Following Ohio State forward David Lighty’s 21-point, four-rebound, six-steal performance against Illinois on Tuesday, Fighting Illini coach Bruce Weber said he thought Lighty deserved to be named the MVP of the Big Ten.
OSU coach Thad Matta took his praise of the fifth-year senior a step further.
“I think they should put a statue outside the Schottenstein Center of David Lighty,” Matta said. “Just what he’s meant to this program, not only on the court. … He’s been here for five years, and I don’t think he’s ever gotten close to the credit he deserves for the player that he is and just the kid he is.”
Lighty’s performance on Tuesday, which included his highest scoring output in Big Ten play this season, came on the heels of a minislump suffered over the past four games that saw him connect on eight of his past 24 shot attempts. After shooting 2-for-6 in the first half, Lighty appeared to have to wait for another night to rediscover his rhythm.
It turned out he would just have to wait 15 minutes.
With the Buckeyes entering the half with a comfortable 47-32 advantage, an 11-2 Illinois run tightened OSU’s lead to six points five minutes into the second half. That’s when Lighty took matters into his own hands.
Lighty scored every point for the Buckeyes in a 13-2 run that stretched OSU’s lead back to a comfortable distance. In that stretch, Lighty connected on two 3-point shots, after going 3-for-13 from beyond the arc in the Buckeyes’ four previous games.
“I was trying to be aggressive as much as possible. In the first half, I had some looks but I didn’t make them or didn’t finish them,” Lighty said. “I just stuck with it and shots just started falling.”
The highlight of Lighty’s run came on a play that showcased his abilities at both ends of the court. As Illinois guard Crandall Head dribbled past Lighty at the top of the key, Lighty swiped the ball from the freshman for a steal, and then raced down the court for a one-handed dunk as he was fouled by Head.
“It was just an old play, kind of,” Lighty said. “Somebody’s beating you, going around the corner, the balls always on the outside, and I just got lucky when I reached around him and picked it. But actually, I didn’t know he was behind me, and luckily I made the dunk and the free throw, most importantly.”
Looking at the box score for the first time after the game, the first thing Lighty noticed was his six steals, a stat that reminded him of previous performances by a Buckeye this season.
“I got my Craft on,” Lighty said, referring to OSU freshman point guard Aaron Craft, who recorded six steals in the Buckeyes’ loss to Purdue on Sunday. “I was just playing defense and trying to be aggressive and trying to get my hands in the lanes and just came up with some steals.”
After starting the season 14-5, the Fighting Illini have gone 3-6 in their past nine games, starting with a Jan. 22 loss to the Buckeyes in Champaign, Ill. Weber said Tuesday’s game made the reasons for his team’s struggles clear.
“Lighty,” Weber answered bluntly when asked what his team was missing. “If you have a Lighty, that heart and soul that just comes every day and gives what you need, we just don’t have that toughness, that leadership. It’s the difference-maker.”