NEW YORK — In North Carolina’s biggest challenge this year, its best player was limited to the role of spectator for long stretches of the game.
But with forward Ed Davis in foul trouble all night, everybody else stepped up for No. 4 UNC in its 77-73 win against No. 15 Ohio State in the 2K Sports Classic.
And though the Buckeyes (2-1) turned the game into a nail-biter in the final minutes with a late flurry, UNC (4-0) held them off with a couple crucial free throws.
While Ohio State struggled for most of the night to find its shooting touch, the youthful Tar Heels demonstrated poise under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
“I liked our competitiveness tonight,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “The first two games we were OK, but last time (against Valparaiso) we weren’t very tough physically or mentally. And I think we were tonight.”
They also showed an ability to play 11 players and not miss a step.
Davis sat out the last 4:09 of the first half, as well as more than 11 minutes in the second half. Like any potential top-10 draft choice, he was missed — but not sorely.
Deon Thompson led the Tar Heels with 15 points and twelve rebounds. Will Graves (14), Marcus Ginyard (13), and Larry Drew II (11) joined him in double digits.
They weren’t alone. Nine out of 11 UNC players who logged minutes found the scoring column. UNC’s bench outscored OSU’s by a 17-12 margin.
“I think we did a much better job tonight of just competing out there,” Ginyard echoed.
In the first half, the Buckeyes hit every part of the basket but the bottom of the net. They shot just 29 percent from the field, including 1-of-10 on 3-point attempts.
Were it not for the game’s final minutes, their final stats would look just as ugly. In the last four minutes, the Buckeyes outscored the Tar Heels by a 22-11 margin. The run included four 3-pointers.
“The first half they were 1-for-10 on 3s, and I knew that wasn’t going to last forever,” Williams said. “Then at the end, they made some big-time 3s that were really deep.”
UNC turned the ball over frequently against OSU’s press, and were it not for a key steal by Ginyard and a few free throws by Drew, the Buckeyes could have had a shot at evening the score.
The game was a clashing of styles. Ohio State often plays four perimeter players at once. UNC, on the other hand, prefers to toss out as many lengthy bodies as possible.
On Thursday, the UNC bigs were forced to get out on the perimeter and defend while at the same time managing to help inside and maintain an advantage in the paint.
North Carolina advances to play Syracuse on Friday night in the tournament’s championship game.
“What bothered us was their quickness in the zone,” Williams said. “And we’ll face that tomorrow night with Syracuse, because they do a great job in their zone as well.”
And while the score didn’t reach the 90s or the 100s like Williams wanted, he said it’s good for his team’s development to have to claw for games in which they can’t dictate the tempo.
“To have a really good year, you have to win ugly,” he said. “And that might be a really good way to describe what we did here tonight.”
Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.