BOISE, Idaho — The names on the jerseys will read the same as they did in November, when Ohio State and Gonzaga met in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon.
Otherwise, the Buckeyes are out to prove that their team as it stands now bears little to no resemblance to the one that lost to the Bulldogs by 27 points. Even the jerseys themselves will be different, as both teams wore special ones designed for the Portland experience.
Now the Buckeyes will have to play like a different team on Saturday at Taco Bell Arena for a chance to reach their first Sweet 16 in five years.
“That team, there’s nothing the same about it,” senior forward Jae’Sean Tate said Friday. “Back then we were trying to find our identity, whereas now we know what our identity is, we know what it takes to win and we’ve shown that we are capable of doing that.”
Ohio State went to Portland undefeated but largely untested and ran into a buzzsaw. Trailing 33-31 with 7:48 to play in the first half, it was outscored 53-28 going away.
Junior Keita Bates-Diop, who had averaged 19.3 points through the first four games, found himself the focal point of a physical, aggressive Gonzaga defense that aimed to take him out of the game.
Like his teammates, he wasn’t up to the task, finishing with seven points on a season-low seven shots.
“It was the first time in my time here I had been the focal point of the offense and been taken out of the game, but they did a lot of things I wasn’t used to and I hadn’t seen since high school,” Bates-Diop said. “It was kind of a shock moment at that moment, and for everybody. I was taken out of the offense and we kind of didn’t really know what else to do.”
Gonzaga used what Bates-Diop said was a “shading zone defense” that bumped him off his spots and brought big, physical double-teams on him whenever he caught the ball. The attention he commanded in that game served as a precursor for what he would see as the season progressed, and he adapted well enough to earn Big Ten player of the year honors.
But it wasn’t just a measuring stick for him. Kaleb Wesson, a member of the Big Ten’s all-freshman team, was making his first career start in place of an injured Micah Potter. He was joined in the starting lineup by classmate Musa Jallow, who started 10 games but has topped 13 minutes of playing time in just one game this calendar year.
“We’re not trying to prove a point, but we’re definitely a different team than the first time we played them,” Wesson said. “We’ve definitely got better as far as playing team ball.”
Although the loss was the most lopsided of the season, it did give Ohio State a benchmark for success against the Bulldogs. The Buckeyes didn’t match their energy or physicality for the entire game, but they have a taste for what it will take to do so. Plus, there is a baseline of familiarity when it comes to scouting and preparing for the rematch.
And yet, while coach Chris Holtmann pointed out that none of that guarantees anything, Bates-Diop said it helps.
“We want to show everybody that we’re not that same team in November,” he said. “It’s a completely different team. It’s not going to be a 27-point loss. That won’t happen again.”