Little has gone wrong for Ohio State during the first month of the season — until now.
The No. 17 Buckeyes will play their first game since losing junior forward David Lighty for more than a month with a broken foot as they host Iona on Saturday.
The 6-foot-5 Lighty is the most experienced member of the Buckeyes’ roster and the only major contributor remaining from the 2006-07 team that lost to Florida in the NCAA tournament championship game. Lighty, who had started the previous 44 games, was averaging 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, and had tied a career high in an 81-68 victory over Jacksonville on Wednesday.
Lighty broke a bone in his foot late in that contest, underwent surgery on Thursday and is expected to miss 6-to-12 weeks, which at worst would have him back for the final few Big Ten games.
Though Lighty’s absence might not be a factor in this contest, the Buckeyes (7-0) could miss his leadership as they look to play with more intensity as their schedule becomes more challenging. After winnable games Saturday and against UNC-Asheville on Monday, Ohio State faces West Virginia on Dec. 27 before its Big Ten opener with Iowa on New Year’s Eve.
“We were just lacking intensity,” coach Thad Matta said of Thursday’s contest. “It was like we had one guy playing hard and four others relaxing. We’ve got to get it corrected for Saturday’s game.”
Evan Turner scored 17 points and Jon Diebler added 14 for Ohio State, which shot a season-high 64.3 percent, but saw an 18-point second-half lead dwindle down to five with 5 minutes to play.
After not allowing an opponent to shoot better than 39 percent in its previous six games, pesky Jacksonville shot 49.1 percent, including 7-for-17 from 3-point range.
“We need to go back to the drawing board and fix ourselves defensively so that doesn’t happen again,” said Lighty, who won’t physically be able to help his team do that.
While Turner has played well, averaging a team-leading 16.2 points, the Buckeyes need players like Diebler (10.7), 6-8 sophomore Dallas Lauderdale and junior Jeremie Simmons to help fill the void left by Lighty’s absence.
Ohio State begins its time without Lighty trying for a 53rd consecutive home victory over an unranked non-conference opponent when it meets Iona (4-6) for the second time. The Buckeyes lost 58-57 to the Gaels on Nov. 27, 1981.
Iona lost 68-55 to Western Michigan on Thursday night for its first loss in its last three contests. Freshman Jermel Jenkins came off the bench to score a season-high 13 points, but the Gaels shot 35.4 percent and never led in the game.
Freshman guard Scott Machado added 10 points and is averaging 11.0 points in his last three games after scoring in double figures once in his previous seven contests.
Iona will face its second ranked opponent this season after losing 60-58 in overtime to then-No. 25 Wisconsin on Nov. 21 at the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam.
The Gaels are 0-6 against Top 25 teams since beating then-No. 22 North Carolina 65-56 on Dec. 27, 2002.