BOISE – Either way, Gonzaga was bound to see a familiar opponent and a challenging big man in the Round of 32, but it took the full 40 minutes of a mid-afternoon game at Taco Bell Arena to sort out whether that would be Mike Daum and South Dakota State or Keita Bates-Diop and Ohio State.
Three 20-point scorers – including the All-American forward, Bates-Diop – propelled fifth-seeded OSU past Daum and 13th-seeded SDSU 81-73 to set up a rematch between the Buckeyes and Zags, who met as recently as four months ago in the first round of the PK80 Invitational in Portland.
Bates-Diop was OSU’s leading scorer, with 24 points, and he pounded the glass as anyone wearing a Buckeye or Jackrabbit uniform, grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds. But sending two or three bodies at the 6-7 junior wouldn’t suffice Thursday afternoon.
Kam Williams complemented Bates-Diops with 22 points and C.J. Jackson contributed another 20, pumping in four 3-pointers. If it shows the growth the Buckeyes have made over the course of the season, that same trio combined for just 25 points when GU and OSU tangled earlier in the year.
“This isn’t a one-man team in any sort of way,” Bates-Diop said. “… I get a lot of credit sometimes, but this is a team, this is a great team.”
Williams lumped seven of his points into a 32-second time frame that essentially sealed the win late in the second half. With the game tied at 70-70, the OSU guard was fouled as he was shooting a corner 3 with 1:36 to play. The shot fell and Williams went to the line for a free throw to make it a four-point game.
Thirty seconds later, SDSU hacked again on a three-point try and once again, Williams was the recipient of the foul. He converted three more free throws to open up a seven-point lead and the Buckeyes held on from there.
“He wants the ball in his hands in those moments,” OSU coach Chris Holtmann said. “And he’s got that look in his eye.”
Daum and the Jackrabbits failed to advance past the Round of 64 for the second time in as many years, despite a 27-point effort from the two-time Summit League Player of the Year. A win would’ve meant the second NCAA Tournament matchup with the Zags in as many years. In 2017, Gonzaga knocked SDSU out of the Big Dance with a 66-46 win in an opening-round game at Salt Lake City.
The Bulldogs instead will gear up for a rematch with the Buckeyes, who’ve evolved significantly since the late-Novemeber meeting in Oregon. The Zags know it.
“They were in the running for a championship in the Big Ten,” GU’s Silas Melson said. “They’re a totally different team than what we played in the PK80. Obviously they’ve found their groove and identity. We know they’re going to bring it to the table.”
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