After stunning upset, UNC fixes the mistakes in win over Ohio State
NEW ORLEANS — Three days ago, North Carolina coach Roy Williams lamented his team’s second-half effort with disgust, describing the stunning home loss to Wofford as “bad movement, bad defense, bad coaching.”
Whether such a performance was an aberration or cause for concern would be further gleaned when the Tar Heels took the court on Saturday, facing Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic.
For all the things North Carolina did wrong Wednesday, the Tar Heels’ performance Saturday in an 86-72 win over the Buckeyes at the Smoothie King Center was what Williams would deem an appropriate response to a tough midweek defeat.
The movement was good. The Heels were sharp offensively and assisted on 16 of 26 field goals.
The defense was better: North Carolina (11-2) held Ohio State (10-4) to just 31.3 percent shooting from the 3-point line.
The effort was definitely there. Even as the Heels held a double-digit lead late, they were closely contesting shots and going after offensive rebounds in an effort to finish strong. The Tar Heels’ intensity level was consistently high.
In one second-half sequence, after Ohio State guard Jae’Sean Tate scored consecutive close-range buckets, Tate again went toward the basket with North Carolina guard Kenny Williams in his way. Seemingly out of nowhere, forward Luke Maye came to help, swatting the ball out of Tate’s hands for a block.
Ohio State had its moments — guard C.J. Jackson hit three 3-pointers and scored his team’s first 11 points to provide an early challenge, and forward Keita Bates-Diop was productive with a game-high 26 points — but the Tar Heels responded each time the Buckeyes put together a positive stretch. North Carolina got quality play from its bench, namely from Cam Johnson (14 points) and freshman guard Jalek Felton, who hit three first-half 3-pointers to trigger a 21-7 run to close the first half and turn a tied game into a 41-27 North Carolina lead.
In the second half, the Heels started going inside, scoring 16 of their 20 points in the paint in the final 20 minutes.
As the reigning national champions shift to ACC play, which begins for them Dec. 30 vs. Wake Forest, there is plenty to feel good about. They responded to their worst loss of the season like a mature team, playing sound, crisp basketball against a solid if unspectacular Big Ten opponent. Guard Theo Pinson said watching film after the Wofford loss wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.
“The eye in the sky doesn’t lie,” Pinson said.
Although there are still some things to clean up — Williams would like to see the Heels defend better and commit fewer turnovers (they had 18 on Saturday) — the Tar Heels can return home feeling much better about where they stand.
“I’ve never believed you have to learn to lose something,” Williams said with a smile. “I like to win close and learn something.”
As the Tar Heels move forward, they learned Saturday that they can bounce back pretty well.