Lighty Still Bringing Heart and Soul
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — David Lighty knew he was struggling. Everyone did.
The fifth-year senior had lost his shooting touch, and in the process the Buckeyes had suffered their first two defeats of the season.
It would have been easy for Lighty to blame himself. Many players would have after going 4-of-13 from the field and 9-of-16 at the free throw line in the losses at Wisconsin and Purdue.
But Lighty has been down this road before. In his five years at Ohio State, he has seen just about everything there is to see and experienced everything there is to experience.
“I've been through the ups and downs of college basketball,” said Lighty, who missed nearly his entire junior season with a broken foot.
“People go through slumps. I just needed to work my way out of it, to keep shooting. My teammates have confidence in me and they get mad at me when I don't shoot the ball when I'm open. They trust in me.”
They aren’t the only ones. Despite the fact Lighty’s shooting percentage had dropped to an abysmal 38.8 percent over the last month, Lighty’s minutes had not taken a dip at all. He played 38 minutes in the loss at Wisconsin, 38 against Michigan State, 40 at Purdue and 39 in Tuesday night’s win over Illinois.
“He does so much on the floor besides scoring, that even if he’s not shooting well you can’t take him out because of what he does defensively,” said fellow senior Jon Diebler, the only Buckeye averaging more minutes per game this season than Lighty.
If he were a freshman, or even a sophomore or junior, Lighty would almost certainly have let his offensive struggles carry over to the defensive end. His teammates, or even coach Thad Matta, would have had to sit him down to see if they couldn’t get his head on straight.
“Dave’s a guy where you really don’t have to tell him anything. You don’t have to worry about Dave,” said Diebler, who has played with Lighty for the last four years.
“He’s a leader on this team, and he’s a guy we really didn’t have to say anything to. We knew he was going to get out of it somehow, and tonight he did.”
Even in the midst his struggles—which started during Ohio State’s trip to Illinois back in January—Lighty continued to stay aggressive at the offensive end. It didn’t always lead to points, however. He was stuffed twice in the first half of Tuesday’s game—once by a player and once by the bottom of the backboard—trying to get to the rim.
The latter Lighty called “a blocking foul,” but either way he had only four points on 2-of-6 shooting at the halftime break.
“Tonight that just shows how patient Dave was,” Diebler said.
“He had a rough first half, didn’t get some calls, but when he’s aggressive it helps things out a lot for everybody. It opens things up for myself, Will (Buford), Craft and even Sully on the inside.”
It’s no secret that Lighty brings something different to this team. Sullinger is the inside scorer, Buford and Diebler are the shooters and Craft is the do-everything point guard who distributes the ball and hustles all over the floor.
But Lighty’s game is unique to the college level. When he’s on, the way he was Tuesday night against Illinois, it makes the Buckeyes nearly impossible to defend.
“Tonight they tried to leave Dave and Craft open and have them beat them, and they did it,” Diebler said.
“It’s scary to think if we’re all on the same page. It’s something we’re going to have to adjust to as games go on because teams are going to prepare differently for us.”
There’s not much teams can do to prepare for what Lighty did in the second half of Tuesday’s game. During a three-minute stretch, Lighty scored 13 straight points, including six in transition as he ripped the ball away from Illinois three times in the open court.
“We made a run, and he just took over the game,” Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber said of Lighty, who finished with six steals and a game-high 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
“If you have a Lighty, everything he does is what you need. That toughness was the difference.”
In this case, Lighty’s mental toughness proved to be the difference. His struggles could have become a distraction. They could have ripped the team apart, especially after they lost two of their last three games.
But that’s not Lighty.
“I've said since the beginning: I love him,” Weber said.
“I think he's the MVP (of the Big Ten). He probably won't get it because people aren't smart enough. But he's their heart and soul.”
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