Friday, Sep 30, 2016
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Dave Hackenberg

Foes can't take Ohio State's Lighty lightly

INDIANAPOLIS - We can debate Ohio State's seeding for the NCAA tournament, we can debate whether Evan Turner is capable of any better body of work than the one he exhibited during three games here at the Big Ten tournament. But what is beyond debate is David Lighty being the not-so-secret weapon who could well deliver a return appearance to central Indiana for the Buckeyes.

The Final Four will be here, just down the street from Conseco Fieldhouse at Lucas Oil Stadium. The NCAA selection committee didn't make it easy on Ohio State when it announced its pairings yesterday shortly after the Buckeyes ran roughshod over Minnesota, 90-61, in the Big Ten title game, but the way Lighty is playing it might not matter.

"That stretch he had there for about two minutes today, I've never seen anything like that before in my life," OSU coach Thad Matta said without a hint of exaggeration.

The 6-foot-5 Lighty has been a lockdown defender since the day he arrived in Columbus. Remember his freshman year when he made Georgetown star Jeff Green all but disappear during their meeting in the Final Four semifinal game? He can guard any of four positions in OSU's man defense, and when the Buckeyes go zone it's not unusual to see him matched against a 7-footer in the low post.

Offensively, though, Lighty has grown leaps and bounds from the guy who was nicknamed "Tank" because he plowed through the enemy, mostly with a similar type of finesse. He has worked hard to play more under control and to refine his shot, especially from 3-point range.

"I told David before the season started that if he could shoot close to 40 percent from behind the line we're going to have a heck of a basketball team," Matta said. "He did it. And I think we're a heck of a basketball team."

When Turner missed six games earlier this season because of injury, Lighty was the Buckeye who took it upon himself to become more of an offensive threat. When Turner fouled out late in the second overtime of Saturday's semifinal against Illinois, with the game still on the line, it was Lighty who put it away with two incredible baseline moves to the basket.

Ohio State led 47-40, but wasn't yet out of the woods yesterday when Lighty took advantage of a matchup with Minnesota's 6-11 Ralph Sampson III. Lighty soared for a defensive rebound and took the ball end to end for a layup. And then he did it again seconds later. Then he drove the baseline. Then he penetrated and kicked a pass out to Jon Diebler for a 3-pointer. And then he netted a trey of his own and it was 59-45 and the outcome was all but sealed.

"We'd struggled with our transition, so that's all I really tried to do I just tried to get to the basket as much as possible," Lighty said.

Turner had another remarkable game - 31 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists - and there was no denying him the MVP award. Afterward, though, Turner said it is Lighty who leads Ohio State.

"Seeing him go through a great stretch like that, really lead us, is a great thing," Turner said. "He holds us together. We have a lot of trust in him. When he's going, he's going, and it's a big benefit and we're a better team."

Lighty made 8 of 14 shots en route to 20 points, adding seven rebounds and five assists.

"I just feed off David," said teammate William Buford.

The real feeding frenzy is about to begin as the Buckeyes enter the NCAA tournament. Some experts felt Ohio State was on the bubble for one of the four No. 1 seeds, which was unlikely considering the Buckeyes' RPI. But nobody expected that the selection committee, sequestered at a nearby downtown hotel, was barely bubbling over OSU as a No. 2 seed.

By putting the Bucks opposite Kansas - the tournament's overall No. 1 seed - in the Midwest Regional bracket, the committee was in fact ranking Ohio State as the last No. 2, or as the eighth best team overall.

That doesn't seem right for a team that won both regular-season and postseason Big Ten championships. It doesn't seem right for a team that has the best player in the college game as just one of four starters averaging in double figures. And it certainly doesn't seem right for a team that has David Lighty ready to light the fuse for a return visit to Indy.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.

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