Saturday, March 12, 2011

Feeling Fresh in Columbus: Buckeyes Young Stars Provide Spark

Ohio State didn’t exactly coast through the Big Ten regular season, but they were unquestionably the toast of the conference.

The nation’s No. 1 team has arguably the best player and freshman in the country, Jared Sullinger, the conference’s all-time three point shooter, Jon Diebler, and veteran leadership with senior David Lighty and junior William Buford.

However, Saturday’s 68-61 conference tournament semifinal win over rival Michigan was due in large part to the Buckeyes that don’t dominate the headlines and awards.

“That’s one of the weapons that we have, that we possess. Anyone can get hot at any given time,” said senior David Lighty. “You never know who it’s going to be.”

While Ohio State got standard strong performances out of Sullinger, Diebler, and Buford, who combined for 46 of the team’s 68-points, they were sparked by the play of their youthful bench.

Freshmen Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, and Jordan Sibert gave the Buckeyes some depth and fresh legs in their second game in just over 24-hours.

“We have each other’s backs and that is definitely comforting in a tight game, in a close game” said Craft.

Craft and Thomas each scored nine and Sibert added another bucket. They all played pivotal roles in the Buckeyes’ 16-0 run that put them ahead for good against the Wolverines.

Ohio State needed the boost. They were coming off an overtime battle with a pesky Northwestern team and were trying to beat the Wolverines for the third time this season.

“I’ve never played a team twice in high school and coming in, I thought it was hard doing it twice, but three times is definitely tough,” said Craft. “There isn’t much else you can throw at a team when you play them three times so it just comes down to execution and the little things and doing what you can.”

No one may be enjoying his time in Indianapolis more than Thomas. The first-year player from Fort Wayne, Indiana said he has embraced the opportunity to play in front of his family and friends from home.

“I won a couple of championships on this court so it’s been really exciting,” he said. “This atmosphere is way bigger than the state championship. You didn’t have that many people out there… but, it’s way bigger than high school.”

Just a year ago the young Buckeyes were thinking about proms and graduations. Now, the focus has shifted to back-to-back Big Ten tournament championships. Craft said playing on college basketball’s grandest stage has been made easier having guys in the locker room who have played at this level before.

“What they went through last year and Dave [Lighty] being here four years, you can’t put a saying or anything on that type of experience,” he said. “That’s something that not many teams have and we are fortunate.”

Not many teams have four freshmen contributing at a champion caliber level, either. But Ohio State’s youngsters are not overwhelmed by the moment, they are embracing it.

“Not many freshmen get this opportunity,” said Thomas. “We had to be ready and we were, played great defense, scored the ball well and that’s what we’ve got to do when coach calls our names.”

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