BOISE, Idaho — Chris Holtmann won the battle against rust. And a rested, tested Ohio State team could be a real problem for anybody ahead of them in the NCAA Tournament.
Whatever concerns there may have been about the Buckeyes heading into the Big Dance can be set aside now. Whether it was the couple losses down the stretch, their postseason inexperience or the fact that they may have already accomplished enough to feel satisfied, none of that slowed down a recharged Ohio State squad.
There will obviously be tougher tests moving forward for the West Region’s No. 5 seed than South Dakota State. But that first-round draw was no cakewalk, and the Buckeyes should use the test and the nervy finish in the 81-73 victory as a confidence-builder heading into Saturday’s “Revenge Bracket” rematch with No. 4 Gonzaga.
Make no mistake, this is a completely different version of Ohio State than the one that was destroyed by the Zags back in November. And to be completely honest, it looked like an improved edition than the one that only made a brief cameo in the Big Ten tournament two weeks ago.
Bates-Diop again looked like he could have jumped through the roof on a rim-shaking dunk in transition in the first half. He was getting elevation on his jump shots, playing with confidence and had racked up 17 points in the first half alone. Stars have to shine at this time of year, and the junior forward clearly embraced the challenge to both carry the Buckeyes and match the volume scoring from South Dakota State’s Mike Daum.
C.J. Jackson was knocking down 3-pointers on the perimeter. Andrew Dakich came off the bench to energize the Buckeyes defensively. Jae’Sean Tate was a bully in the paint and stuffed the stats sheet in seemingly every way possible.
There was always the chance that the time off between the disappointing loss to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament could have combined with what Ohio State had already achieved during the regular season to create some complacency before heading to Taco Bell Arena. But Holtmann, as he’s done throughout his incredible debut year with the program, pushed all the right buttons.
Sure, there were some dicey moments down the stretch before Kam Williams unleashed his dagger from the right wing down the stretch. But this is the Big Dance, and it’s never supposed to be easy — and now the Buckeyes actually have some experience to draw from in do-or-die situations.
Ohio State is energized. Battle-tested. Hungry for revenge.
And completely capable of winning again.
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