For North Carolina, a 82-74 win over Ohio State was a great way to stop their slide down the rankings and show they can handle the best the Big Ten has to offer. For the Buckeyes, losing to a ranked team for the second time this season, it was a reminder that they’re still not as good as they’d like to be.
Ohio State have lost two games this season, both of them to ranked opponents: Once to Louisville, holding the Buckeyes to only 55 points and now to North Carolina, who run teams off the floor instead of using suffocating defense (although their defending was on point for most of the game), which isn’t usually part of their M.O ever since Roy Williams took over business at Chapel Hill. Ranked 19th in the nation in points per game, the Tar Heels simply kept things at a very fast pace which isn’t something their opponent seemed very comfortable with.
The Buckeyes shot just 34.7% from the field after heading into the game ranked third in the nation with 53.7%. Not that North Carolina did a lot better (44.7%) but the open floor was theirs for the taking time after time, also grabbing 18 offense rebounds, being led by Brice Johnson with 18 points, also grabbing 9 rebounds along the way. Johnson was one of three players in double figures for North Carolina, joined by Marcus Paige scoring 16 points and Justin Jackson with 11.
The frontcourt made most of the difference in favor of North Carolina. Kennedy Meeks scored 8 points to go with 13 rebounds and J.P. Tokoto, always enjoying when there aren’t too many half court sets to slug his way through, added 8 boards, 8 points and six assists, adding his usual high-flying flavor to the delight of the fans in Chicago, also giving this game a bit of a Michael Jordan connection with his alma mater playing inside the building.
The Tar Heels are still worried about Marcus Paige having a rough start to the season. He’s averaging just 13.4 points per game while shooting only 34.7% from the floor. He was just 4-of-12 from the field in the win, and Roy Williams later said he never saw Paige miss so many open shots as he did in the second half. Still, everyone’s quite sure the turnaround is going to come, waiting for Paige to bring back the numbers from his sophomore year.
Both teams have two more games before the gauntlet of their own conference begins. The Big Ten looks less impressive in terms of national strength than it has in recent years, but it’s always brutal trying to go through it. For North Carolina, the ACC is the strongest it has been in quite some time, with seven ranked teams including the Tar Heels. Their record against ranked teams so far excluding the loss to Kentucky, which is a given for everyone so far this season, should make them feel a bit better after that kind of performance against Ohio State.