March 16, 2011

Avoiding foul trouble a priority for Lighty

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - David Lighty has about as much veteran experience as someone could attain through a career as a college athlete. That doesn't mean the fifth-year senior doesn't lose sight of things.

That became apparent in the Big Ten Tournament when Lighty - Ohio State's best and most versatile defender - got into foul trouble after some questionable decisions.

Both he and head coach Thad Matta have had candid conversations about the importance of him staying on the floor from a defensive standpoint, but in each of Ohio State's last two games the senior has missed substantial time because of foul trouble.

"That's something that we've talked about since day one but I guess I kind of toss that out the window last weekend for some reason," Lighty said. "Just getting back into the flow of things, putting that behind me, and just talking to the refs and making sure I don't get into foul trouble early (is what I need to do)."

The importance of Lighty's presence on the floor cannot be overstated, particularly because of the versatility he provides in his ability to guard nearly every position on the floor.

In the Big Ten Tournament's semi-finals against Michigan, however, Lighty picked up two fouls in the first 12 minutes of the game and was whistled for his third just seconds into the second half.

Ohio State ended up knocking off Michigan with solid play from freshman Deshaun Thomas off the bench, but that doesn't present a favorable situation in the NCAA Tournament for the top-seeded Buckeyes.

"He and I have had a discussion about that," Matta said. "Some of (the fouls) are just going to be unavoidable. He has to do a better job of recognizing that as he gets tangled up in a ball screen and gets tackled, he has to be able to release and get out of the commotion."

Lighty owned up to his mistakes.

"It didn't feel different at all. The refs just made calls," the senior said. "I just need to be careful of when I can be aggressive and not be aggressive and knowing that if I have one foul to not put myself in a situation to give them a reason to call another one."

Ohio State was fortunate enough to get away with Lighty's foul trouble in the recent games, but there was a time where the Buckeyes may have paid the ultimate price with its most valuable defender sitting on the bench.

In Ohio State's loss to Tennessee in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, Lighty found himself in foul trouble early, causing him to play only 26 minutes in the game. That was far less than his season average.

While Lighty's foul trouble wasn't the only factor in Ohio State's loss to the Volunteers - who used the win to springboard themselves in the Elite Eight for the first time in program history - the thought of not having him on the floor for an extended period of time in March isn't something that sits well with the team.

"Obviously we want to keep Dave in the game as much as we can because just like coach has been saying, he's one of the best college players in basketball," said senior guard Jon Diebler. "When Dave is on the court it makes our defense that much better. There's a reason he plays 40 minutes a game. He's a guy you've got to have on the floor."

In hindsight, Lighty's foul trouble may have been a positive for the Buckeyes. Not only did Ohio State eventually advance to capture its second-consecutive Big Ten Tournament title, but youngsters like Thomas and Jordan Sibert got meaningful minutes and excelled with their time on the floor.

If a situation presents itself where either would be needed in the NCAA Tournament, Matta would probably take solace in the fact both freshman had the opportunity to make plays when the team needed them.

But the bottom line is simple for Matta. The NCAA Tournament is won when team's are at their best defensively. That said, Ohio State is clearly at its best with Lighty on the floor.

"No matter who we play, when we play them or where we play, we have to be sound defensively," Matta said. "That's the big thing for us as we go into it.

"You're probably going to have some nights where you don't shoot the ball as well as you'd like to in this tournament. As we've talked to our guys all along, we have to continue to play the defense we're capable of."

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