While the Ohio State men’s basketball team has seen its share of production from familiar names such as freshman guard D’Angelo Russell and senior forward Sam Thompson, it’s been the play of a young forward that is starting to get the attention of coaches.
And not just his own.
Freshman Keita Bates-Diop has scored more than a fifth of his points this season in the last two games for the Buckeyes, both wins for OSU.
Bates-Diop had a career night with 14 points, while adding nine boards and three assists, in a 79-60 thrashing of Rutgers on Sunday.
He followed that up with a seven-point, five-rebound performance in a 75-55 win against Penn State Wednesday night, and Nittany Lion coach Pat Chambers said he was not surprised by it.
“He played really well against Rutgers. He knocked down some shots for them so he gives them another outside threat,” Chambers said after the game. “He’s long, he’s athletic and he’s rangy so he’s going to be a really good player for years to come. But he gives you another guy you have to worry about out there other than No. 0.”
No. 0 is Russell, who said after the game that when players like Bates-Diop perform well, it makes it simpler for him and for the team to succeed.
“Teams can’t really key on me if other guys are stepping up and doing what they’re good at,” Russell said. “It makes the game a lot easier for me.”
Bates-Diop has been seeing increased minutes since the temporary departure of sophomore forward Marc Loving, who has missed the last three games with a suspension for an undisclosed reason. OSU coach Thad Matta said he expects Loving to return to action in the Buckeyes’ next game against the Michigan State Spartans, but added that Bates-Diop has earned more minutes with his recent play.
“I think from the standpoint of how Keita has played, I am just so excited for him. This is kind of what we’ve been trying to get out of him just in terms of his aggressiveness,” Matta said. “He’s long, he can block shots he can rebound out of his area. I don’t think he shot the ball particularly well tonight (against Penn State), but we know he can do that and really stretch a defense.”
Bates-Diop’s offensive game might not have been put on full display against the Nittany Lions, but the Normal, Ill., native shot 4-of-7 from the field against Rutgers, including 3-of-4 from long range.
However, it isn’t just Bates-Diop’s offensive game that Matta has been pleased with. Matta added after the win over Penn State that Bates-Diop is starting to learn his role on defense better and it was evident Wednesday as he finished the night with three blocks and two steals.
“He is learning how to use his length,” Matta said of the 6-foot-7-inch freshman. “He made a couple rotations defensively tonight that I think kind of solidified he understands what’s going on out there now.”
Thompson, who scored a career-high 22 points in Wednesday’s win, said Bates-Diop will be key for the Buckeyes moving forward as the regular season winds down.
“Keita’s been huge. He has been asked to step up, and in the last few games he has really answered the call,” Thompson said. “He has made shots, he has been aggressive offensively and defensively. We need Keita to keep that going.”
Bates-Diop and the Buckeyes will look to do just that as they are set to take on the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday in East Lansing, Mich. Tip-off is scheduled for noon.