BOISE – It’d be tough to single out Keita Bates-Diop as the Ohio State player who caused the Buckeyes to fall short in their first meeting with Gonzaga this season, but to be critical of the redshirt junior’s play in the PK80 Tournament opener is completely fair and just.
He scored only seven points, made 2 of 7 shots and committed two turnovers, to go with three fouls, in GU’s 86-59 drubbing of OSU in Portland. Not the kind of stat line to which an All-American forward is accustomed.
Saturday’s rematch in the Round of 32 at the NCAA Tournament was more along the lines of the game Bates-Diop is capable of having. Rather, the type he has on an almost nightly basis in the Big Ten Conference. And on this night, he probably would’ve been lauded as a hero had the Buckeyes managed to squeak past the Zags at Taco Bell Arena.
They didn’t – GU won it 90-84 after making some key shots late – but the loss certainly won’t fall on the shoulders of the 6-foot-7 Ohio State forward. Bates-Diop scored 28 points on 10-of-21 shooting and was 4 for 9 from 3-point range, giving all the Zags they could handle for large stretches of a tense second half.
“The offense ran through him for a majority of the game,” Zags forward Johnathan Williams said. “I feel like in the PK80 game, it wasn’t really like that. But he’s obviously the best player, he came out aggressive and he stayed aggressive for the whole entire game. I had to do a better job of defending him and as a team, we had to do a better job of defending him.”
When the Zags saw the Buckeyes on Thanksgiving weekend, they made a point of cutting off passes to OSU’s 20 point-per-game scorer. Bates-Diop only took seven shots – four fewer than forward Jae’Sean Tate and five fewer than guard C.J. Jackson.
“He was great the first time we saw him. We were just able to limit his touches and do some things the first time, and I think he got a little frustrated,” GU coach Mark Few said. “He’s a handful and he’s definitely one of the better guys we’ve ever played against.”
Bates-Diop hit the pull-up 3-pointer to give the Buckeyes their biggest lead (67-62) with 6:02 to play. He was held in check from there, but he had Gonzaga on the ropes much of the second half with his sharpshooting from distance.
“I think he’ll go on to have a great NBA career,” Williams said.
If Bates-Diop, the Big Ten Player of the Year, wished to pursue that next season, he’d surely be taken in the 2018 NBA Draft – possibly in the early stages of the first round. But the OSU standout said he must consider his choice.
“I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “I want to spend this time with my team.”
Bates-Diop finished with 52 points in the NCAA Tournament. He scored 24 and snatched 12 rebounds in an opening-round win against South Dakota State.
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