NEWARK, N.J.–The journey for the three seniors on Ohio State’s team was supposed to end with cutting down the nets in Houston. Instead, it came to a sudden halt in Newark, N.J. as Kentucky’s game-winning shot with 5.4 seconds left dashed the Buckeyes’ hopes of a national championship.
“You never think about it ending,” said David Lighty, a Villa-Angela St. Joseph’s graduate. “Especially the way that it did.”
The way it ended was a 62-60 defeat in the Sweet 16, marking an early exit for the tournament’s top overall seed and concluding the careers for a unique group of seniors.
“It’s hard to believe it’s over,” Lighty said.
Lighty, Jon Diebler, and Dallas Lauderdale helped turn the Ohio State program into a national contender—even though they leave Columbus never having reached that ultimate goal.
The senior class is one of the most successful groups in school history, as Lighty played more games than any other Buckeye (157) and has the most wins in the Scarlet and Gray. Diebler broke the Big Ten record for career three-pointers and Lauderdale is third in all-time blocks at Ohio State.
They won championships and awards, providing longevity in a sport—and a team—dominated with one-and-done stars. Perhaps most impressive, is that all three will leave Ohio State with their diplomas, a rare feat in the current age of high profile men’s basketball.
They left behind a legacy that will likely go unmatched for the foreseeable future.
“You play for what’s across your chest, and that’s Ohio State,” Lighty said, pointing to his jersey. “This right here, is what it’s all about, and that’s the way it’s been since day one for me.”
During their time with the Buckeyes, the seniors saw six players leave early for the NBA draft, five of them after just one season in at Ohio State. During all that change, Lighty, Diebler and Lauderdale were the foundation of the program.
Lighty arrived in Columbus in 2006 as part of the nation’s top recruiting class, which included future NBA first-round draft picks Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook.
Lighty came off the bench during that first season, which included a run to the national championship game, but he still logged heavy minutes on a team that included three future first-round picks. That first season was the only one where Lighty was a reserve, and from then on he was regarded as the veteran leader of the locker room.
Diebler and Lauderdale arrived at Ohio State the year after the Final Four run, and they started making an impact on the program almost immediately. By their sophomore seasons, both had moved into starting roles.
As seniors, their job was to lead, and the makeup of the seniors mixed with young, budding stars gave Ohio State a combination that made the Buckeyes unbeatable in most games. But being the better team the majority of the season does not guarantee success at the end of the year, and the loss to Kentucky put a sour finish on the careers that were destined to have a happy ending.
“I mean we had a great run, but it does hurt to kind of end like this,” Diebler said. “It hurts, just because we felt we could, we could make a run at the championship.”
Reflecting on their four years with the Buckeyes was tough for the seniors, especially just moments after it all ended. Even in the midst of the disappointment, however, Lighty, Diebler and Lauderdale saw it as a chance to lead, and offer encouragement to their remaining Buckeyes teammates.
“Cherish it,” Lauderdale said. “Love every minute of it. Work hard every day because it definitely goes fast.”