UNC Basketball: Takeaways From Ohio State Game


No. 24 North Carolina (8-3) defeated No. 12 Ohio State (9-2) 82-74 in the fist game of the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago on Saturday afternoon. Despite a late comeback by the Buckeyes, the Tar Heels managed to hold them off down the stretch thanks in part to an outstanding performance by Brice Johnson, who put together a line of 18 points, nine rebounds, one block, and a steal on the afternoon.

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The Tar Heels started this game stronger than any they have played this year, aggressively attacking the zone defense of the Buckeyes throughout the first half. Johnson scored eight of his 18 points in the first half, and looked sharp converting passes into the paint from J.P. Tokoto into explosive plays. The other Tar Heel players performed well on the boards. Highlighted by Kennedy Meeks’ 13 rebounds, UNC outrebounded Ohio State 53-39.

Because of the zone defense that head coach, Thad Matta, and his Buckeyes use regularly, finding the holes in the OSU zone was very important for the Tar Heels in this game. Recording 23 assists for the game, and the majority of those in the first half, Roy Williams prepared his players very well for what should prove to be a very important game when the selection committee looks at these Tar Heels come tournament time.

Dec 20, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) dunks the ball against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Tar Heel defense combined with Ohio State struggling to shoot the ball is ultimately what decided this game. Shooting just over 35 percent from the floor, Ohio State could not buy a bucket, specifically in the first half. The Buckeyes could not make it to the free throw line in the first half (only two FT attempts in the first half) thanks to the active and efficient Tar Heel defense; this would change however in the second half where they would bring their total to 18 free throw attempts, converting 14 of those into points. At that point in the game, it became clear where this group of players Roy Williams has put together will continue to struggle: scoring late.

UNC once again struggled from the 3-point line, converting just three of their 13 shots taken. Marcus Paige did manage to play much better than he had been lately, scoring 16 points, but still only went 2-for-8 from beyond the arc. In addition, and also contrary to UNC’s play as of late, there was much improved guard play around Marcus Paige, allowing him to relax and get more open looks. Justin Jackson had a nice stat line of 11 points, four rebounds, and five assists, and Joel Berry (five points) and Nate Britt (six points) made important contributions off the bench.

As was made clear after the games at Kentucky and UNCG, for the Tar Heels to succeed, guard play has to improve. Contributions from both starting guards, as well as those coming off the bench, made a major difference in this game against a very talented Ohio State team.

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  • It is clear that Roy Williams has been very tough on his team lately, especially after the Iowa and Kentucky losses. The team has responded very well, and that was proven by the effort in today’s game. Despite a very dangerous string of turnovers and horrendous free throw shooting (21-33 on the afternoon), the Tar Heels held onto a game they showed signs of greatness throughout. As ACC conference play looms, the Tar Heels will need to keep their backcourt playing at a high level for any chance of making a run at the conference crown. Kennedy Meeks is a big guy, but he cannot carry a whole team to the promised land.