ROSEMONT, Ill. – For the first time since Dec. 30, Keita Bates-Diop failed to score 20 or more points, yet when the dust settled at Allstate Arena on Wednesday night, Ohio State was still undefeated in conference play.
Bates-Diop scored just 10 points in Ohio State’s 71-65 win over Northwestern on Wednesday night, but that didn’t stop his head coach from giving the star playing a rousing endorsement after the game.
After Chris Holtmann was asked about what had made Bates-Diop so successful to this point in the season, the first-year Buckeye head coach got as animated as he has all season, praising his star player, going as far as calling him one of the best players in the country.
"Tonight may not have been his best night offensively, but he will learn from it. You cannot expect a kid to be shooting and playing at the level that he has played," Holtmann said. "No one in the country that I have seen has went through the kind of stretch that he has had in terms of efficiency, offensively. If they have, I don't follow college basketball maybe enough.
"I hope we have a full appreciation for how good he has been in this stretch. I think he is an elite player and I think he is one of the best players in the country."
While Holtmann has repeatedly said that he doesn’t put much stock into rankings or polls, he did comment on Bates-Diops absence from the John Wooden Award midseason watch list, an award given to the most outstanding player in Division I college basketball.
"I think he is an elite player and I think he is one of the best players in the country."– Chris Holtmann on Keita Bates-Diop
"For what it's worth, I don't look much into awards but you saw those Wooden things that came out midseason, I could not believe he was not on it," Holtmann said.
Even without Bates-Diop playing his best game offensively, the Illinois native found other ways to impact the game, especially down the stretch.
Nursing a five-point lead with just 14 seconds left, Bates-Diop collected a late block on a three-point shot from Northwestern's Vic Law as the Wildcats made a late push to try and tie the game. In addition to eight rebounds, Holtmann was elated with the way Bates-Diop found other ways to make his presence felt with the game on the line.
"He may not have had his best offensive night, but he made some critical plays there late," Holtmann said. "He has embraced the role of being an impact player on this team and in this league and at this level."
While it may not be a big number, Bates-Diop's three assists against the Wildcats on Wednesday night were the most since a blowout win over The Citadel on Dec. 19. He said even when he has an off night shooting, he has confidence in the rest of his teammates to make shots when called upon.
"I have great confidence in those guys," Bates-Diop said. "They work on those shots and take all those shots in practice all the time. It's not a one-man team by any extent. We have a good team. I get a lot of the credit sometimes because I put up a bunch of points and rebounds, but the rest of the guys are doing a lot of good things."
With a supporting cast surrounding a star player that is called one of the best in the country by his own coach, Ohio State is building a season that few outside of the Schottenstein Center saw coming. The Buckeyes sit at 16-4, 7-0 on the season, the best such conference start since the 2010-11 season.
Bates-Diop said moving forward, Ohio State's ceiling is wherever the Buckeyes set it.
"Our ceiling is whatever we make it to be," Bates-Diop said. "No one expected us to be 7-0 with our preseason rankings. It's a great feeling to be this far along, and we need to keep it going."