The Buckeyes rematch with Gonzaga started off with a deep-rooted fear of a defeat in an embarrassing manner. The Buckeyes began the game showing their first five possessions saw Tate and Jackson miss lay-ups, Jackson throw a pass away, Kaleb Wesson whistled for a moving screen 34 feet from the ball and Bates-Diop whistled for traveling on a post move he’s done all season long. This quickly dug a 0-15 hole for the Buckeyes, as the ‘Zags were looking “really” good on both ends of the court in the prelude that was setting course for the dismantling of the Buckeyes and their basketball game.
The fifth-seeded Buckeyes spotted the fourth-seeded Gonzaga a 15-0 lead to start their NCAA West Region second round game. The showdown in the Boise State University’s Taco Bell Arena would end the first half with the Buckeyes turning the ball over six times compared to the ‘Zags three. Keita Bates-Diop led the half for the Buckeyes with 12 points.
OSU made a big second-half comeback to briefly seize the lead. But the hot shooting Bulldogs regained their bark late and went on for the 90-84 win at Boise State’s Taco Bell Arena. Coming out of the locker room to begin the second half, The Ohio State University exploded with a 13-2 run to cut the lead to two at 48-46. Both Jackson and Williams each splashed threes for the Buckeyes on this tear. Tate made a driving bank shot, Williams made a driving one-hander in the lane and Kaleb Wesson completed a three-point play after he was fouled on a put-back.
But the Buckeyes were unable to avenge an 86-59 loss to Gonzaga from back on Thanksgiving night. Ultimately it just wasn’t meant to be…..
“Give Mark and his kids a lot of credit,” Holtmann said. “I think they’re really good. I think they can make another really deep run. He’s got a phenomenal program. We begin by just giving Gonzaga a lot of credit for making the plays down the stretch.
“I was really proud of our guys’ spirit, competitive spirit. It’s been that way all year. We’ve got a special bunch, and it’s disappointing to see it end because we have such a special group of guys. We’ll leave it at that.”
Gonzaga (32-4) advances to meet the winner of Sunday’s game between Xavier and Florida State in a West Region semifinal Thursday in Los Angeles.
“Well, what a great weekend for us here in Boise,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “Just what a great performance by my guys. We beat a heck of a basketball team in Ohio State that’s got a ton of fight and so well coached. And the run they made at us in that second half, that had us back on our heels. Just like these guys have done all year, they responded and were able to figure out a way to get some stops down the stretch, the real stretch of that game. And then had some guys step up and made some big shots on the offensive end.
“But, Ohio State is good. And just so impressed with how much they’ve improved since the PK-80. We couldn’t be happier. There aren’t many things better in life than winning one of these games in the NCAA Tournament in March. I tell you, they are something special.”
The loss ends Holtmann’s remarkable first season at Ohio State at 25-9 overall. It also marks the end of the careers of OSU seniors Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams (each 1,000-point scorers) as well as Michigan graduate transfer Andrew Dakich.
“Obviously we didn’t come off with a win,” Williams said. “I couldn’t be more proud with our coaches and players the way we fought today. We’re just extremely proud.”
It could also be the last game for junior wing Keita Bates-Diop, a third 1,000-point scorer and Big Ten player of the year. Bates-Diop could opt to enter his name for the NBA draft, where he is projected in most mock drafts as a late first round pick.
Bates-Diop led Ohio State with 28 points. Williams had 19. C.J. Jackson scored 18 points. Tate fouled out late and finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Freshman guard Zach Norvell had 28 points, 12 rebounds and four assists to lead Gonzaga, which won its 16th game in a row and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fourth year in a row for Coach Mark Few. Norvell was 6 of 11 on three-pointers.
Rui Hachimura added 25 points, five rebounds and four blocked shots off the bench for the Bulldogs. Josh Perkins had 10 points and eight assists for Gonzaga.
Gonzaga out-rebounded OSU 39-25. The Bulldogs’ bench outscored the Buckeyes’ reserves 28-5.
“We got beat on the 50/50 balls, on the glass a little bit,” Williams said. “Just tough plays we didn’t have at the most crucial point in the game and it cost us.
Gonzaga took full advantage. The freshman Norvell, who hit the game-winning, shot for the Zags Thursday night against UNC-Greensboro, hit threes from each corner to start the barrage. Hachimura hit a hook shot, scored on a pick-and-roll and also tallied off a lob as Gonzaga led 15-0 with 14:48 left in the first half.
“It wasn’t how we like to be,” Bates-Diop said. “But we tried to stay calm. I was proud of how we fought.”
Holtmann added, “Missed lay-ups. And maybe nerves. Maybe nerves! Or I think we missed four point-blank lay-ups that we don’t normally — we’re going to miss a few in the game, but not four in a matter of the first four minutes.
“They were making plays, too. Gonzaga was good, too. I think Gonzaga can get to another Final Four. I thought they were really good. After we played them once we said that, and I just think they’re really good. Mark does an incredible job with them. He does an incredible job with them.”
The crushing reality was set in when Bates-Diop was then rejected by Hachimura on a drive and Tate fouled out on the rebound. Novell’s two free throws made it 78-69 with 1:54 left. OSU got as close as five points in the final seconds but could get no closer.
Holtmann was asked to assess his team’s growth from the first time the teams played.
“Yeah, obviously you’d like for it to end differently, obviously,” Holtmann said. “But we’ve evolved as you hope a team has evolved. It’s hard when you take over a program. And obviously took it over midsummer. You’re trying to figure them out. They’re trying to figure you out. You’re also trying to figure out your guys’ strengths and what triggers to pull with guys. And just what guys you can challenge in what areas. And you’re learning their strengths, too, strengths and weaknesses, and how to put them in the best position and I think that took some time for us.
“This group really turned a corner at some point. And I think it was maybe after the PK-80. And after the Clemson game it turned a corner and flipped the switch and we were really never the same. And it was all positive. We just kept growing together. I’ve been proud of a lot of teams but this one is up there.”
So the season is now over for the Buckeyes. If there is a satisfactory reckoning the season is over for Virginia, *ichigan State, and Arizona as well – to mention a few. But in the rally by the Buckeyes we were all propelled to that wondrous emotion of hope – and when it is finally stripped away – well, it’s crushing….
Arguably, the Buckeyes had a wonderful season. They did so much more than any of found possible – following g last season. Who among us truly projected them to finish as they did within the League, and to win a game in the addictive world of March Madness? I know I didn’t. I had planned to watch the season because my blood is Scarlet and Gray. But – well, I wasn’t expecting much.
Hats off to the Buckeyes and especially Chris Holtmann, and Keita Bates-Diop. I would love to see KBD back in a Buckeyes uniform …. But, then again, I also hope to see him in a Knicks uniform. Which ever way his decision unfolds – Thank you Keita. I loved watching you play in Columbus.