Thad Matta's Ohio State Buckeyes faced one last final tune up before Big Ten play Sunday evening in Central Ohio.
Though South Carolina State came into this one ranked 314th (out of 351 Division I college basketball teams) per KenPom, the plucky Bulldog side helped keep a young OSU group on their heels in the early going.
Once the Buckeyes got into a comfort zone, there was no stopping this train, however.
Behind the electric A.J. Harris, fearless play from young big man Daniel Giddens, and a 24-point explosion from Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State basketball put together a number of runs to win its eighth game of the season comfortably and improve its overall record to 8-5 on the campaign.
3 things to know:
1. A.J. Harris is fun as hell
If you haven't been watching the generously-listed-at-5'9 point guard steward the Buckeye offense (and do filthy stuff on the opposing end like this), you've been missing out.
Harris recorded six assists on the evening and three of them were on alley-oops.
While his shot totals on the season left some to be desired, he added a three-point basket three-fourths of the way through the second half which showcased his fearlessness as a true freshman.
Given that OSU hoops faithful will almost assuredly be treated to four years of what Harris brings to the table, and especially how much a joy it is to watch the 18-year-old work-in-progress version, the idea of a senior Harris leading the break should give you plenty of reasons to be excited for the future of Buckeye basketball.
2. Keita Bates-Diop can take over when needed
One of the biggest (and arguably fairest) knocks on this current incarnation of Ohio State basketball has been the lack of a premier go-to scoring option.
While no one will mistake Buckeye sophomore Keita Bates-Diop as a stereotypical first-option guy most evenings, at least Sunday night, he more than looked the part.
Recording a career high in points, KBD never wavered when presented with a good look. He put his head down and drove to the basket when needed on several occasions as well.
With Kam Williams also stepping up on the offensive end, if but for one night, OSU's offense seemed equal parts cohesive and confident. We'll see if Matta's 2015-16 Bucks can keep the momentum going when Richard Pitino's Minnesota Golden Gophers come to down Wednesday night.
3. The money round starts now
An awful lot of the early part of the Buckeye basketball season left much to be desired. With a sour taste left in even casual fans' mouths after a string of four consecutive losses (to say nothing of a blowout defeat at UConn), OSU message boards were in full-on football recruiting mode and had even devolved into the point of spitballing what the future of Ohio State basketball would look like.
After a season-changing upset win over Kentucky in Brooklyn, the Buckeyes have played some of their best basketball of the season. While the quality of opponent has varied wildly (Mercer, whom OSU defeated by 20, and Sunday night's opponent, South Carolina State, are over 150 places apart in KenPom), things will get an awfully lot more challenging before they get easier.
Minnesota and Illinois might represent a venerable shallow end of the swimming pool that is Big Ten play, but neither will be easy. With Northwestern, Maryland, and Purdue in three of the following five games after those, Ohio State's season may come down to how quickly the team can acclimate to the challenge.
An NCAA Tournament still feels like a fantasy at the moment. But if Ohio State manages to weather the early January gauntlet -- with say, a conference record of 5-2 -- perhaps an NIT bid for an extremely young team enters into the realm of possibilities.