Marc Loving made five 3-pointers and scored 19 points for Ohio State (9-2), which had won four in a row. Sam Thompson scored 17, and D'Angelo Russell had 11 points and eight rebounds.
But the Buckeyes shot 35 percent. They were averaging 84.2 points and shooting 53.7 percent coming into the day.
The Tar Heels led by as many as 18 in the second half, but Thompson helped the Buckeyes get back in the game by attacking the rim. The former Chicago high school star had an alley-oop jam and a rebound dunk, and then added four consecutive foul shots during a 10-2 Ohio State run that got the Buckeyes within eight with 5:48 remaining.
Ohio State trailed by seven in the final minutes and had a chance to get even closer but was cold from the field down the stretch. The Tar Heels managed to hold on despite going 15 for 25 at the line in the second half.
Johnson was 4 for 4 for eight points in the first half, showing off a nice soft jumper and some impressive athleticism around the rim. He was on the finishing side of two alley-oops from J.P. Tokoto, including a fast-break dunk that lifted North Carolina to a 35-24 lead with 4:54 left.
The Tar Heels also got a four-point play from Paige on their way to a 43-31 advantage at the half. They shot 51.5 percent from the field, compared to 37.5 percent for Ohio State. But the Buckeyes' 3-point shooting, with Loving going 3 for 3 in the half, helped them stay in the game.
Ohio State guard Shannon Scott's father, Charlie, played for North Carolina from 1967-70 and is sixth on the Tar Heels' star-studded career scoring list with 2,007 points. Shannon Scott had 10 points, nine assists and six rebounds in his first game against his dad's old team.
Ohio State: Since Thad Matta took over before the 2004-05 season, Ohio State is 50-18 in neutral-site games. ... The Buckeyes dropped to 67-44 against the Atlantic Coast Conference.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels improved to 3-1 against ranked teams this season, with the only loss coming against No. 1 Kentucky. ... The Tar Heels have won six in a row against the Buckeyes and lead the series 11-2.
North Carolina hosts UAB next Saturday.