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Turner not playing like a freshman for Falcons

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    Bowling Green's Justin Turner shoots in front of Northern Illinois' Lacey James. Turner leads the Falcons in scoring and ranks among the scoring leaders of the Mid-American Conference as well.

    Blade/Lori King

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    BGSU's Justin Turner defends while Eastern Michigan's Elijah Minnie grabs a rebound. Turner has helped improve the Falcons defense as BG started the season 11-5.

    Blade/Amy E. Voigt

BOWLING GREEN — For Justin Turner, the opening minutes of his first game this season were typical for a college freshman.

“I started that game with an airball and a travel — I was really nervous,” Turner said of the Bowling Green State University men’s basketball team’s opener at Drexel. “But I’m confident; I know what my abilities are.”

That is why his performance in the rest of that game was atypical for a freshman. Turner scored 33 points and added seven assists, four rebounds, and two steals to lead the Falcons to a win against the Dragons.

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Bowling Green's Justin Turner shoots in front of Northern Illinois' Lacey James. Turner leads the Falcons in scoring and ranks among the scoring leaders of the Mid-American Conference as well.

Blade/Lori King Enlarge

Turner’s season to this point also has been out of the ordinary for a freshman. The Detroit native ranks among the Mid-American Conference leaders in scoring, topping BG in several other categories as the Falcons have posted an 11-5 record to start the season.

Coach Michael Huger admitted Bowling Green came close to never signing Turner.

“One day [in spring 2016] we were sitting in our offices, and we were looking to recruit a No. 2 guard,” Huger said. “I asked coach [Anthony] Stacey, ‘Whatever happened to Justin Turner?’ ...

“He made a call, I called Justin’s high school coach, and we called [Justin’s] mother. We had a good conversation on a Monday, they came to visit the campus on a Friday, and we got a commitment from him. It was fairly quick.”

Last season Turner quickly proved he was a valuable addition, catching the eyes of coaches in summer practices. But quickly his season dissolved in a morass of injuries to his ankle and hamstring.

“It was humbling, because I missed the game,” Turner admitted. “That was the longest I had ever sat out playing basketball, and I missed it.

“Not that I took it for granted, but I started to appreciate it much more.”

While Turner redshirted last season, he spent the time learning how he could help the BG program when he returned to the court this season.

“It helped him to watch and see where we needed improvement,” Huger said. “And that’s on the defensive end of the court.

“He’s probably our best perimeter defender. He saw that need, he watched, and he learned.”

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BGSU's Justin Turner defends while Eastern Michigan's Elijah Minnie grabs a rebound. Turner has helped improve the Falcons defense as BG started the season 11-5.

Blade/Amy E. Voigt Enlarge

But Turner did not spend his time just watching.

“I would get treatment in the morning to get my leg healthy, and I had treatments for tendinitis in my knees and foot,” Turner said. “But I also worked on my whole body to get stronger — and to prevent more injuries like this.

“I polished a lot of things. I worked on my shooting, and I can still clean up my ball handling and mid-range shooting. But I thought I sharpened everything. ...

“And I did get to practice with the team, so I got used to the speed of the game. It got me ready for this season.”

Turner has helped the Falcons new “high-tempo” offense average 80.2 points per game, second-best in the MAC. The 6-foot-4 guard’s 30-point effort Saturday at Akron lifted him to eighth in the league — and first among MAC freshmen — in scoring at 16.9 points per game, and he also stands eighth in free-throw shooting, making 82.9 percent of his attempts. Turner’s 4-for-4 effort on 3-pointers against the Zips moved him into fifth place in 3-point shooting at 42.7 percent, also the best mark among league freshmen.

“He has improved his jump shot, especially his ability to make the 3 on a consistent basis,” Huger said. “His decision-making has gotten better, and his athleticism has improved.

“And he finishes around the basket really well, especially for a guy his size.”

Turner ranks fifth in the MAC in steals with 1.8 per game, and he is tied for third on the team in rebounding (3.9 per game) and second in assists (2.6 per game).

For all of his offensive contributions, Turner’s defense has been a bigger shot in the arm for a Bowling Green team that has struggled stopping teams at times.

“I think I bring toughness, especially on defense,” Turner said. “I think I bring a certain swagger to the team.

“I love challenges, so I’ll cover the best player on the other team. I’ll never back down from a challenge.”

Huger has noticed that in Turner, saying, “He’s become a leader, especially on the defensive end. We lean on him, and he gets his teammates riled up about defense.

“He still has lapses at times. He’s a freshman. But I like what he has done for our team.”

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com419-724-6481, or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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