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Men’s basketball: Ohio State opens season with Sunday exhibition against Wooster

Ohio State sophomore guard C.J. Jackson (3) and junior forward Jae'Sean Tate (1) walk off the court at halftime of OSU's 96-92 loss to Indiana on March 4. Credit: Mason Swires | Former Assistant Sports Editor

C.J. Jackson (3), Jae’Sean Tate (1) and Keita Bates-Diop (back) will be three players head coach Chris Holtmann will count on in the 2017-18 season. Credit: Mason Swires | Former Assistant Photo Editor

For the first time in nearly eight months, Ohio State’s men’s basketball team will take the court as the new-look Buckeyes will take on Wooster in an exhibition at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Schottenstein Center.

Uncertainty surrounding the team derives from a myriad of new faces, from the coaching staff to the transfers to the freshmen. Although fans might not know what to expect from the Buckeyes talent-wise, senior forward Jae’Sean Tate said those in attendance will witness an energetic team.

“I think you guys are gonna like what you see — just the energy, the excitement,” Tate said Friday. “You’re gonna see a lot of guys just having fun out there.”

Ohio State finished the 2016-17 season with a 17-15 record, including a disappointing 7-11 record within the Big Ten and a first-round Big Ten tournament loss to Rutgers. The Scarlet and Gray return a few players from last season, including Tate, redshirt senior guard Kam Williams and junior point guard C.J. Jackson.

The Buckeyes also welcome back redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, whose season ended early due to surgery on his left shin. Tate described Bates-Diop as the best all-around player on the team and said the opportunity to play with him was one of the biggest reasons he initially came to Ohio State.

Bates-Diop returned to the court in last week’s closed scrimmage against Xavier and said it felt amazing to finally compete against another team again. The soft-spoken forward compared the 2017-18 team to last season’s team by emphasizing the increase in intensity.

“Just comparative maybe — if you look at last year’s team — the passion, the consistent effort is out there all the time,” Bates-Diop said. “I hope you’ll see us just giving it our all — there’s nothing held back just for 40 minutes.”

With the exhibition against Wooster on the horizon, Holtmann emphasized the necessity to play as a team.

“I just want to see us share the ball and move the ball offensively. We’ve been working on that,” Holtmann said. “I want us to continue to understand how we expect to play offensively.”

Holtmann has continually reiterated the importance of defense during the offseason. Last Sunday’s closed-door scrimmage against Xavier opened his eyes to certain issues.

“Defensively, I want to see how committed we are on that end and how connected we are on that end,” Holtmann said. “I think we were good at times, in terms of being connected and committed last week [against Xavier], but we didn’t always execute real well — we fouled too much.”

Holtmann wants the team to be “connected,” but what does that actually mean?

“I think when you see a connected team, you see guys giving appropriate help defensively,” Holtmann said. “You see guys having an awareness of both their man and the ball, and a willingness to respond appropriately defensively. You see guys picking up a teammate when he takes a charge.”

Offensively, Bates-Diop said he primarily wants to see unselfishness from the Buckeyes.

“Moving the ball around — good ball movement — just good offense in general,” Bates-Diop said. “We work on that a lot, so we’d like to see that come to fruition Sunday.”

Holtmann said he’s treating the scrimmage as another practice, but Tate envisions the game as the first chance for the team to make an impression.

“Just being able to play together,” Tate said. “It’s a scrimmage — but when you can be able to play in front of all the fans in the Schott — there’s just no feeling like it. And we haven’t had that in a while. We haven’t had it at all with all the faces we have.”

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