PORTLAND, Oregon – So let’s quickly address the elephant in the room here. With a loss and a win in their first two days of the PK80 Invitational, Ohio State and Butler will square off Sunday in the final day of the tournament. That means first-year Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann now has to face the team he was coaching as of six months ago.
It’s the obvious storyline here and the biggest point of focus now until that game tips off – noon local time, 3 p.m. Eastern. But before we dive into that (and I will before long), let’s take a look at how the Buckeyes got here, because with the first half winding down Friday evening against Stanford a date with Portland State seemed in the offing.
With 2:33 to play until halftime, Ohio State trailed Stanford by a game-high 10 points, 31-21. Earlier that same day (which is weird to write), the Buckeyes were within 33-31 of No. 17 Gonzaga before losing their footing and falling further behind. From that point, the Bulldogs outscored Ohio State by a 53-28 margin.
So trailing 31-21 against the Cardinal, the Buckeyes had scored a total of 49 points in their previous 55:15 of action after putting up 31 in their first 12:12 of the tournament. That’s not good.
And then Keita Bates-Diop arrived. After scoring a season-low seven points against the Bulldogs, the junior hit three three-pointers in the final 2:33 of the first half to spur an 11-1 run that knotted the game at 32 heading into the half.
It was pretty big.
“Listen: players win games, and that’s a perfect example,” Holtmann said. “He carried us in that stretch and our guys found him. He stepped up.”
His final three came after the Buckeyes called timeout with 29.0 seconds left. Andrew Dakich was fouled with 17.0 seconds left, and Bates-Diop scored with seven seconds left.
It was kind of by design.
“That last shot he made, it was a draw-up out of a timeout, but I didn’t anticipate that he was going to have about a 25-footer that was semi-contested, so he did a great job of knocking it down,” Holtmann said.
For the game, Bates-Diop finished with 18 points after scoring 12 during the first half. He got plenty of help from his teammates, as the Buckeyes got a career-high 23 from C.J. Jackson, 14 from Jae’Sean Tate and 10 from Kaleb Wesson.
And not surprisingly, Bates-Diop deflected the credit for his outburst.
“We were moving the ball against the zone and my teammates just found me in the right spots,” he said. “That was it.”
Jackson steps up
Bates-Diop entered the game as the only Ohio State player shooting better than 33.3 percent from three. Jackson was 6 for 23 (26.1 percent), but he went 4 for 6 against the Cardinal and hit two big threes in particular.
After Bates-Diop tied the game before the half, Ohio State opened the second half with possession and Jackson immediately canned a three. Then later, after a 10-point Ohio State lead had been cut to five at 58-53, the Buckeyes had an extended possession. Bates-Diop missed a three but Tate was fouled on the offensive rebound attempt. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Bates-Diop came up with the offensive rebound and Ohio State called a timeout.
When play resumed, Jackson drilled a deep three from about 25 feet out. It felt like a statement.
“We just had great ball movement against the zone,” Jackson said when asked about his scoring outburst. “We know teams are going to zone us just based on how we’ve been shooting the ball. We were able to hit some of those shots that we weren’t knocking down earlier.”
Ah yes, that zone. A big part of what took the Buckeyes out of the Gonzaga game and put them down early against Stanford was the zone defense of each team. As Jackson pointed out, I’m not sure why every team wouldn’t at least throw some zone at the Buckeyes until someone proves they can shoot them out of it.
Things eventually got better against the Cardinal, though.
“We were kind of stagnant,” Bates-Diop said. “We weren’t moving or trying to get penetration, but when you start being aggressive, whether it was being shot-ready or just driving the ball.”
It’s not just shooting, Holtmann said.
“We’ve got to improve our passing,” he said. “Teams always talk about zones being effective against poor-shooting teams, but they’re really effective against poor-passing teams. Our passing has to improve. We did, in that stretch, have some good moments where we found him and found guys and made good post feeds at various times.”
Sophomore center Micah Potter didn’t play against Gonzaga, and the Buckeyes learned he wasn’t able to go about an hour before tip. Friday, he went through warmups and was in uniform if not in the starting lineup.
“After warmups, he said he could go,” Holtmann said. “Our training staff said they felt like he could potentially go, but it’s a pain tolerance. He felt like he could go. I thought he gave us some quality minutes in there and did some good things. It was really, really good to see him out there.”
He was limited to six minutes and finished with two points, two rebounds, one assist and one turnover. Wesson, in his second consecutive start, had 10 points, three rebounds, one assist and one turnover and fouled out in 21 minutes. He was also 4 of 6 from the free-throw line.
Ohio State did not attempt a first-half free throw. Its first came with 16:42 to play and gave Tate his first conventional three-point play of the game. He had the second of the game, also a three-point play, with 10:39 to play.
In the final 6:25, then, the Buckeyes attempted 23 free throws. They made 18 of them to finish 20 for 25 (80.0 percent) for the game.
In the final 3:37 of the game, Ohio State was 16 for 20, which is also 80.0 percent, in pressure situations. Not bad.
We stick to basketball as much as possible on this blog, but when a former Michigan player is about to take in his first football game against Ohio State as a member of the Buckeyes, the situation bears some acknowledgement.
So now, we have to wait and see whether or not Andrew Dakich, a graduate transfer on this year’s Ohio State roster, will respond to a tweet tonight from junior Joey Lane:
Gutsy wins. Now let's beat #TTUN tomorrow! Right, @daycheck3??
— Joey Lane (@JoeySmoke11) November 25, 2017
“The biggest thing is how together we are and just how much everybody on the team likes each other. That’s a big thing. Everybody is together and we have a good chemistry for it to be early in the season. We knew once they made that run we stuck together more unlike in the past. That’s the biggest thing.” – Jackson, on what he’s learned about this year’s team.