It’s been more than six months since the Ohio State men’s basketball team suffered a heartbreaking, double-overtime loss to Siena that ended its NCAA tournament and its season. For the past half-year, the Buckeyes have been working to make sure their 2009-10 season ends on a better note.
Starting the season strong will be especially important this year, with OSU facing the defending national champion North Carolina in its third regular season game.
Sophomore guard Walter Offutt says the impending matchup has served as motivation during their offseason preparations.
“North Carolina is a big game,” he said. “It’s one of the first nationally televised games in the country, plus they’re a great team and it’s at one of the best basketball venues in the country in Madison Square Garden.”
The team’s preparation included a trip last month to Windsor, Ontario. OSU won all three of its exhibition games against Canadian universities by a combined score of 282-154.
While he acknowledges that the University of Western Ontario and the University of Windsor may not be North Carolina and Michigan State, Offutt says the experience is still important in getting ready for the season.
“Even though the competition level isn’t what we’re going to be facing in the future, it obviously still helped us get familiar with the new defense, the new offense and the new playing style that coach [Thad] Matta is putting in and that’s going to help us in the future to be successful.”
Lighty back from injury
It’s not often that a team begins its season by adding a player with experience as a team captain and 51 career starts, but with the return of junior forward David Lighty from injury, that’s exactly what the Buckeyes will do.
Just seven games into his 2008-09 season, Lighty broke a bone in his foot which required surgery and caused him to miss the rest of the season. His last game was actually a career-best, as he totaled a personal high of 21 points. Having to sit out the remainder of the season was a frustrating experience for Lighty.
“It was real tough,” he said. “You want to go out there and help your team as much as possible. Just sitting there watching and knowing you don’t have an effect on the outcome of the game was hard.”
But the offseason has brought good news for Lighty. First, he was granted a medical redshirt year, meaning he will still have two more years of eligibility for OSU. Second, his recovery has gone as well as anyone could hope for.
“I’m back to 100 percent now, no pain at all. I’m running like I can, jumping like I can, I’m doing everything like I was doing before I got hurt,” he said.
The trip to Canada provided Lighty his first opportunity to test out his surgically repaired foot against an opposing team. He played in all three games, averaging 9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game.
“It might even be a little stronger now that they got that screw in there,” he said with a chuckle.
Like Greg Oden and Michael Conley before him, prized recruit BJ Mullens is gone after only one year, leaving a gap in the post rotation for the Buckeyes. Though he only started two games last season, Mullens made the most of his time on the court, leading the team in rebounds per minute and finishing second in points per minute. Replacing his presence inside will be an important factor in the team’s success this season.
“Obviously that messed us up a lot when BJ left,” Offutt said. “Our wings are going to have to pick up scoring like they’re capable of, and Dallas [Lauderdale] is going to have to continue to be big in the middle.”
Junior Dallas Lauderdale surprised many when he earned the starting position in the post last year. But he capitalized on the opportunity, leading the team in blocks. And although he scored fewer than five points-per-game, he did so efficiently, shooting 71.8 percent from the field, also a team-best.
If the games in Canada are any indication, fans should look for Lauderdale to surprise again this year. He upped his scoring to 12 points per game for the trip, while still managing to shoot 76 percent from the field.
As for the wings, Coach Matta seems to be currently settled on starting four of them alongside Lauderdale. Juniors Evan Turner, David Lighty and Jon Diebler, along with sophomore William Buford, started all three games in Canada. All four are listed as either shooting guards or small forwards.
Offutt’s hope of increased scoring shouldn’t be a problem with that lineup, as the group consists of the team’s four leading scorers from last season.