Just as he has all season, redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop put the team on his shoulders in Ohio State’s 80-64 upset victory against No. 1 Michigan State.
He finished the game with a career-high 32 points, seven rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes played.
That type of performance from Bates-Diop has become the norm this season. He has scored double-digit points in all but one game and has recorded seven double-doubles. And against his team’s toughest opponent of the season, he excelled once again, proving his early season success was not the product of weaker opponents.
“We gave him a couple that were just wide open, we were over helping on people,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “But I was impressed. I thought he did a great job.”
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann has emphasized throughout the year how important Bates-Diop will be to the success of the team. He and senior forward Jae’Sean Tate were two of the returning players with lofty preseason expectations. And both done everything asked of them.
Bates-Diop leads the Big Ten with an average of 20 points per game, ahead of Minnesota junior forward Jordan Murphy by 1.1 points. He is also third in the conference in rebounds per game with 8.8, with Murphy’s 12.7 leading the way. In addition, he is tied for 12th in steals (1.2 per game), seventh in blocked shots (1.6 per game), second in defensive rebounding (7.5 per game), 14th in 3-pointers made (1.9 per game) and eighth in free-throw percentage (82.1 percent).
The native of Normal, Illinois, has been anything but normal this season for the Buckeyes, and it has Holtmann aware that his star player could be headed to the NBA after the end of this season. Holtmann said Bates-Diop and his family had talked about the prospect of his moving onto the NBA earlier in the year, and decided it was a topic to be explored at a later time.
“I think we’ve been having those thoughts for a little while,” Holtmann said Sunday. “You get in this business for kids to reach their dreams. You really do. So if that happens and he’s got an opportunity like that, I’m going to be so happy for him and his family.”
The health of Bates-Diop has allowed him to have this season. Last year, He dealt with a stress fracture in his left leg that ended his season after nine games and ultimately caused him to take a medical redshirt.
Izzo said he’s always seen the potential in Bates-Diop, having recruited the 6-foot-7 forward before he decided to go to Ohio State. He said even though Bates-Diop made some improvements during the past year, reaching this level was “two-thirds” getting back to full health.
While the injury slowed his development, Bates-Diop said it gave him time to study different aspects of his game and prepare for this campaign.
“Just sitting back and learning the game, re-watching old film, watching us play last season and learning what to do and what not do, and then the new coaching staff came in made us feel very comfortable,” Bates-Diop said.
Finally fully healthy, Bates-Diop is having a breakout campaign, and it could lead to some hardware at the end of the year and a chance to take his talents to the next level. But as Holtmann and Bates-Diop have said, there is still plenty of season left to play, and he will need to maintain this production throughout the rest of the campaign if he hopes to receive the end-of-the-year recognitions.
“There’s so much left to be played. There’s a lot left for us to prove. He’s just got to be Keita and whatever comes out of that, comes out of that,” Holtmann said. “But certainly [the NBA’s] a more and more real possibility. And if that were to happen, we’d be really happy. But we’ve got so much left to kind of learn when it comes to that situation.”