Following the Spartans' victory Jan. 25 on OSU's home court, Izzo cited injured Buckeye David Lighty as one of the chief reasons why his team was able to control the glass and earn the victory against the Buckeyes.
"Ohio State right now is short a guy, and one guy can make a big difference," Izzo said. "I thought guys missed some shots late and maybe their legs were gone. When Lighty comes back that team will add a lot."
MSU's Raymar Morgan was limited to 21 minutes and took just four shots from the field as he continues to battle his way back from being sick, Izzo said. After mentioning how much Morgan's absence has affected his team, Izzo put it in perspective when compared to what Matta and the Buckeyes are enduring.
"I'm complaining about Raymar not being able to go much and here Lighty's out," he said. "I know what that's like too because I've been there before. I'd say we have a little more depth and that depth but mark my words this is going to be a good Ohio State team before it's over if Lighty can come back and play the amount of minutes I think he'll be able to play."
His reaction to the situation was slightly different than Matta's. While Lighty has been sidelined since suffering a fractured foot during a Dec. 17 victory against Iona, the OSU head man has remained mum on his junior forward's status.
That has not stopped him from simultaneously wishing for his return and an end to the questions about his return. After describing how Lighty provided textbook defense on the final play of the game in OSU's win against Butler on Dec. 13 during a Jan. 16 press conference, Matta ended the anecdote on a down note.
"Can we stop talking about him?" Matta said. "That play gets me excited."
The question is when – or if – Lighty will be able to return to action this season. After suffering the fractured foot, Lighty's prognosis was that he could potentially return to action in six to 12 weeks. Following the loss to the Spartans, Matta said his most battle-tested player was due to have another X-ray Jan. 30. From there, the Buckeyes will be able to project how his recovery is progressing.
Asked if Lighty's absence was hovering in the back of his mind, Matta laughed.
"It's not in the back, it's in the front," he said. "I'm not making excuses. Injuries happen. I stopped wanting to talk about that a couple weeks ago, to be honest. Those things do happen.
"I remember last year in here with about four minutes to go in the game Dave gave up an offensive rebound and I called him over and had a nice talk with him and he got two more of the next rebounds. That's who he is."
From his power forward spot, Lighty had a number of key responsibilities in the team's zone defense that stretched from closing out on shooters in the corners to manning up against centers in the post.
With Lighty in the lineup, teams were shooting 36.6 percent (136 for 372) from the floor against the Buckeyes. Without him, OSU's opponents are shooting 41.8 percent (258 for 617) from the field.
"Dave helps that back line back there a lot and also it keeps us a little bigger with Evan on the wing spot," Matta said. "The guys we've got out there have to do a better job."
One of the players tasked with a bigger role in Lighty's absence is freshman center B.J. Mullens, who has seen both his production and his playing time increase with Lighty on the shelf. From his perch near the end of the bench, Lighty has been providing his teammates with pointers and advice since going down with the injury.
"It's a lot different, having that seniority not out there," Mullens said. "He knows where to be at and he knows what to tell you. We don't have that out there now. We can listen to him on the bench and hopefully we go out and do the right thing. It's better when he's out there playing with us. It's a big help. That's a gap on our team right now but we're filling it."
In an interview with ESPN, Lighty said he planned to start doing some limited footwork in the two weeks leading up to his Jan. 30th X-ray. However, Matta said that was more wishful thinking than anything else, adding that he had not done any running since undergoing surgery.
"Dave's calendar and the doctor's calendars probably don't go hand in hand," Matta said with a laugh.