Lighty, Defense Help Buckeyes Avoid Letdown in Big Ten Home Opener
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Like an 18-point halftime lead in the Sugar Bowl, the basketball Buckeyes nearly gave away their Big Ten home-opener Sunday against visiting Minnesota.
It wasn’t until a last-second three by Austin Collins dropped harmlessly into the hands of Jared Sullinger that Ohio State coach Thad Matta finally let out a sigh of relief in the 67-64 victory.
Coming off a rugged 73-68 win at Iowa last week, the second-ranked Buckeyes (16-0, 3-0 Big Ten) looked to be in control against the Gophers (12-4, 1-3) in their first big home game of the year. They led 32-22 at the half and held an 18-point lead with 8:31 to play before Minnesota went on a 12-1 run to cut it to seven with just over five minutes to play.
“I was about as proud as I could be with our defense the first 32 minutes of the game, but down the stretch we were in all kinds of foul trouble,” Matta said.
“We started fouling and putting them at the free throw line and they go 24-for-27. It was an odd twist being up 18 there in the second half.”
After David Lighty knocked down back-to-back threes to give OSU a 55-37 lead late in the second half, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith went to his full-court press defense, and it completely threw the Buckeyes off balance the rest of the way.
“Their pressure got us out of our offense, out of our flow,” said freshman point guard Aaron Craft, who was charged with breaking the press.
“It took us a while to get adjusted to it.”
The Buckeyes turned it over eight times in the second half, and Dallas Lauderdale missed a pair of free throws that would have put the game out of reach with 29 seconds left. Instead, Smith had one last chance to draw up a game-tying three-pointer, but the Buckeyes sold out on star outside shooter Blake Hoffarber.
“They obviously were looking to get him the shot. I think Jon Diebler today was tremendous defensively, and his activity and chasing the screens really did a good job,” Matta said.
“He was denying and not letting him get the touch and Dallas did a great job of jumping out on the initial screen.”
With Hoffarber covered up, the inbounds pass went to Hollins, a backup guard who had four points in the game. His game-tying heave was contested by William Buford before landing in the hands of Sullinger, who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“We told them give them the two, don’t give them the three and Will got a great challenge,” Matta said.
“And we were fortunate enough to come away with it.”
Ohio State shot just 39 percent in the first half, including 3-of-11 behind the arc, but Lighty and the defense carried them to a 32-22 halftime lead. The Gophers tied the game at 10 in the early-going on a three by Hoffarber, but Lighty immediately connected from long-range at the other end as the Buckeyes went on a 7-1 run to take a 17-11 lead at the 12:56 mark of the first half.
The Gophers went on a 5-0 run to make it a one-point game, but again it was Lighty coming to the rescue with a baseline drive and finish to put OSU back on-top by three. The Buckeyes would close out the first half on a 15-6 run as Lighty became the first Buckeye ever to reach 111 wins for his career, breaking a tie with former walk-ons Mark Titus and Danny Peters.
Lighty spent the last 2:30 on the bench after fouling out, but that didn’t stop him from getting the game-ball from an emotional Thad Matta after scoring a game-high 19 points in the record-setting win.
“It was a very emotional moment,” Matta said afterward.
“I think David has never gotten the respect I have for him and what he’s meant to this basketball team.”
Game Play by Play
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