Heels Exploit OSU's Zone

CHICAGO – Zone defenses have often been a challenge for North Carolina in recent years. Not so on Saturday, however, as the 24th-ranked Tar Heels efficiently dissected No. 12 Ohio State’s zone look in the first half of their 82-74 victory at the United Center.

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta switched to a zone full-time earlier this season, although it appeared early as though the Buckeyes were still adjusting to the transition.

UNC consistently exploited the soft zone through the high post and with quick passes around the perimeter. More active zones, such as Syracuse’s 2-3 matchup, disrupt passing lanes and strive to take away the high post. The Buckeyes, however, left the center of their zone open for the first 20 minutes.

“Their zone, there’s a big hole right in there below the free throw line, but they’re so athletic and quick that sometimes they cover up for it,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said during his postgame press conference.

Midway through the first half, Kennedy Meeks seemed surprised upon receiving one pass at the high post without a defender within several feet of him as OSU’s center stayed close to the rim. The sophomore center then decided to show off his dribble drive skills with a strong move to the basket for a layup.

Meeks confirmed his surprise in the locker room, telling reporters that in film review the Buckeyes had played their center closer to the free throw line.

Brice Johnson and Joel James both capitalized on similarly open opportunities at the high post with corner jump shots.

“We wanted to get our bigs involved a lot,” sophomore guard Nate Britt said. “Early in the game, we did a good job of that to get a little lead there. Sometimes we broke down because of their pressure on the offensive end and kind of got away from it.

“A couple of three-second calls, I think, got our bigs a little tentative in the paint. We just wanted to make sure they had a huge presence in the paint and on the low and short corner.”

UNC shot 51.5 percent in the first half in taking a 43-31 lead into halftime. Six Tar Heels scored at least five points in the opening half, led by Marcus Paige’s nine points and Brice Johnson’s eight.

When the Tar Heels missed shots, they were often able to crash the boards and secure the offensive rebound. UNC rebounded nine of its 16 misses in the first half and scored nine second-chance points.

“We had good movement,” Williams said. “Movement of the ball and movement of the bodies. I always say, ‘Move yourself and move the ball intelligently,’ and I think we did that.”

UNC assisted of 14 of its 17 field goals in the first half and 23 of 29 for the game.

Matta adjusted at halftime by bringing his center up higher in the paint, as well as dropping his guards on the perimeter to make entry passes tougher, according to Britt.

That switch worked as UNC shot 37.5 percent in the second half (12-of-32) and allowed 10 points off eight turnovers.

“I think in the first half we shoot 52 percent and we missed a ton of really easy shots,” Williams said. “But in the second half, we didn’t shoot it as well.”

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