While it was a pair of freshmen that had the attention on them at the beginning of the game, it was a sophomore forward that stole the show once the game started.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta made a lineup change prior to the Buckeyes game against Penn State, inserting Daniel Giddens and A.J. Harris into the starting lineup replacing Trevor Thompson and JaQuan Lyle respectively.
However once the game started, Keita Bates-Diop who has struggled to find his rhythm in Big Ten play thus far exploded, leading all scorers with 22 points to lead Ohio State to a 66-46 victory.
Bates-Diop, who was held scoreless in Ohio State’s 75-64 loss to Purdue Jan. 21 came out aggressive on the offensive end and also rebounded well, adding eight boards. He attributed his big night to a meeting he had with Matta after his poor performance against the Boilermakers.
"The talk we had, (about) being more aggressive. I felt the need to do that tonight. I hadn't been in a couple of games and it was due time," he said. "When he (Matta) said that, I mean I don't want to let him down and come out and do the same thing again. The talk definitely helped."
In his first start as a Buckeye, Harris who was coming off a career-high 11 points in the loss to Purdue played well. The Dayton, Ohio native helped pace the Ohio State offense, leading the Scarlet and Gray in assists with four and adding four points with just one turnover.
Giddens, who last started for the Buckeyes in a loss to Virginia Dec. 1 led Ohio State in rebounds with nine to go along with five points, including two thunderous dunks.
The decision to start the pair of freshmen against Penn State stemmed largely from the way they had played in practice according to Matta.
"Both (A.J.) and Daniel had really, really practiced well leading in and we had a couple days there to really, really get after it, really, really compete and I don’t want to say it was easy, but it was something that those guys probably earned the right to start," Matta said.
The Buckeyes, led largely by Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate opened up an impressive 19 point lead at one point in the second half, which was capped by a break away finish by junior Marc Loving, who drew a foul and completed the old fashioned three point play.
Penn State would go on a 6-0 run to cut the Buckeye lead to 54-41, but the Nittany Lions would let the deficit swell to as much as 23 as Ohio State coasted to victory.
Tate, who was Ohio State’s leading scorer in the loss to Purdue with 17, continued his consistent play, shooting a pefect 6-of-6 from the floor and finishing with 15 points. He credited his consistent performance of late to a level of comfortability within the Buckeyes offense.
"More confidence and being more aggressive. And that just comes with playing hard and not worrying about the mistakes," Tate said. "Just going out there and playing the game the way coach recruited me to play."
While Ohio State led by as much as 15 in the first half, it was not exactly a perfect basketball game for the Buckeyes as they turned the ball over 10 times in the opening frame.
Lucky for the Scarlet and Gray, the Nittany Lions struggled to take advantage of the Buckeyes first half miscues as the visitors shot 37.6 percent from the floor, including an abysmal 2-of-16 from three point range, missing their first 13 attempts from long range.
Ohio State was able to limit itself to just five second half turnovers, something Bates-Diop said was the product of a halftime discussion with the coaching staff.
"Coaches talked to us at halftime just to cut down turnovers, take a deep breath, hold it and make the right decision. We don't need home run passes, just make the simple play," he said."
While Penn State could not seem to find a rhythm offensively, the Buckeyes continuously hit open jump shots as Bates-Diop and Loving combined to shoot 5-of-9 from behind the arc in the first half to help Ohio State to a 33-26 halftime lead.
Bates-Diop led the Buckeyes into the locker room with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting while Loving added eight points in the first half, finishing with 11.