder and passer. Jon Diebler led the Buckeyes with 21 points in the win and five players scored at least sixteen points for the victors. William Buford added ten assists and as a team Ohio State had twenty-seven assists on thirty-eight made field goals, an effort representative of what the Buckeyes will need to do in Turner's absence. The eight-week diagnosis puts his return at about the midpoint of Big Ten give or take a few games. If Ohio State can win the games they're expected to between now and then they should be in good position in regards to the NCAA Tournament when he returns.
Three Key Happenings
1. John Wall now becomes the frontrunner for national POY. The freshman from Raleigh put on a show in the first half of Kentucky's 68-66 win over North Carolina, spearheading a 28-2 run that took the Wildcats from down 9-2 to up 30-11. Kentucky went into the locker room at the half up 43-28 but the game nearly got away from them with Wall in the locker room getting an IV due to cramping. The reason for the long delay? Turns out the freshman sensation hates needles (who doesn't?). North Carolina's youngsters made a game of it in the second half but the return of Wall was enough for Kentucky to hang on despite his not looking 100%. Given John's explosive ability and the prolonged absence of Evan Turner he likely becomes the guy people look to when speaking of Player of the Year favorites.
2. Duke's tough to beat when Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek rebound. Neither guy is the type that's going to be a dominant force in the paint for the Blue Devils. But when they can combine for an afternoon like the one they had in an 80-71 win over St. John's (22 points, 15 rebounds) off the bench Duke becomes a much better team. The same thing happened in their win against Connecticut, where they combined for 22 rebounds and 13 points. Against Wisconsin the senior tandem was virtually non-existent. Five Blue Devils reached double figures with Kyle Singler's seventeen leading the way and Duke enjoyed a rebounding margin of +10 on the Red Storm.
St. John's remained competitive throughout despite the loss of F Justin Burrell (ankle) in the game's first minute, and his presence likely would have made a difference on the glass. The past eight days have provided Mike Krzyzewski's team tangible evidence of how they'll have to win games this season; whether or not they stay on that path will be determined to two seniors whose names rarely end up on the marquee.
3. Wake Forest picks up a huge road victory. There's no overstating the Demon Deacons' 77-75 win at Gonzaga on Saturday afternoon; Gonzaga is now 65-4 all-time at McCarthey and good luck finding a BCS conference team not named Washington State that's willing to play there. Of course there was the flagrant foul call on Gonzaga's Elias Harris that resulted in his ejection late in the second half but to point at that as the reason for Wake's victory would be unfair to Dino Gaudio's squad. C.J Harris led Wake Forest with nineteen points and freshman Ari Stewart scored seventeen in just fourteen minutes off the bench.
Rebounding essentially won the game for the Deacons, who were a +8 overall (39-31) and +10 (16-6) in offensive rebounds, which earned them twelve more field goal attempts. The loss to William & Mary, which caused many to question Wake Forest, actually isn't a bad loss with the Tribe coming back from a double digit deficit to beat VCU today and also owning close calls against other quality opponents. The shooting (38.1%) needs to improve but Wake Forest is a team to keep an eye on in December.
Top Three Games
1. Wake Forest 77, Gonzaga 75 See above.
2. William & Mary 75, VCU 74 David Schneider, who led the Tribe with 18 points and seven rebounds, made a free throw with 3.1 seconds remaining to provide the final margin. VCU, who got a good look as time expired, let a 45-31 lead (16:53 remaining) slip through their hands in the CAA opener for both.
3. Ole Miss 81, Southern Miss 79 An Eniel Polynice dunk with two seconds remaining gave the Rebels the victory in Oxford. Chris Warren led Ole Miss with twenty points while the Golden Eagles were led by Gary Flowers (20 points) and shot 53% from the field.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Carl Blair (New Orleans) The freshman recorded the second triple-double in UNO history (former NBA big man Ervin Johnson in 1992) with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in the Privateers' 79-67 win over Houston Baptist.
2. F Tyren Warren (UL Lafayette) The senior posted a line of 31 points and 14 rebounds in the Ragin' Cajuns' 95-85 win at Sam Houston State.
3. G Benzor Simmons (Tennessee-Martin) Simmons went for 29 points and eleven rebounds in the Skyhawks' 85-74 loss to Eastern Kentucky.