Ohio State failed its lone test against elite competition but is hoping for a better performance in its second opportunity against a top-tier team.
The 12th-ranked Buckeyes seek a fifth straight win Saturday against No. 24 North Carolina in Chicago in the CBS Sports Classic.
Ohio State (9-1) owns one of the nation’s best average scoring differentials at plus-27.3, though it hasn’t played a particularly difficult schedule. The Buckeyes’ most impressive win was perhaps a 74-63 victory over a pedestrian Marquette team.
Though they made a late run for a closer final margin, they were outplayed in a 64-55 loss at then-No. 5 Louisville on Dec. 2. They trailed by 17 at halftime and shot 30.4 percent with starting guards D’Angelo Russell and Shannon Scott going 6 for 20 and 1 for 7, respectively.
The Buckeyes have since won four in a row by an average of 33.0 points, including a 97-55 victory over North Carolina A&T on Wednesday.
“Obviously, (North Carolina is) a tremendous team,” coach Thad Matta said of Saturday’s matchup. “A lot like a Louisville, they’re going to really try to pound the ball inside on us and rebound it. We’ve got to do a great job with that.”
Ohio State gave up 18 offensive rebounds against the Cardinals, though it has limited four opponents since to an average of 8.3. North Carolina, like Louisville, is one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams with 17.3 per game.
Russell, who had 21 points against North Carolina A&T, is 8 of 16 from 3-point range since going 0 for 6 versus Louisville. Scott had a season-low one assist with five turnovers against the Cardinals but has 25 assists compared to eight turnovers over the last four games.
“We’re a smarter team now. We’ve been in big games before,” said Scott, whose father Charlie played at North Carolina from 1967-70. “We know what we did and what we shouldn’t do in this game. And we know the things that we did that can help us out. We’ll be ready.”
North Carolina (7-3) owns two wins over teams that were ranked, but has split its last four contests. Coach Roy Williams is hoping to clean up the Tar Heels’ nagging turnover problem. They committed 18-plus turnovers in losses to Butler and top-ranked Kentucky, and were sloppy with 17 giveaways in Tuesday’s 79-56 win at UNC Greensboro.
Ohio State forces an average of 18.8 turnovers and had 40 points off 26 turnovers by North Carolina A&T.
Williams said he brought a tougher approach to practice in recent days to try to motivate his team.
“The question about our effort and our toughness is something I’m concerned about. I really am,” Williams said. “Am I concerned about the quality of our kids? Not at all. … I’d let every one of my players be a babysitter for my grandsons. They can’t get any better than that. But we’ve got to get tougher on the basketball court, mentally probably more so than physically.”
Preseason All-American Marcus Paige continues to be inconsistent, averaging 11.2 points on 31.4 percent shooting over his last five games. He’s been better against three ranked opponents, however, scoring 17.0 per game and shooting 44.1 percent.
The Tar Heels lead the series 10-2 and have won five straight since losing 80-73 in a 1992 NCAA regional semifinal. They won 77-73 in the last meeting at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 19, 2009.