COLUMBUS, OH — Ohio State knew what it was doing when it scheduled South Carolina State of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (enrollment: 3,000) the Sunday after Christmas for the last out-of-conference game before Big Ten play.
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The Bulldogs at first didn't heed their casting as a sacrificial tuneup lamb before ultimately falling 73-57.
South Carolina State threw a bevy of defensive looks at the Buckeyes, as the local team started with a malaise that could be attributed to the holiday break. South Carolina State led 15-11 before Ohio State elevated its play.
Fueled by sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop's five 3-pointers and punctuated by an A.J. Harris block (yes, an A.J. Harris block), the Buckeyes unleashed a 23-6 run to surge to a 34-21 halftime lead.
Bates-Diop led all scorers in the half with a fluid 17 points on five of seven 3-point shooting. Trevor Thompson added 8 points and five rebounds.
The Bulldogs rebounded with a 6-0 run to start the half, before Thad Matta called timeout at 34-27 to rip into his team. Turnovers and poor free throw shooting continued to plague his team, though.
Despite the sloppy play, South Carolina State failed to take advantage. The closest the visitors came was 38-31 with 12 minutes left, but backup freshmen A.J. Harris and Daniel Giddens linked up for an alley-oop that all but officially snuffed the Bulldogs' chances.
Three minutes later—after some dazzling distribution and defense from Harris—Ohio State led 48-32 after a 10-1 run. It didn't look back.
Bates-Diop finished the game with 24 points and 10 rebounds, including five 3-pointers, career highs in both points and 3-pointers made. Trevor Thompson added his own double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
A.J. Harris finished as Ohio State's second best player on the night, with five points, six assists, and three rebounds. He left the game to an ovation with four minutes left in the game.
Senior guard Gabe McCray led South Carolina State with 15 points and four rebounds.
Big Ten play looms next for 8-5 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are next in action Wednesday when Minnesota comes to town.