Entering an interview session Friday morning at Value City Arena, Thad Matta perhaps provided a glimpse at his plan to replace David Lighty.
And yes, it involves stormtroopers.
As Matta entered the interview room at the arena, he was followed by two stormtroopers and Darth Vader, who will be on hand Saturday for Star Wars Day as the Buckeyes and Iona tip off at noon.
When asked if the characters might get a chance to play, Matta replied, “That’s going to be a gametime decision whether they go or not. We’re going to see them in practice to see if they can move in those costumes.”
With that, Matta paused and broke into a grin.
“I know this. Even if they can’t move, they can defend better than we did the other night.”
Matta, who was referring to Ohio State’s 81-68 win against Jacksonville on Wednesday night, always seems to be harping on his team’s defense – or lack thereof, at least in his mind – but that point has become a bit more salient with the loss of Lighty.
The junior swingman suffered a broken foot with around six minutes to play against the Dolphins, and the injury is expected to keep him out for six to 12 weeks but not the rest season. Lighty underwent surgery yesterday and had a pin inserted into the foot by Dr. Grant Jones.
While the Buckeyes will miss his 9.7 points per game – which places him third on the squad – and his 5.7 rebounds, the bigger loss might be on the defensive end. Lighty has been one of the team’s most consistent defenders since his arrival at Ohio State and used his size and quickness to frustrate opponents.
“It’s not on the offensive end,” leading scorer Evan Turner said. “It’s on the defensive end. That’s where you win games at. Just his experience, that’s what we’ll miss about Lighty the most.”
Lighty was one of the players who would play and near the baseline in the team’s zone defense, a role that now must be filled.
“We didn’t realize the little things he does behind the defense because we’re playing up top and don’t get to see what’s going on,” sophomore Jon Diebler said. “After you watch film, he way that he plays and the little things he does that don’t show up on the box score are things we’re going to miss.”
Matta said that he’s not sure how the team will approach filling Lighty’s spot in the starting lineup. The starting lineup has been the same for each game this year, with Dallas Lauderdale playing underneath and the Buckeyes starting Diebler, Turner and Lighty together with Jeremie Simmons at point guard.
Lighty is the only player of that group – and of the team’s heavy rotation – that is an upperclassman who has been with the team for more than just this season.
“I think most important is just the leadership role,” Diebler said. “He brought that leadership and the intensity. He brought it every day in practice. He got guys going. His energy is something that’s going to be missed.”
The fifth-year head coach would not tip his hand as to which player might earn a starting nod in place of Lighty, but freshman William Buford, the reigning state Mr. Basketball, is thought to be a possibility to receive some of the Cleveland native’s minutes. Matta added that Lighty has averaged a team-high 32.9, so no one player will be tasked to pick up the slack.
“I’m not going to pin it on one guy,” Matta said.
Other possible permutations include more of the lineup Matta has tinkered with that includes two big men in Lauderdale and freshman center B.J. Mullens.
“We have a lot of different options I think that we can play, and fortunately for us we’ve been playing with a lot of different things throughout the course of practice,” Matta said. “I want to see in practice today how we go.”
Matta said that Lighty, who suffered a serious knee injury in high school, is in good spirits after yesterday’s surgery. As for the necessary recovery time, Matta compared the injury to one suffered to Lionel Chalmers when the head coach was at Xavier. Chalmers returned from his injury in less than six weeks, leaving Matta to believe that Lighty should be able to return as the Buckeyes hit the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
Lighty’s toughness and ability to deal with pain are not in question, especially after tied his career high with 21 points as he finished Wednesday’s game on the broken foot.
“I think in only David Lighty fashion, in the last six minutes he made some of the most incredible plays I’ve ever seen with a broken foot,” Matta said.
“If you didn’t know him, now you know what type of player he is and what type of guy he is,” Turner added. “That’s amazing.”
In addition to Lighty’s injury, freshman guard Walter Offutt has returned home to Indianapolis because of a death in the family, but he is expected to return in time for the game against the Gaels, who took Wisconsin to the wire early this year before falling.