“I just want to thank all of the fine, smart, clever journalists that didn’t pick us. We were the trendy upset pick. I understand that. Sure, we made our guys aware of that.”
Those were some of Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann’s comments on television immediately following the Buckeyes’ 81-73 win over South Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Buckeyes were a 5-seed against the 12-seed Jackrabbits and there were no shortage of experts picking South Dakota State, so Holtmann apparently put it to good use.
That doesn’t mean any of it was ever easy in Boise.
Ohio State led 70-60 with 4:42 to play and two minutes later it was 70-68. Two free throws by SDSU swingman Reed Tellinghuisen with 1:54 remaining tied the game at 70-70.
And that’s when OSU senior guard Kam Williams took over.
Eighteen seconds after SDSU tied the game, Williams took a pass on the wing from Andre Wesson and drilled a three-pointer while getting fouled. He hit the free throw to make it 74-70. Roughly 30 seconds later, Williams missed a jumper, but the Buckeyes got the offensive rebound. The ball found Williams again, and he went up quickly for an ill-advised three, but he was fouled on this one as well. He made all three of his free throws to make the game 77-70
The Jackrabbits wouldn’t get any closer than six points after that, and the Buckeyes sank their final four free throws to close out the win.
OSU had three 20+ scorers in Keita Bates-Diop (24), Williams (22), and C.J. Jackson (20). Jae’Sean Tate fouled out after just 21 minutes on the court.
South Dakota State’s plan coming into the game was to allow Ohio State to shoot the three, and the Buckeyes obliged. They went 12-of-40 from deep, and shot just .375 from the field overall.
Jae’Sean Tate’s three-pointer to open the scoring for the Buckeyes should have been an indicator of how the offense was going to go for Ohio State on the day.
It was the first of many made three-pointers on the day by both teams.
Following a three by Jackrabbits forward Mike Daum to make it 12-8, the Buckeyes answered with a three-pointer by Jackson. Bates-Diop then added a jumper to capture the first lead for OSU since Tate’s three to get things going.
The Buckeyes built an eight-point lead several times in the first half, but South Dakota State would respond each time. They even had a nine-point lead following a Bates-Diop dunk with 4:48 to play in the first half. Consecutive threes from point guard Brandon Key cut the lead to just three points.
A three-pointer from Tellinghuisen then tied the game at 43-43 with 1:16 remaining. That is how the first half would end.
Trailing 48-45 with 16:22 remaining in the game, Bates-Diop hit a three to tie the game. A steal by Tate then led to a layup by Kam Williams to give OSU the lead. It was a lead they would never relinquish.
A three and two consecutive layups by Jackson made it 57-48 OSU, and a jumper by Williams gave the Buckeyes their largest lead of the game at 59-48. Things stayed that way until South Dakota State began their run at the 70-60 mark.
Summit League Player of the Year Mike Daum scored a game-high 27 points on 9-of-20 shooting. The Jackrabbits finished 13-of-31 (.419) from three-point territory, but that number dipped in the second half where they were just 4-of-14.
Up next for the Buckeyes is Gonzaga on Saturday.