Turner, Buckeyes Forge Ahead

The amount of depth Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has on his bench this season is already being put to the test. With junior forward David Lighty out of commission for an extended period of time, Evan Turner is feeling the stress of replacing both his teammate and his friend.

When Ohio State sent two players to the Big Ten's media kickoff in Chicago, it sent Evan Turner and David Lighty. The two leading scorers from last season, Turner and Lighty were taking the next step toward being the team's official public spokesmen.

Lighty, the team's elder statesman, was making his second consecutive appearance at the preseason conference. Turner, on the other hand, was continuing his evolution into a team leader and serving as OSU's lone sophomore to make the trip.

Together, the two players who are also close friends off the court were being counted on to lead a Buckeye squad seeking a return to the NCAA Tournament through their contributions on the hardwood. But now, with Lighty sidelined until at least the heart of Big Ten play after undergoing surgery on his fractured right foot, it will be Turner who will have to go it alone without his primary partner in crime.

As that journey continues tonight against UNC Asheville (7 p.m., Big Ten Network), OSU head coach Thad Matta said it's little surprise that Turner was the player who appeared the most affected by Lighty's absence on the court in practice since suffering his injury.

"Evan probably took the hardest of Dave not being there," Matta said after his team's 71-53 victory against Iona on Dec. 20. "You could see it the last couple days. I kept telling him, ‘Keep playing basketball. That's what you do. You're a basketball player. Make plays.' "

Matta said he felt it took Turner until the second half of the game against the Gaels to be able to do that. Sixteen of his game-high 21 points came in the final 20 minutes as the Buckeyes pulled away for the victory.

When he was removed from the game with 1:12 remaining, Lighty was treated to a chorus of high-fives as he made his way down the OSU bench. When he reached the end he gave a quick hug to Lighty, who was seated there wearing a gray OSU sweatshirt.

"He gave me a little hug," Lighty said. "That was for me."

Not only will Turner have to take Lighty's place from a leadership standpoint, but he now will also have to do so on the court. Although Matta started freshman B.J. Mullens down low alongside sophomore Dallas Lauderdale, it was Turner who logged the majority of the minutes at Lighty's vacated power forward spot.

The biggest adjustment there is playing a key role in OSU's 3-2 zone defense.

"It's a lot of things that you have to do and a lot of responsibilities at the 4 on the baseline," Lighty said. "There could be a man in the corner and a man rolling down the middle of lane and you have to be able to do two things at once. It's really talking out there and being aggressive on defense and knowing where everyone is on the floor."

The correct answer in that situation, Lighty said, is to take the man coming down the middle of the lane and rely on the guard on the wing to drop down and cover the corner. It is not an easy system to quickly pick up.

"It was different," Turner said of his first extended playing time there. "There was a lot of talking because you're basically playing (against) three men down there. You just have to communicate. There's a lot of running and you have to have good anticipation. It's a different atmosphere."

The move to power forward also means Turner can expect to see more mismatches on the offensive side of the court. Playing against taller and slower opponents should allow the explosive Turner to either drive to the basket or pull up for the mid-range jumper he has displayed with growing frequency this season.

Losing Lighty also means losing his 9.7 points-per-game average in 32.9 minutes of action per game. No one player is going to fill that role, meaning a number of Buckeyes in addition to Turner will be charged with making up for Lighty's absence.

One of those players will be freshman William Buford, who played a career-high 32 minutes against Iona and finished with 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field.

"I always try to prepare myself," Buford said. "I just try to work hard on defense, and if I play defense my offense is going to come."

The trick moving forward now for Turner will be to make sure he realizes he does not have to do everything to help the team replace Lighty.

"He was down about it," Lighty said of Turner. "He said, ‘This is the first time I haven't played with you.' I told him to go out there and play his game and don't worry about me. I'll be fine as long as we keep winning."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories