Rapp Around: Lighty Dials 1-1-1
January 10, 2011
As David Lighty took a seat on the Ohio State bench with five fouls and 2:30 showing on the game clock, and the second-ranked Buckeyes clinging to a 63-55 lead on Sunday afternoon, two strange things occurred.
First, the Buckeyes proceeded to let a lead that was 18 with eight minutes and change remaining continue to dip. Second, Lighty, the coolest and most experienced player coach Thad Matta has, was dealing with frayed nerves.
“The most nervous I’ve probably ever been,” the fifth-year senior admitted. “I can’t do anything about it. I can’t get back in the game and help my team win. That’s a bad feeling.”
A 6-5 swingman who is vital to OSU’s execution on both ends of the floor, Lighty could only exhort his teammates from the bench, a place he doesn’t frequent too often. He was making his 104th start in his 136th game as a Buckeye and the 67-64 hang-on win over Minnesota allowed him to chalk up a program record 111th win.
His bright-eyed smile was on display as he spoke to reporters afterward and presumably in Ohio State’s home locker room in the Schottenstein Center when Matta handed him the game ball – a ritual he rarely employs.
A product of Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph, Lighty links all the way back to Matta’s famed signing class of 2006 that was ranked tops in the country thanks to the presence of Indianapolis Lawrence North superstar teammates Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. as well as Dayton Dunbar star Daequan Cook, the No. 1 rated prospect in Ohio.
Lighty was an outstanding all-around player at VASJ but because of that firepower wasn’t a headline recruit when he opted for Ohio State. Knowing Lighty could have been a standout at another school or opted to go elsewhere because of NCAA sanctions hanging on the OSU program, Matta said handing over the ball and recognizing the likable senior’s win record was “an emotional moment for me.”
Matta knows it’s no coincidence that his team bogs down at times when No. 23 is not on the court. He said foul trouble on Lighty probably cost the team a chance to go to the Elite Eight and possibly the Final Four last season.
“I think, honestly, Dave Lighty might be one of the most unheralded and underrated players who ever wore to the scarlet and gray, and that’s for a guy who’s been here for seven years,” he joked. “I’ve loved him from day one and I don’t think he gets what he deserves. I’ve said this: I think he’s the best defender in college basketball. One on one, I’m taking Dave Lighty on defense.”
Longtime teammate Jon Diebler also is impressed with how Lighty brings it each day.
“I see how good Dave is every day in practice, so I know he’s a great player,” Diebler said. “But the one thing about Dave is he makes everyone else around him better. The time I’ve been here and the season he sat out and seeing what effect he had when he wasn’t playing, then coming back and playing the next year made our team that much better.
“Dave is a guy who does things that don’t always show up in the stat book, but when you watch film … the ground he covers on defense, you’re just like, ‘Man.’ It didn’t show a rebound or a steal but what he does to disrupt the other players on the defensive end is just unbelievable.”
“He’s one of the best players we’ve had here. He may not average the most points, the most rebounds or assist or steals, but he’s a guy that we have to have on the court just because of all the intangibles that he brings.”
And it’s not like Lighty doesn’t help fill up the boxscore. He is averaging 13.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game and currently leads the team in steals with 28. He’s played point guard at times and also shifts down from the wing to power forward when the Buckeyes are able to field a smaller lineup.
He made headlines with a 29-point explosion in a win over UNC-Asheville and also was on his offensive game in the win over Minnesota with a game-high 19 points and a 3-for-4 showing from long range. But Lighty tends to barely dent the game story like after a win over Morehead State in which he logged 11 points, five rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
He just fills in all the cracks with little fanfare.
That willingness to blend in and put energy into defense traces back to Lighty’s middle school days, when his coach encouraged him to “find other ways to be effective on the court”
“I think that’s when I started changing my mind-set into becoming a complete player,” he said.
Lighty has scored more than 1,000 points in his career but owns a scoring average below double figures (9.0 ppg). Still, he was part of a team that won 35 games in 2006-07 followed by a 24-win season. He was part of seven wins at the start of the 2008-09 campaign before suffering a broken foot and settling for a medical redshirt. Last year, he was a mainstay in the lineup again and OSU won 29 games.
Thanks to Ohio State’s 15-0 start heading into Sunday’s Big Ten home opener, Lighty was sitting on 110 all-time wins, tying him with former walk-ons Mark Titus and Danny Peters.
“You stick around for 20 years, you’re going to win enough games,” Lighty said. “My freshman year kind of gave me a head start.
“Hopefully it means you’re doing something right, getting the job done each and every night and playing hard and with focus. I think that’s something that also comes from my coaches and my teammates as well. I couldn’t go out there and do it by myself. With so many great players who have been here, to have my name in the record books for the most wins is an honor for me.”
When asked before the battle with the Gophers if he was made aware of the record, Lighty said, “A couple well wishes on Twitter and things like that. Evan (Turner) really wants me to break the record. Hopefully it’ll be a sellout crowd and Mark’s Club Trillion fans all come and watch me break the record. I’m sure they won’t be rooting for me for that, though. So we’ll see what happens.”
What happened was Lighty showing his full repertoire. He helped out inside and on the perimeter defensive while hitting 7 of 13 shots from the field. He finished drives, hit pull-ups, splashed threes and, of course, ended up on the floor from time to time.
Lighty seems to do it all with a grin and the results are very consistent – wins, wins and more wins.
“For some reason I was always on a good team,” he said. “There might have been one or two seasons growing up, maybe, where I was on a bad team. Winning is something that was kind of inside me and instilled in me through my mom, really, because she likes to win. She’s real competitive. I get that from her a little bit more than my dad. Every time I go out with her and we bowl or something like that or play pool, she’s real competitive. And she hates when I’m not performing or trying at my best.”
Lighty’s prep career ended at the Schottensten Center as VASJ lost in the state finals to Cincinnati North College Hill, possibly the best Division III team in the history of the Ohio state playoffs. Even after playing valiantly and coming up short against O.J. Mayo, Bill Walker and company, Lighty vowed to himself that the losses on his future collegiate home court were going to be few and far between.
Promise almost fulfilled – and Lighty has just eight more games in the building.
“Now every game is my last, pretty much,” he said. “I’m only going to put on this jersey about 20 more times, so you’ve got to go out there and play like it’s the end, because it is now. Getting a win in every game is something that’s in you mind that you’ve got to stay focused on.”
Early in the season, Lighty was asked what one piece of advice he would pass along to the team’s six freshmen.
“Live in the moment,” he responded. “You only live once and you only get to experience this once, so enjoy it and have fun with it but at the same time know this is kind of like your job as well.”
Not surprisingly, Lighty’s favorite wins of his OSU career are Big Ten championship clinchers at home – vs. Wisconsin in 2007 and against Illinois last year.
He couldn’t tell you his stat line in those contests but he remembers the postgame euphoria. And in the rare contests that don’t have a preferred result …
“I get mad but I don’t show it,” he said. “I use it as a force to try to figure out what I did wrong or what the team did wrong and hopefully not do it again and come out with a win in the next game.”
Nobody in scarlet and gray has done it any better.