Chris Holtmann tries to control hype after Ohio State crushed North Carolina
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Chris Holtmann might need to look for a bigger brake in his tool kit.
On Wednesday night at the historic Dean E. Smith Center, Holtmann's No. 6 Ohio State men's basketball team handed No. 7 North Carolina a 74-49 loss that was unprecedented on a number of fronts.
In moving to 8-0, the Buckeyes held the Tar Heels to the worst shooting night in the history of the arena, which opened in 1986. It was the worst loss for North Carolina under coach Roy Williams and the program's worst since a 29-point loss to Duke in 2002.
The numbers don't stop there, and the acclaim for Ohio State doesn't either. It left Holtmann with the job of downplaying expectations, a task he has done early and often during his three seasons with the program.
“That's not intentional, by the way,” he said, smiling and taking a swig of water when asked about trying to lessen the hype around his team. “We're still trying to figure out all across the country how good everybody is. Through six or seven games, it's hard to make any sort of definitive statements on anything.
“I don't want to take away from what our guys are doing, but we'll see how I continue to do that (downplay the hype), I guess.”
According to ESPN, combined with a 76-51 win over Villanova on Nov. 13, the Buckeyes are the fourth team in Associated Press poll history to beat two top-10 teams by at least 25 points in the same season. The prior three — Villanova in 2015-16, Duke in 2000-01 and UCLA in 1967-68 — went on to win the national championship.
The Tar Heels shot 27.4 percent (17 of 62) in what was Ohio State's biggest win against a top-10 team since a 93-65 win against No. 10 Wisconsin on March 6, 2011. The 49 points were the third-fewest the Tar Heels had scored at home. And for good measure, when Ohio State outscored North Carolina by 23 points during the second half, it marked the most lopsided Tar Heels scoring deficit for a half in the arena's history.
By the time the Buckeyes had gone to bed early Thursday morning in North Carolina — they spent the night in town before flying back the morning after the game — they had climbed to No. 2 in the KenPom.com rankings. A dangerous game with Penn State looms as Saturday's Big Ten opener for both teams, but a win there would likely push Ohio State into the top five in Monday's AP poll for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
“I just feel like we're playing really well together,” freshman E.J. Liddell said. “We aren't at our best right now, but I think we're going to keep playing together and keep getting big wins like this.”
It's a reflection of how Holtmann approached the final minutes of the game. With about a minute to go, assistant coach Ryan Pedon suggested he look up at the scoreboard to appreciate what the Buckeyes had done.
He still couldn't do it.
“I just told him, 'Hey, let's get our guys ready for Saturday,' ” Holtmann said. “It's unfortunately the life we live (as coaches). We're always moving on to the next one.”