Ohio State redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop allowed a transition dunk from William & Mary leading scorer Nathan Knight less than two minutes into the game. Head coach Chris Holtmann had enough.
At the first media timeout, Holtmann sat Bates-Diop for a lack of effort on defense with the Buckeyes trailing the Tribe 12-10. Two minutes later, Bates-Diop checked back into the game and had one of the best games of his career.
He scored a career-high 27 points and made 11-of-16 shots to lead Ohio State to a 97-62 blowout victory against William & Mary on Saturday.
“I think it kind of just helped because it reset my mind,” Bates-Diop said. “I obviously wasn’t ready to play in those first few minutes so then him taking me out reset my mind, got back in and I was ready to play.”
Bates-Diop played at the small forward, power forward and center against William & Mary, creating difficult matchups at each position. When Knight exited the first half with his third foul with 7:49 remaining, the Buckeyes attacked the paint with Bates-Diop and freshman center Kaleb Wesson — who scored 17 — leading the way.
Ohio State shot 65 percent from the field and made 11-of-21 3-point attempts.
William & Mary entered the game ranked 316th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. So before discussing the Buckeyes a prolific offensive team, take Saturday’s game with a grain of salt. However, it’s time to start considering Bates-Diop as a possible first-team all-Big Ten player.
In Ohio State’s two conference games this season against Wisconsin and Michigan, Bates-Diop shot at least 50 percent and made two triples in each game . He’s averaging 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. He’s now averaging more than 18 points and nine rebounds per game with six double-doubles.
Against Ohio State’s toughest opponent to date, Gonzaga, Bates-Diop grabbed 10 rebounds, but scored just seven points. If he’s going to become Ohio State’s first all-Big Ten player since the 2014-15 season, he will have to put up consistent performances against the conference’s bluebloods of Michigan State and Purdue.
Holtmann said Friday before the game that sometimes it takes an extra reminder for a quieter player like Bates-Diop to get going. It appeared to work Saturday.
“It’s just the mindset,” Bates-Diop said. “He’s doing a great job getting me there, it’s on me obviously, but he’s not afraid obviously to sit me for any stretch of time if I’m not doing those things I need to be doing. Obviously that worked, clearly.”
It’s probably time to conclude the center position belongs to Kaleb Wesson. Since Micah Potter went down with an injury in the second-half against Northeastern, the freshman has started every game in Potter’s place and has continued to improve.
Saturday, Wesson tied a career high with seven rebounds — four of which were on the offensive glass — and recorded three steals, two assists and two blocks. He faced a double team in the post on almost every possession, which was when perhaps he displayed his most impressive talent yet by throwing cross-court passes on the mark for wide-open shooters in the corner.
“He can read traps and double teams,” Holtmann said. “Eventually he’ll get to the point where he’ll command a double team most every game … his passing will really allow us to play through that.”
Ohio State is not going to overwhelm any team with its shooting, which might be a reason teams will double Wesson more and risk leaving shooters open. Wesson’s passing ability, as Holtmann touched on, could lead to an increase in confidence in those shooters.
“He’s been doing it all summer,” redshirt senior guard Kam Williams said. “He’s been doing it in practice, so he’s just going out there and displaying his talents. We all believe in him, so this isn’t really a surprise for us.”
Another thing to continue to watch in Wesson is the big man’s footwork. The rebounds he was able to grab Saturday were because he put himself in great position against a defender. His footwork also allowed him to maneuver in the post off pump-fakes.
If there is one thing to watch in Wesson as he moves forward as the starter at center, it would be his fouls. He finished the game with four fouls for the third straight game and the sixth time overall this season. He has fouled out twice. Holtmann has said throughout the season he expects Wesson to run into foul trouble, and that could be what separates him from seeing starter minutes when Potter returns.
C.J. Jackson and Musa Jallow switch
Junior guard C.J. Jackson returned to the starting lineup Saturday with freshman forward Musa Jallow heading back to the bench. Jackson was moved to the bench following a loss to Clemson, in a game he turned the ball over five times and had three assists. Since then, he had turned the ball over three times with six assists in two games. He continued that production Saturday.
Jackson dished out six assists with only one turnover. He scored 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.
William & Mary is ranked 345th of 351 teams in opponent turnover percentage. Holtmann said the test for Jackson’s newly found poise in running the point will be against teams that create turnovers.
“But so far, he’s been able to make more poised, smart decisions with the ball,” he said. “And he’s, offensively, really impacting the game with his ability to make 3s.”
The Buckeyes were thin on the bench Saturday with freshman forward Kyle Young sitting out with a sprained ankle. Holtmann said he will probably be available next Saturday against Appalachian State. If Ohio State is to lose any bench depth at a position, it’s probably best at the small forward or power forward because Bates-Diop can be moved around and create matchup problems for traditional centers.
The 3-point shooting for Ohio State has risen substantially in the past three games. The Buckeyes are now shooting 36.2 percent from 3, following another 50-plus percent day beyond the arc. In the past two games, Ohio State missed all 11 3-point shots in the second half, but that factor was mitigated by strong first-half 3-point shooting against Wisconsin and Michigan. Ohio State was 7-for-8 in the first half against the Badgers and 5-for-8 against Michigan.
“I think we’re taking better ones. I think that’s probably it,” Holtmann said. “I think we’re taking a higher quality of 3s than what we took at times early in the year.
Ohio State also defended the 3-point line well Saturday against a William & Mary team that makes more than 12 shots from deep per game. The Tribe was 5-for-16 Saturday. Holtmann said when drawing up a game plan, he remembered a conversation he had with college basketball statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy about teams who shoot at incredibly efficient levels like William & Mary.
“What’s really key is limited their attempts,” he said. “Now that extends you and opens you up to slips and drives, and that effects your 2-point field goal percentage a bit. But I’ve seen those guys shoot through eight games and if we were going to allow them to shoot 28 to 30 3s, they’re going to make 14 or 15 of those and we’re in trouble. So we did try to limit their attempts and that was important for us.”