Tar Heels Hand Buckeyes First Loss of Season
By John Porentas
The game between No. 1/3 Ohio State (5-1) and No. 6/7 North Carolina (5-1) was billed as matchup between two great freshman classes. The frosh didn't disappoint, but it was a couple of OSU veterans that helped allow OSU to stay close in a hotly contested game that ended in a 98-89 win for the home standing Tar Heels.
OSU senior guard Ron Lewis scored a game-high 30 points by slashing his way the basket and shooting from long range to help keep the Buckeyes in the game until the bitter end. Senior Forward Ivan Harris chipped in 17 more in OSU's losing cause.
The Buckeyes were able to jump out to an early lead on the strength of tremendous shooting and the ability of Lewis and freshman guard Mike Conley to drive on the North Carolina defense. Conley penetrated then dished to amass a game-high eight assists.
The Tar Heels were expected to dominate down low, but junior forward Matt Terwilliger, Harris and junior college transfer Othello Hunter managed to slow North Carolina's inside attack just enough to allow the Buckeyes to maintain their first half lead and build a 10 point bulge at 33-23 when Daequan Cook hit a jump shot. The interior defense, however, came at a price. Three Buckeyes had three personal fouls at when Cook hit his jumper, including both Terwilliger and Hunter. The situation prompted OSU Head Coach Thad Matta to go to a zone defense and the Tar Heels were able to simply shoot that zone apart.
"I really think one of the turning points of the game was when we got that ten point lead and we got the three guys with three fouls and we had to play some zone, and they got some open looks on us and it took the momentum from us," said Matta.
"That hurt us a little bit."
The Tar Heels were able to continue that momentum as the second half began, going on a 12-2 run to claim a six-point lead at 56-50.
The Buckeyes, who were playing without the services of center Greg Oden, rallied to reclaim the lead and led by six twice, once at 64-58 and again at 66-60. OSU's rally was fueled by three consecutive three point goals by Harris.
The Tar Heels were able to reclaim the lead when the Buckeyes went cold from long range and North Carolina turned up the defensive pressure.
"I think they definitely extended out the pressure. They're long, they're athletic, they have fresh bodies coming at you at all times and they did a tremendous job of challenging our shots," said Matta of his team's lack of offense during the North Carolina spurt to regain the lead in the second half.
North Carolina extended their second half lead to as many as 12 but the Buckeyes refused to be blown out. OSU fought back to within five at 88-83 when Harris hit a three, but could come no closer as the Tar Heels made living at the free throw line and inside to maintain their lead. For the game, North Carolina attempted 34 free throws to just 13 for the Buckeyes. The Tar Heels outscored Ohio State 22-8 from the charity stripe.
"That was a heck of a basketball game. Even as a coach you sit over there and marvel at the level that the kids are playing at offensively," said North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams.
"I think Ronnie Lewis was unbelievable for them. I just think that Daequan coming of the bench, Harris made those two threes late for them, they're a good basketball team," said Williams.
The Tar Heels could not find an answer for the dribble penetration of Lewis and Conley. Williams had a very simple explanation for that turn of events.
"They're good. That's the bottom line. I'm not trying to be funny or cute but Mike Conley is hard to guard. They're good players," said Williams.
"I think that was, as I told our guys, a high level basketball game," said Matta.
"When you get in a game like that guys are going to make plays and quite honestly North Carolina made more plays that we made to win the game.
"It was a game of runs," Matta said.
"I think our guys showed us some very good things out there as we're still experimenting with a young basketball team. I've never been a building that was a loud as that building was at times was we were able to communicate and guys were getting the calls."
Matta was impressed with the Tar Heels.
"I was impressed with both teams and the job that all players were doing. No question, they (North Carolina) answered every punch we threw with a punch back at us," said Matta.
Williams was impressed with the Buckeyes as well.
"Thad Matta is a true gentleman and a big-time coach," said Williams.
"The have a big-time team and when Greg Oden gets back and playing for them they're going to be a heck of a team. He's got their program on an elite level in college basketball and I think he's going to keep it and we feel very fortunate," Williams said.
Game Notes and Quotes:
* The game began with the North Carolina crowd changing "overrated" when the Buckeyes took the floor. Williams took steps to stop the cheer, and commented on it after the game.
"This is North Carolina. We don't do that crap to people," said Williams.
"Somebody tells me that I'm overrated in their place I want to beat them so bad the next time I play them I want to eat.
"We're not going to do that. If it has to go through the media or if I have to go tell the fans individually, we do not do that.
"That's a sorry chant and there's no place for it in college basketball. I've heard it a few times and it just makes me want to beat their butts even worse the next time.
"I don't want anybody having any extra motivation plus there's no place for it in college athletics."
* Though the game ended in defeat for the Buckeyes, they took solace in the fact that they competed throughout and that they were short a vital component of their team, center Greg Oden.
"I think we can come from here and say these are the areas we have to get better at, these are things we got to do better," said Matta.
"The encouraging thing for us is we're waiting on Greg. Where they got us tonight is some areas where he's going to help us a lot in that regard. I don't ever like to lose, but the barometer here is we can play."
"This was a good opportunity for our younger guys to play against this high competition. I think this will help us out in the long run," said Ivan Harris.
* OSU Head Coach Thad Matta was pleased with the overall effort of his team. He is especially happy with the improvement being shown by senior forward Ivan Harris.
"We've asked him to get better at some other areas of his game and he's done it," said Matta.
"The other night he had one of the best defensive performances we've had in our time at Ohio State. I think these type of games build him and get him to understand his role on this basketball team."