TULSA, Okla. — Like many basketball players, Nate Hinton grew up watching his older brother play the game. As a middle school player in Gastonia, North Carolina, Hinton watched his sibling compete against one of the area’s top players, Keyshawn Woods,.

On Sunday night, they will be reunited on the biggest stage of the college basketball season. Woods will lead No. 11 seed Ohio State against Hinton’s No. 3 seed Houston in a second-round NCAA Tournament game as part of the Midwest Regional at the BOK Center.

And although a few years separate the two — Woods is a graduate transfer, Hinton a freshman — Hinton said Woods’ game looks just like he remembered from his childhood days.

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“Yes, he’s always had an old-man game,” Hinton said Thursday. “He’s always been, you see the leader that he is, he’s fundamental, he’s always had that. Now it’s just being more polished.”

They’re not the only connection between the Cougars and the Buckeyes. Ohio State freshman Jaedon LeDee, a Houston native, will face his hometown school and a former AAU teammate in redshirt freshman Cedrick Alley Jr.

As of Thursday, no reunions had been planned. On Friday, Hinton had four points and six rebounds in an 84-55 win over Georgia State that preceded Ohio State’s 62-59 upset of No. 6 seed Iowa State. Woods had 19 points, playing all but 35 seconds.

The two follow each other on social media, Hinton said, and Woods said he was impressed with the youngster’s work ethic. After averaging 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds in 34 games including one start entering the NCAA Tournament, Hinton had played himself onto the American Athletic Conference all-freshman team.

“At the YMCA, he was always one of the kids working on his game,” Woods said. “He played pickup some, but he’d much rather work out and do it the right way instead of playing pickup all the time. He just works hard, and ever since I’ve known him and he got older he’s worked and worked and now it got him onto the all-freshman team. I can’t wait to see what else he can do for Houston.”

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Both players transferred during high school, playing for both Northside and Gastonia Day. They would see each other during summers back home, where their competitive nature would come out.

“We’d have summer workouts at Northside, and I got going he’d be the one to try and step up and stop me,” Hinton said. “He’s a competitor. He’s always been a competitor, knowing he’s a senior and this is his last opportunity I know he’s the type of player who’s going to do whatever it takes to keep going and try to win.”

Ledee and Alley were teammates while playing for Houston Hoops, where they were occasionally roommates. They would talk about their futures, Alley said, including where they might be going to school someday.

“I didn’t think he was going to go (to Ohio State), though,” Alley said. “I didn’t know all the schools he was looking at, but I thought he was going to stay somewhere in Houston or in the Texas area. It’s a good look for him, though.”

A freshman, LeDee hasn’t played much for the Buckeyes, appearing in 26 games and averaging 3.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 6.6 minutes. Alley entered the tournament averaging 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds while starting 18 of 34 games for the Cougars.

“He just plays hard, real good skill set, real strong,” LeDee said. “That’s my guy back home. Our families went to high school together. Growing up in Houston and being hoopers in Houston, we all know each other.”

The two figure to reconnect before Sunday night’s game.

“I haven’t talked to him ever since, but if we get the chance to go against each other in the next round I’m sure I’ll talk to him then,” Alley said. “When that time comes, we’ll say a few words to each other before game time.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy