Kam Williams apparently got the message.
The fifth-year senior guard from Baltimore was the closer for the Buckeyes in Thursday's first round game against South Dakota State. Not Bates-Diop. Williams' seven-straight points in the final 90 seconds broke a tie and helped send the Buckeyes into the second round with a 81-73 win at Taco Bell Arena.
The fifth-seeded Buckeyes will play No. 4 Gonzaga here on Saturday.
Williams finished with 22 points, none bigger than the seven he canned in succession late in the second half. He was fouled on a made 3-pointer coming off a curl -- made the free throw too. He was then fouled shooting another 3, missed the shot but made all three free ones to give Ohio State a 77-70 lead with 1:04 left.
Bates-Diop scored 24, 17 of those coming in the first half as the Jackrabbits found a way to crowd the Buckeyes star and slow him down after he looked unguardable in the first 20 minutes. C.J. Jackson added 20 points for the Buckeyes, he and Williams spurring on Ohio State in a second half in which Bates-Diop was mostly a non-factor on the offensive end.
Mike Daum, South Dakota State's NBA-caliber forward and the Summit League Player of the Year finished with 27 points, but had to work for them. The Buckeyes, playing a smaller lineup for most of the game, tried to frustrate Daum by forcing him from the rim and digging into him when he got the ball in the post. He finished 9-for-20, a solid night guarding him.
South Dakota State, which leads the country in turnover percentage, meaning they give it away less than anyone, turned the ball over 13 times — which led to 18 points for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes nailed their recipe for tournament success, and live to play another day.
The Buckeyes turned the ball over three times on their first four possessions of the second half. Problem for South Dakota State was it couldn't hold onto the ball either, and after the Buckeyes regrouped, they put on a 14-0 run that included a couple of steals for easy offense, and seven-straight points from Jackson.
Ohio State put on that run down a starter, as Jae'Sean Tate picked up his fourth foul with 15:47 left and sat for the next eight minutes. Tate fouled out with 2:47 going for an offensive rebound.
But much like the first half, when the Buckeyes put on a quick run, got up nine but couldn't extend it — OSU let South Dakota State back into the game late. A banked-in 3 from Brandon Key, followed by a transition 3 from Daum cut Ohio State's lead to 70-66 with 3:11 left.
Banked-in 3s have been a bad omen for Ohio State this year. Penn State beat the Buckeyes on one in Columbus, then used one two weeks ago in New York en route to ending Ohio State's Big Ten Tournament appearance after one game.
Key's bank on Thursday was nerve-wracking in the moment, but Ohio State regrouped, weathering a 10-0 South Dakota State run and closing strong to earn Holtmann's first NCAA tournament win at Ohio State.
Ohio State and South Dakota State combined for 19 made 3-pointers in a fun, back-and-forth first half that ended with the teams tied at 43.
The Jackrabbits made 9-of-17 from deep, a good chunk of those makes uncontested. The Buckeyes made 9-of-24. The nine makes helped them keep pace. The 24 attempts were more than Ohio State had in 28 of its games leading into Thursday. Too high of a number for an average 3-point shooting team.
Falling in love with that shot had a hand in the Buckeyes not being able to pull away after taking a 38-29 lead on an emphatic Bates-Diop dunk with 4:47 left in the half. The injury bug quickly bit Ohio State after that, with Andre Wesson falling awkwardly on his left knee and Kam Williams twisting his left ankle a few seconds later. Both returned in the first half, but the Jackrabbits made two quick 3s to bring the deficit back to 38-35 with 3:46 left.
Neither team got a great look at a potential go-ahead shot in he final minutes of the half, and they entered the break tied.
South Dakota State led early, stretching it to 12-5 in the first six minutes when Daum hit a corner 3 in front of a late closeout from Bates-Diop. The Buckeyes were forced to go to their small lineup, with Bates-Diop at center, early on. That helped get them back in the game. Bates-Diop scored inside, then hit a 3 after Andrew Dakich stole an inbounds pass and found Bates-Diop open for a straight-on jumper.
In a quick spurt, Dakich had two steals and took a charge, reinvigorating an Ohio State team that started a little cold. An 8-0 run gave the Buckeyes a lead they held until Reed Tellinghuisen hit a 3 to tie the game at 43 with 1:14 left.