The last time a team from the Sun Belt Conference entered the Schottenstein Center two years ago, it handed Ohio State a crushing defeat that ended up being a major factor in keeping the Buckeyes out of the NCAA Tournament.
Only four members of the team that lost to Texas-Arlington still put on a Scarlet and Gray jersey, but veterans Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate wouldn’t allow a night like that to occur a second time.
Tate scored 19 points and Bates-Diop added 16 with eight rebounds to lead Ohio State (9-3) past Appalachian State (5-7), 80-67 Saturday evening.
Freshman forward Kaleb Wesson had 16 points and eight rebounds and redshirt senior guard Kam Williams also was in double-figures, with 11 points.
A week had passed since head coach Chris Holtmann’s team last played a game, which triggered thoughts of a possible letdown. The first half provided little excitement, with Ohio State unable to grasp control of the game until Bates-Diop created some momentum before the break.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Bates-Diop deflected an attempted pass from Mountaineers forward Hunter Seacat into the backcourt. Bates-Diop dove on the ball and passed it off to guard Andrew Dakich, who drove to the basket and left it for Tate for the two-handed slam.
That play was part of a 6-0 run to close the half, and the Buckeyes led 40-27. Holtmann said that play sparked his team and picked the offense out of a drought.
“That’s an expectation for an older guy to do that,” he said. “It’s an expectation for all our players to do that and I don’t think we did that every time tonight, which was disappointing. But that was a really, really special play.”
Bates-Diop’s lay-in in the beginning of the second half gave Ohio State a 17-point lead. Then, following a fire alarm that caused people inside the arena to evacuate, the Mountaineers cut their deficit to nine with an 8-0 run.
Leading 60-47 out of the under-12 media timeout, Wesson finished at the rim, Tate flew in for a dunk and Jackson banked in a 3 to give the Buckeyes a comfortable 20-point lead.
Ohio State forced 18 turnovers. The Buckeyes shot 53 percent for the game.
Entering the game, Appalachian State guards Ronshad Shabazz and Justin Forrest were averaging 21.8 and 16.8 points, respectively. Saturday against the Buckeyes, Shabazz had 15 and Forrest had 12, shooting a collective 1-for-8 from beyond the arc.
“We knew we had to be active because they have a real high-powered motion offense,” Williams said. “So just getting deflections, taking it one stop at a time, one possession at a time. When we put that together, very few teams can execute against us.”
Less than three minutes into the second half, prior to a Mountaineers free-throw attempt, the fire alarms sounded at the Schott and fans were told via an emergency response system inside the arena to exit the building. After roughly seven minutes, fans were allowed to re-enter the building and play resumed following a brief warm-up period.
The event caused a delay of about 14 minutes.
Sophomore center Micah Potter and freshman forward Kyle Young both returned from an ankle injury Saturday, after missing two games and one game, respectively. Potter played just one minute while Young played 13 minutes.
Holtmann said Potter told him that his ankle was feeling “as good as it has felt” since suffering the injury on Nov. 19 against Northeastern. Holtmann added that Young played more than anticipated because of Wesson’s foul trouble.
The Buckeyes are back on the court Tuesday against The Citadel at 7 p.m.