Junior forward David Lighty put up a career-high 30 points and personally accounted for all 10 in a crucial run late in the game that helped the No. 18 Buckeyes (10-2) fend off an upset challenge from visiting Cleveland State, 72-59.
Although OSU never trailed against the Vikings (4-9), the home team struggled to put them away. Back-to-back three-pointers from CSU reserve guard Jeremy Montgomery made it a four-point game at 40-36 with 13:24 remaining, but it was then that Lighty – a Cleveland native – took over.
After breaking the CSU press, Lighty pushed the ball up the right side of the court and spied an opening. Streaking to the basket, he leapt and threw down a powerful one-handed dunk that brought the crowd of 13,462 to its feet.
"(It) was an amazing dunk," OSU head coach Thad Matta said.
It firmly planted momentum back in the favor of the Scarlet and Gray, but Lighty was just getting started. The OSU lead would balloon to 14 points at 56-42 with 7:25 remaining – a 15-4 run by the Buckeyes during which Lighty personally accounted for 14 points. It was a stretch that head coach Thad Matta said was the most he had seen one player put the team on his back since Turner's injury.
The Vikings never quit, but they could never again challenge for the lead. Fittingly, it was Lighty who drove the final nail in the casket. After CSU cut it to an eight-point deficit, Lighty drove the basket and converted a three-point play with 1:59 left to push it back to an 11-point lead. The ensuing free throw gave him his final points of the night.
"I was just being aggressive, pretty much and attacking as much as possible," Lighty said. "We were still in the flow of the offense, running plays that coach called. It wasn't nothing special that I try to do."
During the second half, Lighty emerged as essentially the team's only offensive weapon in the half-court offense as he scored 22 of his team's 41 points. After working the ball around the arc, he would drive the basket and look for contact. Lighty's total would have been higher had he not started out 1 for 5 from the free-throw line.
Conversely, the CSU offensive attack revolved around Montgomery. Although he entered the game averaging 8.9 points per contest, the Chicago native finished with 25 points on 8 of 13 shooting after scoring two in the first half. He almost balanced out guard Norris Cole, who entered the game averaging 17.3 points but missed all 10 of his shot attempts and committed six turnovers.
"I thought Lighty had one of his best games ever," CSU head coach Gary Waters said. "Right now I would consider him their best player. When he's playing at the best of his game and your best player doesn't score a point, it's impossible to win a game like that. I thought we were only playing on one or two cylinders."
It was not enough, as the Vikings shot 37.7 percent (20 for 53) from the field as a team and committed 16 turnovers that resulted in 23 points for the Buckeyes. OSU also committed 16 turnovers.
The Buckeyes never trailed in the first half, but they did not look like winners for much of the 20 minutes. A three-pointer from William Buford in the closing seconds set the score at 31-23 and gave the Buckeyes more of a cushion than their play deserved.
A hot start saw OSU jump out to a 13-3 lead that forced the Vikings to call a timeout with 16:07 left in the contest, but the pace of the game slowed from that point. CSU put together a 9-0 run that made it 13-12 with 11:59 left during what would nicely be described as a rough patch for the Buckeyes that included five turnovers – three from Buford on successive possessions.
The Vikings began their first-half charge after Matta replaced starting point guard P.J. Hill with senior Jeremie Simmons. He was pulled after five minutes of action and did not return, as Hill saw a season-high 35 minutes of action.
"It was just all defense," Matta said. "I thought P.J. was really, really active and with the switching he did a good job of blowing things up out there."
Buford finished with 13 points and junior center Dallas Lauderdale added 12 as all but one of the team's points came from the starting five.