Four years ago, in his freshman season, David Lighty and the Ohio State men’s basketball team traveled to play at the University of Florida.
“I really didn’t know what to expect going down there my first time.” said Lighty, now in his senior season. “We knew they were good, but when you get down there, it’s kind of unreal, the support they have from all their fans.”
Now, with a new batch of freshmen making their first road trip, No. 4 OSU returns to Gainesville to play the No. 9 Gators at 6 p.m. tonight. After an exhibition against Walsh and the season opener last Friday against North Carolina A&T, Florida will be the first ranked opponent the Buckeyes have played this year, something that excites coach Thad Matta.
“This will be a great test,” Matta said. “They’re a very experienced team with everybody back. Going on the road with six new guys, you’re looking at a Big Ten type of game.”
Despite returning four starters from a season ago, the talk surrounding this Buckeye team remains focused on the newcomers.
Freshman Jared Sullinger started alongside Lighty, seniors Dallas Lauderdale and Jon Diebler, and junior William Buford against both Walsh and A&T last week. Though the lineup is by no means set in stone, Matta said he feels comfortable starting those five and plans to do so tonight.
Though Sullinger might continue to get starts, freshmen Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft have been just as good so far. In the 102-56 win over North Carolina A&T, Thomas scored 24 points, and Craft handed out nine assists, both team highs, despite playing just 20 and 22 minutes, respectively.
Craft, who is the only true point guard the Buckeyes have, will likely see the most playing time at that position as the season progresses. Although Buford started last week, it was Craft who seemed most comfortable.
Often, both Buford and Craft were on the floor at the same time, with Buford moving off the ball as a shooting guard, his natural position.
Diebler, who was coached by Craft’s father in middle school, said he doesn’t expect the freshman to be fazed tonight.
“I’ve known him since he was in like third grade,” Diebler said. “Aaron’s a kid who’s so mature for his age. You see how he plays — he’s tough. He knows what we’re going up against and knows that it’s going to be a tough game for us. I know he’ll be ready.”
Although Diebler was quick to praise Craft and the rest of the freshmen, he knows a road game against a top-10 team is like nothing the new class has faced before. Unfortunately, Diebler said, there isn’t much his younger teammates can do to prepare.
“You can’t prepare for the crowd being loud and everyone against you,” Diebler said. “Just the mindset of going on the road has to be different. You really have to come focused.”
As hard as it is, Matta was cautiously optimistic that his team will be ready.
“I’ll probably know in the locker room before the game,” he said. “They’ve been pretty focused, and we’ve talked a lot about that there’s two types of teams that go on the road, one that goes to have fun and one that goes on a business trip.”