“No, I was going to take it,” the freshman said. “They didn’t really guard me. I caught it, I dribbled it and they still weren’t really close enough so I was like, ‘Alright, I’m just going to shoot it.’”
He made it, too.
It was the first shot attempt for the freshman in his first NCAA Tournament game and he let it fly with the Buckeyes trailing 60-59 with 3:36 remaining in regulation. While it gave the Buckeyes a 2-point lead with time winding down, it wasn’t even the biggest shot of the day from Bates-Diop.
His first three helped send the game to overtime. His second ensured that Ohio State got a win.
Confident after nailing his first try, Bates-Diop caught a pass from Shannon Scott in rhythm on the right wing, right in front of Ohio State’s bench with the score tied midway through overtime. This time there was no hesitation and again the freshman drilled the shot, giving the No. 10-seeded Buckeyes a 71-68 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish over the final 2:34 of overtime, holding on for a 75-72 win over the seventh-seeded Rams.
“I mean NCAA Tournament, first game, overtime,” Bates-Diop said, smiling ear-to-ear in the locker room after the win. “This is a big game. That’s what we ask for.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but we practice those shots every day in practice, I mean you have to clear your mind, shoot it and make the shot.”
The heroics came from a bit of an unlikely source. Bates-Diop came to Ohio State as a shooter, but struggled to find his role through much of the season. He found a bit of a groove during the three-game suspension of Marc Loving, scoring 21 points in the final two games of that stretch, but it wouldn’t last.
Entering Thursday’s game, the freshman had been held to two or fewer points in five straight contests. Bates-Diop hadn’t hit a three since going 1 of 2 in a win over Nebraska on Feb. 26. That game against the Cornhuskers was the last time he had even attempted a shot from behind the arc.
He hadn’t hit two in a game since a Feb. 22 loss to Michigan. That game against the Wolverines was also the last time that Bates-Diop logged double-digit minutes before playing 13 against the Rams.
Despite some recent ineffective and inconsistent play, his teammates were confident in Bates-Diop.
“We see it every day in practice,” D’Angelo Russell said. “We know what he’s capable of. It just comes with confidence. I mean, you’re seeing a star in the making in Keita. He just needs the confidence.”
Russell was smiling at the post game podium when praising his classmate’s play and that smile was mirrored on the face of senior Sam Thompson in the locker room when asked about Bates-Diop’s performance.
“That’s huge for Keita,” Thompson said. “We know Keita is a great shooter. We know what Keita can do, we know how talented he is and that’s big for him.”
It’s big because it offers a reminder to Bates-Diop as to how good he is, how good he can be. Two huge threes in his first NCAA Tournament game should be enough to keep Bates-Diop from hesitating when given an open look going forward. The freshman knows he’ll have to knock shots down to give the Buckeyes a chance Saturday.
“I’m really excited, but that’s over,” Bates-Diop said. “We can celebrate it for a little bit, but we have to move on and prepare for a good Arizona team.”