On a neutral court in Chicago, the No. 12 Buckeyes were pretty thoroughly outplayed by the No. 24 Tar Heels. UNC was able to score consistently in transition and force the Buckeyes out of their comfort zone on offense. The Heels went up by double digits late in the first half, and never looked back. The eight point victory for UNC puts the Buckeyes at 9-2 for the year -- they lost their only other contest against a ranked opponent when they fell to Louisville several weeks ago.
The brightest spot for the Buckeyes was sophomore forward Marc Loving. Loving has strung together a nice couple of games on the offensive end, and Saturday's was no different. He finished with 19 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Freshman D'Angelo Russell did his best to keep pace with Loving, finishing with 11 points and 8 rebounds.
UNC was led in scoring by junior forward Brice Johnson, who put up 18 points. One of the most impactful players for the Heels was Kennedy Meeks, who checks in at 6'8 and 280 pounds. Meeks ate up the boards all afternoon, finishing with 13 rebounds. Guards Justin Jackson and Marcus Paige both finished in double-digits to round out the day for the Tar Heels.
The Buckeyes made things interesting to end the game, pulling within eight with under six minutes to play. It proved to be too little, too late. Despite a hard-charging run to close things out, Matta's squad took their second loss of the year. Michigan lost to SMU, so the day wasn't a total waste, but we'd have liked to see the Bucks earn their No. 12 ranking with a stronger showing today.
3 things we learned
1. Matta is sticking with the 2-3 zone, come hell or high water.
UNC's offense attacked the zone with vigor, putting up a good scoring total and moving the ball well against Matta's nascent zone. The Buckeyes still don't look particularly comfortable in that set, though it appears that they are going to stick to it for the foreseeable future. Ohio State has the personnel to give teams trouble on that side of the ball -- this team has a number of rangy, athletic defenders, and with some more practice could do some damage in a zone defense. Even Jim Boeheim's teams historically have taken some time to click in that formation, so it's not time for panic mode just yet. A team like UNC, who passes efficiently and has multiple guys who can score reliably, is not a great matchup for the Buckeyes when the zone is this young.
2. Ohio State struggles against teams that push the tempo.
There were shades of the Louisville game running all through this one. The Tar Heels played fast in transition and gave the Buckeye defense fits on the break. The Heels consistently made the right pass (or two) after getting into the offensive end. Justin Jackson and Marcus Paige both played incredibly well with ball in hand, and helped drive the Tar Heel offense out to a sizable lead that the Buckeyes couldn't surmount.
Ohio state did buckle down in latter part of the second half, flying after the ball with an energy that just wasn't there during the first half. They forced 15 Tar Heel turnovers when all was said and done -- and that's a good sign going forward. This wasn't Ohio State's most complete game of the season, but they've shown a consistent ability to force turnovers even without Aaron Craft pestering opposing guards.
3. Shot selection was a problem.
The Buckeyes closed the first half shooting just 34% from the field. It seemed like every possession was capped by a low-percentage shot with plenty of time left on the clock, a mistake that UNC was not repeating at the other end. This is a young team, and that lack of discipline against a quality opponent isn't the most surprising thing in the world. But it's maddening to watch such a talented offense waste possessions like the Buckeyes did on Saturday.
They kept that mentality alive early in the second half, as well. The shot selection was somewhat vindicated by Marc Loving's lights-out shooting, but man, it was tough to watch possession after possession end in a heave from one step inside the arc. The Buckeyes finished the night shooting 35.2%, which is even more dramatic when you factor in the fact that they actually shot pretty well from three.