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North Carolina played without sophomore point guard Ty Lawson in a contest that resembled a Big Ten regular season game, with the Tar Heels shooting 38 percent from the field on 27-of-71 shooting and the Buckeyes struggling to only a 27.1 field goal percentage at the Value City Arena.
The Tar Heels held Ohio State without a field goal for a 10-minute, 52-second stretch in the second half to open up a 14-point lead with 5:56 remaining. OSU only connected on eight second half field goals on the way to a 22.9 shooting percentage in the final 20 minutes.
But the Tar Heels would need a clutch Ellington three-pointer as the shot clock expired to end a late Buckeye rally after cutting the lead to six with 3:28 remaining. The Wynnewood, Pa. native scored UNC's final seven points en route to new career highs in points and rebounds (8).
"I'm just feeling real confident and real comfortable when [the ball] is coming my way," said Ellington, who connected on 8-of-15 field goals, including 4-of-7 from three-point range. "It's feeling good, and they're falling for me."
Ohio State's zone was effective in frustrating junior Tyler Hansbrough into a 13-point outing on 6-of-19 shooting, but the All-American posted a game-high 11 boards as North Carolina outrebounded OSU, 58-42. Five Tar Heels tallied more than seven rebounds a piece.
"I was really pleased with our competitiveness and I was really pleased with our work on the backboards," Williams said. "The last couple of games, everybody's picked on our guys about not rebounding the ball. That's part of being at North Carolina – everybody thinks that you've got to play the perfect game every night. That gets a little tiring, but our guys rebounded the heck out of it tonight."
Deon Thompson added a career-high 14 points and seven rebounds, and junior wing Marcus Ginyard flirted with a double-double with nine points and eight rebounds.
The concern entering this ACC/Big Ten Challenge contest was whether the speedy Lawson would play or not, and the sophomore made that decision just before tip-off.
"Coach [Williams] put it on me to say if I wanted to play or not," Lawson said. "When I came in here the second time after warming up and just doing defensive slides, I knew I couldn't push off of it, so I decided not to play."
Depth at the point guard position has been non-existent in recent years for the Tar Heels, but a healthy Bobby Frasor and a seasoned Quentin Thomas played solid in front of 19,049 roaring Buckeye fans in North Carolina's first true road test of the season. The duo combined for five assists and three turnovers on the night.
"I thought they did a decent job taking care of the basketball, and I thought Bobby was good defensively," Williams said. "We don't get as many easy baskets as we do with Ty. Ty has that speed and quickness. Bobby and Q have a more difficult time penetrating that zone than Ty does."
North Carolina continued their longstanding trend of randomly igniting an opponent's hot hand from behind the three-point line as freshman Jon Diebler connected on four three-pointers in the first 20 minutes, giving the Buckeyes a 32-29 lead at the break. The freshman entered Wednesday's contest connecting on just 4-of-35 field goals (2-of-24 on three-point attempts) for the season.
Diebler led Ohio State with 19 points (5-14 3pt) and senior guard Jamar Butler added 17, while highly-touted freshman center Kosta Koufos struggled to only four points on 1-of-10 shooting.
North Carolina won just its fourth game in nine ACC/Big Ten Challenge appearances, but the ACC as a whole continued its dominance in this event by winning the Commissioner's Cup for the ninth straight season by an 8-3 mark this week.