New No. 23 in Cleveland
Lighty Leads Buckeyes to Sweet 16 with Romp of George Mason
By Brandon Castel
CLEVELAND — George Mason could not have asked for a more accommodating start from Jon Diebler and William Buford.
What they didn’t count on was David Lighty.
With Ohio State’s two best perimeter shooters struggling early in the first half, the Cleveland native put on a show for the hometown crowd in a 98-66 win over No. 8-seed George Mason (27-7).
Channeling another No. 23 who used to play in Cleveland, Lighty was raining threes from deep in the Q Sunday as the No. 1-seed Buckeyes advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.
“It's hard to explain if you don't know the program,” Ohio State coach said of Lighty, who was 9-of-10 from the field.
“But seven years here, and Dave being with us for five of them, you know, just everything that he's been through, that he's seen, to come home to Cleveland, that's obviously a bonus.”
Historically a streaky shooter for the Buckeyes, the fifth-year senior out of Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School was a perfect 7-for-7 behind the arc Sunday, breaking the school record set by Scoonie Penn (5-for-5).
He scored 17 of his game-high 25 points in the first half.
What priority did we give Lighty? It was – first was (Jared) Sullinger, we began with how we're going to defend in the post. The second was (Jon) Diebler, because of his ability to stretch the defense with his 3-point shooting ability,” George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said.
“And then it was let's pray that Buford and Lighty don't go off. But you're hoping. You're not planning on that. You don't think that will happen, but you do hope that at least one or two of them will have an off night shooting. But instead they were on fire.”
Despite playing without starter Luke Hancock, who was out with the flu, George Mason was the team that came out of the gates fast. Determined to play a different style against OSU than Texas-San Antonio did in the first round, the Patriots got out to an 11-2 lead in the opening five minutes of the game.
“We didn’t play our style of basketball. We were letting down on defense, taking ill-advised shots on offense and it got to us,” junior William Buford said.
“They were talking a little junk and it ticked us off a little bit and we ended up going back to our style of play on defense.”
The George Mason bench was all smiles as the Buckeyes missed three of their first four shots and Jared Sullinger turned the ball over three times while also picking up his first foul on the offensive end. They had the No. 1-ranked team in the country on its heels, but they picked the wrong time to start talking trash.
“Absolutely, you see what we did afterwards,” senior Dallas Lauderdale said.
“We haven’t run into a team that talked trash yet, all season. We hadn’t run into a team that talked that much trash. That’s just the way they play, we don’t play that way. We didn’t talk any trash back, we just finished the game.”
And finished the Patriots.
Point guard Aaron Craft came off the bench at the 16:39 mark and helped the Buckeyes finish the first half on an incredible 50-15 run.
“Our intensity, our mindset, we picked it up on defense,” said Lauderdale, who had six points and four rebounds.
“That was the first thing we had to do because they were scoring at will the first three minutes. When we picked it up on defense, our offense sort of took off from there.”
The half ended when Diebler connected on a last-second three, again, to put the Buckeyes on top 52-26 at the break.
“It was a great play by Aaron,” said Diebler, who scored nine of his 13 points in the first half.
“I saw he had the ball and I saw everyone collapse on him, so I just tried to get to the open area. That’s just a heads-up play by him.”
Craft made a lot of those during the game, including a perfect pass to Sullinger under the basket for a three-point play. He also made an incredible pass to Diebler from the ground that led to a four-point play and one of Craft’s school-record 15 assists.
“He’s a tremendous competitor. He was going to get loose balls, 50-50 balls, he helped us get a lot of those and he was finding us in the right spots,” Buford said of the freshman point guard.
“That’s crazy that he got 15 assists.”
The Buckeyes traded baskets with George Mason to open the second half, but Lighty buried another three to put Ohio State up by 25 points with 12:27 to play. Buford followed with eight-straight points, including back-to-back threes, as the Buckeyes extended their lead to 75-42.
After going 2-of-7 in the first half, Buford finished with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting. He and Diebler each made four threes and Jared Sullinger added 18 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes. The Buckeyes had just nine turnovers and out-rebounded George Mason 33-29 while shooting 61 percent from the floor.
With the win, they advance to the Sweet 16 in Newark, New Jersey, where they will face No. 4-seed Kentucky.
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