As Ohio State trudged off the floor following a Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee that ended its 2009-10 season, a number of reasons for the defeat were offered. Chief among them was the fact that the Buckeyes lacked the defensive presence brought by junior David Lighty an undersized mismatch of a post player who was hampered by foul trouble for much of the contest.
It is a lesson OSU hopes to not need to repeat as it opens NCAA Tournament play Friday night against Texas-San Antonio. Again a key member of the team’s plans at both ends of the court, the fifth-year senior will have to stay out of foul trouble in order for the Buckeyes to live up to their billing as the top overall seed.
“We want to keep Dave in the game as much as we can just because he’s one of the best defenders in college basketball,” senior guard Jon Diebler said. “When Dave’s on the court it makes our defense that much better. He covers up a lot of mistakes that some of us might make, whether it be rotations or getting loose balls.
“Dave’s a guy who there’s a reason he plays 40 minutes a game because he’s a guy you’ve got to have on the floor.”
His play in the Big Ten tournament might be cause for concern. Entering the three-game challenge, Lighty had averaged 1.9 fouls per contest and had fouled out once during the season.
During the tournament, he committed nine fouls: an average of 3.0 per contest. In each of the three games, Lighty was whistled for two fouls in the first half, necessitating a quick exodus to the bench.
The result was a juggled rotation that meant more playing time for freshman Deshaun Thomas, which Diebler pointed out was a good thing for the forward's confidence. It also meant a conversation between Lighty and head coach Thad Matta stressing the importance of keeping the senior on the court.
“Some are just going to be unavoidable,” the coach said. “He’s got to do a better job of recognizing that.”
In addition, the coach implied that some of the calls against Lighty were questionable. However, the Cleveland native said he realizes that he must be more careful when on the court.
“It didn’t feel different at all,” he said. “The refs just made calls. I’ve got to be careful of when I can be aggressive and not be aggressive, knowing if I have one foul don’t put myself in a situation to give them a reason to call another one.
“It was a little bit of everything. I had a charge, going through a screen, push, a little bit of everything.”
In last year’s loss to the Volunteers, Lighty was limited to 26 minutes of action and finished with nine points as OSU lost by three. For the season, he averaged 36.3 minutes per contest.
During this year’s Big Ten tournament, Lighty averaged 31.0 minutes and is averaging 31.9 for the season. Those numbers were slightly inflated by an overtime contest against Northwestern in which Lighty saw 37 minutes of action.
In a win against Michigan, Lighty was limited to 22 minutes – his lowest total against a conference team this season and his third-lowest mark of the year.
A second-team all-Big Ten player and member of the all-defensive team, Lighty said he does not expect that he will have to spend much time adapting to new officials after working with Big Ten officials during the season.
“As the game goes along you get a feel for them and they get a feel for you as well but they don’t want to try to mess up the flow of the game or the pace of the game, (and) rightfully so,” he said. “They want to let us play our game. I don’t think there’s too much difference to start the tournament.”
Asked what he needs to do in order to stay out of foul trouble, Lighty said, “Just getting back into the flow of things and putting that behind me, just talking to the refs and making sure I don’t foul out or get in foul trouble early.”
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