OSU Presents First Road Test

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 1 North Carolina has played three of its first five games away from the cozy confines of the Smith Center, but Wednesday night's ACC/Big Ten rematch with Ohio State in Columbus will mark the Tar Heels first true road test – and Carolina may have to do it without starting point guard Ty Lawson.

Head coach Roy Williams' squad won its season opener against Davidson in Charlotte in front of a bevy of North Carolina fans, while playing in front of an odd mix of spectators in the Las Vegas Invitational this past weekend, but things will be quite different when the Tar Heels (5-0) take the floor at the Value City Arena on Wednesday.

"We haven't faced a challenge like we're going to face in these next two weeks, because it wasn't a true non-conference road game," Williams said during his Tuesday press conference. "It was a non-conference neutral game. It's not going to be anything like the [19,000] that the place holds up there that will have about 150 people rooting for us. Those are the tests that really tell you a heck of a lot more [about your team]."

To make things even more challenging against the Buckeyes (4-1) is the strong possibility that UNC will be without Lawson, who played his best game of the season against Old Dominion (career-high 23 points) on Friday before spraining his right ankle in the opening moments of Saturday's win against BYU. The sophomore did not practice on Monday.

"We talked yesterday and I told him that I would hope that he'd be able to do some things today, and if he did some things today, then I could see him playing in the game tomorrow night," Williams said. "But I won't know anything until after practice today. Well really, we won't know anything until after he practices and we see how he handles it with what little work we are going to let him do today."

Even if Lawson suits up against Ohio State, it's likely that he will not be in top physical condition, meaning the Tar Heels will have to continue to rely on junior Bobby Frasor and senior Quentin Thomas to play a significant role in running Williams' up-tempo offense. The fifth-year head coach indicated that Frasor would get the start if Lawson is unable to go, pointing out that the Blue Island, Ill. native won 23 games at that position two years ago.

Frasor and Thomas combined for just one assist in the BYU game, but they also only committed one turnover while helping to force the Cougars into shooting 40.3 percent from the floor. Williams continues to praise Frasor's defensive effort, saying the junior combo guard was "sensational" on that end of the floor.

"I just do what they tell me to do – it makes the game so much easier," Frasor said. "Getting out there denying passes. I've worked on staying in front of the ball, and just putting myself in better positions defensively. It really helps the entire team."

But regardless of who logs the most minutes at the point, it's still a team game that requires a group effort.

"It's still going to be North Carolina," Williams said. "Next July, nobody's going to give a darn whether Ty Lawson played or not. It's going to say North Carolina won or North Carolina lost."

Fortunately for the Tar Heels, they have managed to win eight of their last nine games against Ohio State, including last season's 98-89 victory in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Buckeyes have a completely different look than the team that UNC defeated last November at the Smith Center.

While top NBA draft choice Greg Oden did not play in the Buckeyes' loss, he was the featured individual on ESPN's coverage pitting the nation's top-two recruiting classes against one another.

Fellow freshmen Mike Conley, Jr. and Daequan Cook also joined Oden in the first round of the draft, leaving guard Jamar Butler (15.6 ppg, 4.8 apg) and wing forward David Lighty (10.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg) as the only returning starters. Forward Othello Hunter (9.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and freshman center Kosta Koufos (18.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg) add plenty of talent on the blocks.

"They've lost a great deal from last year, no question," Williams said. "Jamar Butler played well against us last year, the Hunter kid started against us last year, Lighty's a youngster that played a great deal for them and Kosta, we loved him to death. I told Thad [Matta] last year that I thought he had the best center prospect in the country and I felt the same way with Kosta."

North Carolina has won three of its last four games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge after losing the first four in the competition. The game tips at 9 p.m. on ESPN on Wednesday.


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