Former Detroit Renaissance star guard Justin Turner is tossing his name in for Mid-American Conference Player of the Year honors while leading Bowling Green to an eight-game winning streak.
Turner, a 6-foot-4 sophomore shooting guard, is averaging 19.6 points and 3.9 rebounds for Bowling Green (12-5, 4-0), which is tied with No. 16 Buffalo atop the MAC East standings. The Falcons, who were picked in the preseason to finish last in the East, will play host to Buffalo (16-1, 4-0) Feb. 2.
Turner has averaged 21.2 points during the winning streak, shooting 54.3 percent from the field, 41.6 percent from 3-point range and 87.8 percent from the line.
Turner was named the Lou Henson Award Player of the Week – presented to the top mid-major player – for helping Bowling Green to a pair of wins last week, including a 30-point effort in Saturday’s 97-87 overtime win at Central Michigan.
He rallied Bowling Green back from a 78-72 deficit at CMU with just over a minute left in regulation when he scored four straight to force overtime, first making a layup with 43 seconds left and then a pair of free throws, while looking into a boisterous CMU student section, with seven seconds remaining. Then, Turner took over in overtime, scoring 12 straight Bowling Green points during a 12-3 run to open up a 96-87 lead.
Turner scored 20 Tuesday in a 79-78 win over Ball State at Bowling Green to push its home record to 9-0, its best home start since going 12-0 19 years ago.
So, MAC Player of the Year?
“Yes, that’s what people are saying, but I’m really just coming in one day at a time, playing each game and taking things seriously,” Turner said. “They picked us last so I’ve been coming in with that chip on my shoulder every game, so that’s really my mindset.”
Bowling Green has showed its ability to win the close games, something it didn’t do a year ago when the Falcons lost their last six games of last season, three by two points or less or in overtime to finish 16-16 (7-11 MAC).
Turner wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
“At the end of the game I’m the go-to guy and I just have to be poised and put the team on my back and make a play,” Turner said. “I like being in that role. It’s nothing new since I’ve been doing that since middle school. I don’t feel pressure, it’s just basketball and I’ve been playing it forever.”
Bowling Green won the first six games of its winning streak by 14 or more points, thanks to an outstanding rebounding effort, led by 6-10, 240-pound senior Demajeo Wiggins, who averages 13.5 points and a MAC-leading 12.4 rebounds.
Bowling Green is the nation’s top rebounding team (44.4), followed by North Carolina (44.2), Duke (44.2) and Michigan State (43.8).
Still, it all starts with Turner, who is not short on confidence. He credits his mental toughness to his high school coach, Vito Jordan, who was fired as Renaissance head coach back in the fall.
“I feel I do everything pretty well,” said Turner, who is shooting .388 from 3-point range for the season. “I get my teammates involved, I score the ball and I feel like I’m one of the best defenders in the league.”
After making the two free throws in the final seconds of regulation against CMU, Turner started his 12-point OT run with a three-point play (basket and free throw), followed by a 3-pointer for a 90-87 lead, then a runner in the lane for a 92-87 cushion, followed by four straight free throws.
“It was just about staying calm, knowing that big-time players make big-time plays, so I just had to calm my nerves, get to the line and knock some free throws in,” Turner said. “That’s just part of my game. I work on those shots every day, floaters, layups and 3s – that’s my game. I feel like I can score on all three levels.”
Turner says he has come a long way since his days at Renaissance.
“Vito helped me with a lot, but one thing that I always give Vito credit for is my mindset,” said Turner. “In high school I wasn’t the most confident, went through slumps and it wasn’t even because of my basketball ability, more because of my mind. He helped sharpen me, telling me that I need to know that I’m the best player on the floor.”