For much of the last two seasons, the complaint around Columbus was that the Buckeye basketball team did not give much effort, especially on the defensive end.
Ohio State's 80-67 win over Appalachian State saw the Buckeyes force the Mountaineers into 18 turnovers as Chris Holtmann's team collected 11 steals, the most by an Ohio State team in more than a year.
The defensive effort wasn't limited to just turnovers and steals, however. The Buckeyes also held Appalachian State to just 3-of-19 shooting from behind the three-point arc after the Mountaineers entered the game shooting 38.1 percent from long range on the season.
Holtmann said that while he wasn't pleased with Ohio State's 20 personal fouls against the Mountaineers, he was OK with his team playing with intensity, especially on the defensive end.
"I think our guys are aggressive. We have an aggressive group," Holtmann said. "I really believe this: If our identity is not making it hard for teams to score on us, then we are going to really struggle this year. I think we just have to continue to embrace that."
One player that seems to have embraced Holtmann's message is redshirt junior Keita Bates-Diop. The Normal, Ill. native leads the Buckeyes in both points and rebounds this season, but played perhaps his best defensive game of the season against Appalachian State, swatting three Mountaineer shots and accounting for four of Ohio State's steals.
One play in particular seemed to spark the Buckeyes in the first half. Bates-Diop dove for a loose ball late in the half, collecting it and passing it ahead to Andrew Dakich, who spun off a defender and found Jae'Sean Tate for a transition dunk.
The play brought most of the 12,616 in attendance to its feet for the first time all night, and Holtmann said he was encouraged by Bates-Diop's effort on the play.
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"That was a really big play. It all started with Keita being the first to the floor. That is an expectation for an older guy to do that. It's an expectation for all the players to do that," Holtmann said. "I don't think we did that every time tonight which was disappointing. But that was a really special play."
Moving forward this season, Holtmann said he hopes to continue to see the improvement on the defensive end from Ohio State, spearheaded by Bates-Diop.
"He was very active at times and his ability around the rim to chase balls down and just get a piece of balls is critical for our group," Holtmann said. "He got post-sealed a couple of times (though). I think with Keita and J.T. (Jae'Sean Tate), they are so much about the right stuff right now and it's really a lot of fun to coach them.
"We are going to experience some rough moments, but I think (Bates-Diop) has really embraced the idea that if we are going to be good, we've got to be good defensively and he has got to lead the way with that."