The opening minutes were less than inspiring for the Tar Heels, who made only three of their first eight shots from the field, and committed three turnovers within the first five minutes.
But UNC got a noticeable spark once graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, playing in just his second game with the Tar Heels, came off the bench and made his first three shots from the field as UNC led early on.
Defensively, the Tar Heels struggled to contain Ohio State point guard C.J. Jackson, who scored the Buckeyes’ first 11 points of the game. Eventually, Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State’s leading scorer on the season, got going, and poured in seven straight points to give the Buckeyes a 20-17 lead.
UNC would turn things around from that point forward, however, largely behind the 3-ball, and a stellar performance off the bench from first-year Jalek Felton.
After making a poor pass on one of his first offensive possessions, Felton proceeded to make three consecutive 3-pointers, and ran the Tar Heel offense well.
As a team, UNC made nine of 16 3-pointers in the first half, two more than it did in the entirety of the loss to Wofford. Behind the three ball, the Tar Heels ended the opening half on a 24-7 run and took a 41-27 advantage into the break.
In the second half, UNC’s offense sputtered a bit, although its good outside shooting fortunes continued. At one point, even Brandon Robinson came off the bench and banked one in from downtown.
On the other end of the court, UNC played well defensively as it forced 14 turnovers and held the Buckeyes to 45.6-percent shooting. Outside of the trio of Jackson, Bates-Diop and forward Kaleb Wesson, the seven other Ohio State players combined for just 15 points on 7-23 shooting.
Late in the second half, UNC led by as many as 19 as it capped off a bounce-back win.
Who stood out?
The game began with Pinson connecting on a 3-pointer, his first make from distance since the Tar Heels’ win against Portland on Thanksgiving. As it would turn out, that was a good omen for Pinson, whose 19 points tied a career-high.
Johnson, meanwhile, looked impressive in 23 minutes of action, as he scored 14 and looked like 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.
But perhaps the most surprising performance came from Felton, who contributed 12 points and five assists off the bench. Despite a couple of silly mistakes, Felton warranted extended minutes thanks to his outside shooting and ability to set up his teammates.
When was it decided?
With just under 13 minutes left in the second half, Ohio State pulled within nine points after going on a 6-0 run. But soon after, Berry stole a pass and converted a layup on the other end to kill the rally, and the Tar Heels had little to worry about from that point on.
Why does it matter?
Final score aside, UNC’s performance against Wofford was concerning from the Tar Heels’ point of view. They were outplayed by a less talented team, couldn’t generate much offensively, looked susceptible on defense and committed 14 turnovers.
Was that performance just an aberration or a warning of potential problems for the Tar Heels down the road?
Ultimately, the answer to that question is probably a bit unclear, but a repeat performance against the Buckeyes heading into Atlantic Coast Conference play would’ve been concerning for UNC.
Instead, the Tar Heels ended non-conference play on a high note, and the win – as well the play of Johnson and Felton – could give UNC some confidence as the part of the season that matters most nears.
Yet, the turnovers (UNC committed 18) and the inability to score close to the basket (at one
point, the Tar Heels were 8-25 on two-point field goal attempts) remain areas of concern.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels open up conference play on Saturday, Dec. 30 at home against Wake Forest. UNC won 93-87 on the road in its lone matchup against the Demon Deacons last season.