NEW ORLEANS – Riding a five-game winning streak, Ohio State brought enthusiasm and a newfound sense of confidence to Smoothie King Arena on Saturday.
No. 5 North Carolina brought better players. In the opening game of the CBSSports Classic, the Tar Heels (11-2) shook off a mid-week upset loss to Wofford with an 86-72 win against the Buckeyes (10-4).
In front of an almost exclusively blue-clad crowd with a nightcap of Kentucky and UCLA to follow, Ohio State matched baskets with the Tar Heels early in large part due to the play of junior guard C.J. Jackson. With Keita Bates-Diop limited after picking up two fouls in the first five minutes, Jackson scored Ohio State’s first 11 points before Bates-Diop returned and added the next seven to give the Buckeyes an 18-17 lead. The Buckeyes didn’t have a third player score until Jae’Sean Tate’s steal-and-score with 7:18 to play pushed their lead to three.
But from there, the Buckeyes seemingly forgot to contest the three-point line against a team shooting 38.3 percent for the season. North Carolina hit four straight three-pointers to reclaim the lead and start what would be a decisive run to close the half.
After Tate’s basket – his only one of the half – North Carolina outscored the Buckeyes 24-7 to take a 41-27 lead into the break. It was Ohio State’s biggest halftime deficit of the year, and it was largely thanks to nine Tar Heels three-pointers on 16 attempts and zero first-half offensive rebounds for the Buckeyes.
Bates-Diop led the Buckeyes with 26 points, one shy of his career high. Jackson had 19 and Kaleb Wesson added 12 – all in the second half.
Of Ohio State’s seven points in the final seven minutes, four came on consecutive possessions when Jackson hit a pair of free-throws, stole a Joel Berry II pass and then laid it in at the other end. It made it a 31-27 game, and after the Buckeyes forced another turnover they had a chance to make it a one-possession game but Kam Williams’ off-balance, hurried, mid-range jumper wouldn’t fall and Berry drilled a three at the other end to regain momentum.
The Buckeyes would get no closer than nine points the rest of the way. By the end, chants of “Tar! Heels” easily overpowered those of “OH! IO!”
Since beating No. 4 Kentucky in this event two seasons ago, they have now lost five straight games against top-five opponents. This season, Ohio State is 1-4 against teams ranked in the top 50 according to KenPom.com.
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