Injuries, Transfers Depleting OSU

The Gophers could be getting Ohio State at the right time on the hardwood, as injuries and transfers have taken some bite out of the Buckeyes. The Gophers host Ohio State on Saturday in the second Big Ten game for Minnesota.

Injuries and transfers have dwindled Ohio State's roster to just nine scholarship players, although help is on the way when sophomore forward Nikola Kecman returns Jan. 6 from an NCAA suspension.

That won't help Saturday at Minnesota, though. And Kecman is a post player, so it doesn't solve a backcourt ravaged by David Lighty's broken foot and the surprising transfer of Anthony Crater, who only a few weeks ago was considered the point guard of the future.

"We didn't know it was coming," said junior P.J. Hill, who played a big role in Ohio State's victory against Iowa on Dec. 31. He will likely receive the bulk of the minutes vacated by Crater. "Now we've just got to move on."

The Buckeyes were poised to be one of the nation's darlings just a few weeks ago. Then Lighty was injured, the team lost by 28 to West Virginia and Crater announced his transfer. Now it's a team in disarray.

"We got dealt a joker when Dave went down," coach Thad Matta said. "That was your one experienced guy, the guy that was a little bit of the glue to it."

Now Matta is mixing and matching lineups, and watching to see how his young team fares against adversity. The Buckeyes squandered a 15-point lead against the Hawkeyes, but held on for the close victory — a drastic improvement after the blowout loss to West Virginia.

Matta's best lineup moving forward likely includes big minutes for Dallas Lauderdale and B.J. Mullens down low, and moving Evan Turner back to the wing.

"Lineup-wise, I don't know exactly what it's going to be," Matta said. "I don't think we're at the stage yet where we can pinpoint and say, ‘We're going to do this.' We're still, in a way, kind of searching each game."

OHIO STATE 68, IOWA 65: The Buckeyes blew a 15-point lead in the first half, but held on thanks to three late free throws from Evan Turner and two missed 3-pointers from Iowa in the final 30 seconds.

It took Jon Diebler and William Buford to both reach career highs in order for the Buckeyes to survive their conference opener — Diebler set a career high with 27 points and Buford matched his career best with 16.

The Hawkeyes fell behind, 30-15, but fought back to tie the game at 38 five minutes into the second half. It was one of 14 3-pointers for Iowa in the game.

NOTES

  • David Lighty is the last remaining holdover from Ohio State's run to the national championship game two seasons ago. Now, though, he is nothing more than a spectator, and the hole his absence creates is growing.

    The Buckeyes entered Big Ten play wobbled and bruised following a 28-point lashing at the hands of West Virginia on Dec. 27. It ended the nation's longest winning streak, dealt the Bucks their first loss of the season and served as the worst in the history of Value City Arena. The last time Ohio State lost a game that badly was 10 years ago to Purdue, when the Bucks were still playing in St. John Arena.

    The most disturbing trend was Ohio State's inability to defend without Lighty, a junior with a bulldog mentality on defense. It is the staple of coach Thad Matta's scheme, yet the Buckeyes surrendered at least 68 points in two of the first four games after Lighty was injured. That had happened just once through the first six games of the season.

    Against the Mountaineers, the Buckeyes saw a seven-point halftime deficit spin out of control in the second half.

    "Once we got down 18 or 20, we did what a young team does," sophomore Evan Turner said. "We started crumbling."

    Lighty has already had surgery to insert a pin in his broken foot and is expected to miss at least another month and perhaps as much as 10 weeks. That means he won't return until at least February, and perhaps not until the Big Ten tournament in March. It also means another young Ohio State team will have to grow up quickly in league play without its most experienced player.

    "We can fight or we can give up," coach Thad Matta said. "That's the challenge for this team."

  • The Bucks shot 54.4% from the floor to win three consecutive games against Jacksonville, Iona and UNC-Asheville. That all came to a screeching halt against West Virginia, though, when the Bucks shot just 31%.

  • Matta still hasn't settled on a lineup to replace injured star David Lighty, but he's growing more and more comfortable with the 6-foot-8 Dallas Lauderdale playing alongside 7-footer B.J. Mullens. Mullens, a freshman, has played 45 minutes over the last two games entering league play, the longest stretch of activity for him this season.

  • Jeremie Simmons hit a 3-pointer less than four minutes into the Iowa game, continuing his streak of a 3-pointer in every game this season. Simmons finished with just six points and is third on the team in 3-point percentage at .348 (16 of 46).

  • Minnesota native P.J. Hill didn't score a point in the victory against Iowa, but he had four assists and always seemed to be in the right spot at the right time. Hill disrupted Jake Kelly's potential game-tying 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and received a big bear hug from Thad Matta after the game for his continued hustle.

  • Since entering the starting lineup as David Lighty's replacement, freshman William Buford has twice scored a career-high 16 points. He is averaging 13.5 points, up from the 5.9 he averaged coming off the bench. He has played at least 30 minutes in three of his four starts.

  • Junior David Lighty is expected to miss another four-to-10 weeks after breaking his foot Dec. 17 against Jacksonville. He has already had surgery to insert a pin in the foot.

  • Frustrated with a lack of playing time, freshman Anthony "Noopy" Crater has asked for and been granted his transfer after just 10 games at Ohio State. Crater totaled 12 points and 19 assists while averaging 13.1 minutes per game as a backup to junior college transfer Jeremie Simmons.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual starters — G Jon Diebler, G Jeremie Simmons, G William Buford, F Evan Turner, C B.J. Mullens. Key subs — G/F Walter Offutt, F Dallas Lauderdale.

    IN FOCUS: Coach Thad Matta left his team with a challenge following their loss to West Virginia: fight or quit. He got his answer on New Year's Eve when the Buckeyes managed to defeat Iowa. But the trip to Minnesota is daunting, especially with the Buckeyes running short of scholarship players.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We can fight or we can give up. That's the challenge for this team." — coach Thad Matta, on his players' options following a 28-point loss to West Virginia


    GAME REVIEW

    Ohio State 71, Iona 53

    Ohio State 83, North Carolina-Asheville 59

    West Virginia 76, Ohio State 48

    Ohio State 68, Iowa 65

    GAME PREVIEW

    at Minnesota, Saturday, Jan. 3

    at Michigan State, Tuesday, Jan. 6

    vs. Houston Baptist, Friday, Jan. 9

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