Cody Cousino / Asst. multimedia editor
When Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta thinks his team needs a boost, he’ll sometimes show highlights of former OSU players to amp up his Buckeyes. One of Matta’s favorites involves a player still on his roster.
During the final minutes of an 81-68 win against Jacksonville on Dec. 17, 2008, then-OSU junior David Lighty raced up the sideline and stole a pass to help move the then-No. 16 Buckeyes to 7-0 — all while playing on a broken foot.
“He broke his foot in that game and continued to play the last five minutes,” Matta said, “and played harder than anybody I had ever seen.”
At the time, Lighty’s injury was a blow to a Buckeye team looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2007–08 season in which it didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. With Lighty’s foot recovering in time for a potential return to OSU at the tail end of the season, Matta debated bringing back the forward for a potential postseason run.
“Part of me wanted to see how good that team could have been,” Matta said. “He was such an intricate part of it.”
Matta ultimately decided against bringing back Lighty during the 2008–09 season, and the Buckeyes went on to make the 2009 NCAA Tournament, falling to Siena in the first round. With Lighty being granted a medical redshirt for that season, Matta recalled realizing that the injury could end up paying dividends for OSU in the long run.
“I remember when he broke his foot and you’re visualizing ahead, and we knew we were going to have a big incoming class coming in that year,” Matta said. “I remember saying to myself, you know, this could be good to have David Lighty as a fifth-year senior guiding those guys.”
Matta’s prophecy has turned into a reality this season, with Lighty playing a key role on a Buckeye team that is 24-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. Lighty said there was never any doubt in his mind that his injury two seasons ago was a blessing in disguise.
“I always look at it as a positive thing,” Lighty said. “Being with these guys one more year and being able to develop my game another year and especially having the chance and opportunity that we have right now to leave Ohio State, hopefully, as a national champion would be great.”
Playing on a team with freshmen Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft, who weren’t yet in high school when he was playing his first season at OSU, Lighty has made his impact mostly on the defensive end of the floor, something Matta says Lighty is the best in the country at doing.
When the Buckeyes were tied with Northwestern during the final minutes of their Jan. 29 matchup, it was Lighty who made a key steal that resulted in the game-winning free throw from Sullinger.
The win gave the Buckeyes their 22nd consecutive win, a feat that Lighty — the player who’s been a part of the most wins in OSU history — has accomplished twice in his career. The other time came during his freshman season, 2006–07.
Matta made a point of praising Lighty for the accomplishment following the game.
“Of the four teams he’s played on, two … have won 22 games in a row at some point in his career,” Matta said. “That’s incredible.”
Matta isn’t the only one to realize the impact Lighty has had on this year’s team. A freshman when Lighty broke his foot in 2008, junior guard William Buford said that what Lighty has brought to this year’s Buckeyes has been invaluable.
“You’re always going to need Dave. He brings all the energy to the team,” Buford said. “He’s the most talkative guy when we’re on the floor. He’s the heart and soul to this team.”