Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor
CLEVELAND — First, cover Jared Sullinger; second, Jon Diebler.
That was No. 8 seed George Mason’s plan, heading into its third-round matchup against No. 1 seed Ohio State.
It didn’t work.
OSU forward David Lighty, who GMU was praying would have an off night, ended up with a record-setting performance in his final collegiate matchup in his hometown.
The future looked dim for the Buckeyes after they fell behind George Mason, 11-2, less than four minutes in.
But then, after missing three of their first four shots, the Buckeyes came alive. They connected on eight of their next 10 field goal attempts, including four 3-pointers from Lighty, to take a 24-18 lead about midway through the first half.
“Lighty was on fire,” GMU forward Ryan Pearson said. “He just didn’t miss.”
OSU’s relentless offense continued, as it entered halftime on a 50-15 run, doubling the Patriots’ score. Lighty, a Cleveland native, led that run with 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting, including a perfect 5-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Lighty, who graduated before the matchup, ended the game on 100 percent shooting from deep, connecting on all seven 3-point attempts. His performance was the best single-tournament-game 3-point shooting without a miss in program history.
“My teammates did a good job of finding me,” Lighty said. “They did spot me and gave me room to knock down shots.”
OSU coach Thad Matta said he’s witnessed Lighty evolve as a player over the years.
“You go back to his freshman year, I remember he made a three at North Carolina. Then he went like three months without making one,” Matta said. “For me to see the progression that he’s made as a player … I’m just excited for him.”
But the fifth-year forward wasn’t the only Buckeye hitting threes that night.
Diebler and junior guard William Buford added four 3-pointers apiece on 4-for-8 and 4-for-7 shooting from deep, respectively.
“Every time I looked up, everybody was hitting a jumper or a three or something,” Lighty said. “Everyone was clicking on high cylinders tonight. And when that’s happening, it’s pretty hard to beat us.”
The Buckeyes broke single-game program records in NCAA Tournament games for number of 3-pointers made, and 3-point shooting percentage, sinking 16 from deep on 61.5 percent shooting. They set the previous 3-point record at 12 in their win against Texas-San Antonio on Friday.
Freshman point guard Aaron Craft led OSU in assists with 15, a career high for him and single-game record for a Buckeye.
But, as Lighty attributed his shooting performance to his teammates’ ball placement, Craft deferred the praise to OSU’s offense.
“Like most of the assists today, I mean, they knocked down threes for me,” Craft said. “That’s basically how it happened.”
Every single player on OSU’s roster put up points against the Patriots on Sunday, including senior walk-on guard Eddie Days, who recorded his first and only point of his career on a free throw with 1:17 to play.
“I’m so happy for Eddie and what he’s meant to this team,” Matta said.
The Buckeyes (34-2) will proceed to the Sweet 16 in Newark, N.J., where they will tip off against fourth-seeded Kentucky (27-8) at 9:30 p.m. Friday.
OSU proved against the Patriots that, in order to beat the Buckeyes, a team can’t focus all of its defense on two players and hope the others do poorly.
“We have so many weapons,” Lighty said. “The defense pretty much has to pick their poison.”