The effort was improved, but the hot shooting didn’t hurt, either. After making just 7 of 25 from 3-point range against Wofford, the Tar Heels connected on 13 of 25 3-pointers (52 percent) on Saturday.
After playing only five minutes on Wednesday, first-year Jalek Felton turned in perhaps the best offensive performance of his young career. Despite starting off his day with a lazy pass that led to an easy basket for the Buckeyes, Felton went on to hit a team-best four 3-pointers, while also dishing out five assists in 12 minutes off the bench.
The win against Ohio State will also be remembered because of graduate transfer Cameron Johnson’s showing.
Eager to make his second game as a Tar Heel better than his debut in a UNC jersey, Johnson poured in 14 points, six of which came on 3-pointers, in 23 minutes of action. Finally healthy enough to contribute for UNC, Johnson appeared to be the type of player UNC has needed offensively – somebody who can hit from outside, but drive to the basket and create his own shot off the dribble.
“Four or five things really helped us," head coach Roy Williams said. "Cam Johnson coming off the bench and making some baskets, Jalek Felton came off the bench and made some baskets. Theo down the stretch making all the free throws. I thought in the second half we took the ball to the basket a little bit more.”
After going down 20-17 with a little more than seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Tar Heels took over and didn’t relinquish control of the game, as they ended the first half on a 24-7 run. After halftime, the Buckeyes didn’t come any closer than nine.
Yet, the Tar Heels were shooting just 8-25 on 2-point field goal attempts at the under-eight media timeout in the second half, but finished the game with five makes on their their final seven 2-point shots.
“I’ve always wanted balance,” Williams said. “I’d take 13 threes every game, but also want more shots and baskets in the paint.”
Down the stretch, UNC became more aggressive offensively, which led to easy looks and trips to the free throw line, the result of its ability to hit outside shots, according to Berry.
“I think in the second half, like coach said, we did a better job of driving the ball, and I think it’s because we were knocking down shots from the outside,” Berry said. “We were able to open up the lanes for us to get inside. Guys started moving better on the offensive end, and making harder cuts, which is something we’ve been emphasizing in practice.”
Defensively, UNC held Ohio State to 44.1-percent shooting from the field. After a hot start, Buckeye guard C.J. Jackson scored only eight points in the game’s final 28 minutes. Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State’s leading scorer on the season, was contained for most of the day before scoring the bulk of his 26 points in the late stages of the second half.
The performance was not without negatives, however. In his postgame press conference, Williams looked annoyed when talking about his team’s 17 turnovers, which he categorized as “way too many.”
Still, for a team that was left frustrated and ashamed with how they played just a handful of days beforehand, Saturday’s result was a much-needed one.
“I’m glad we had this game going into Christmas break," Johnson said, "because it gives us a little bit of steam going forward and for that loss to not sit over our head for a couple of days.”