In the end, though, the big picture did the job just fine. The Buckeyes were equally effective from two-point and three-point range, shooting a fraction under 35 percent in each case. OSU was outrebounded by a 53-40 margin and outscored in the paint, 34-20. Carolina scored 16 second-chance points.
In another game against a ranked opponent away from home, Ohio State was once again outworked and outmuscled down low. Although the play on the court made it apparent enough, Ohio State was still forced to deal with a lingering question in the postgame press conference.
“Are you getting enough production from your bigs?”
That query was posed to Thad Matta at the start of his presser, and the Buckeyes head coach said it’s something he’s been preaching about for a couple of weeks now.
“We need more production out of those guys, and it’s not what everybody wants to say, I need touches,” Matta said. “Well, there’s other things we can do to impact that, and obviously we want to get an inside game established. But there’s not to be that element of consistency of knowing what we’re going to get at all times.”
That’s the core of Ohio State’s problem – down low, Matta doesn’t know what he’s going to see against a good team.
Senior center Amir Williams, the only Buckeye who averages more than five rebounds per game, failed to get anything going. He was the first player subbed out, giving way to backup Trey McDonald less than six minutes into the game. He finished with 1 point and three boards in just 19 minutes of play.
When asked what they could do to make sure they get more production out of Williams, his teammates were predictably diplomatic.
“We’ve just got to keep him active, really,” senior point guard Shannon Scott said. “He’s a great player. We’ve just got to keep him motivated and keep making sure he plays every possession.”
Junior forward Sam Thompson echoed that sentiment, calling Williams one of the best defensive centers in the country and saying that the Buckeyes need to do a better job of getting him the ball.
Other teams have figured that out, as well. Scott said that the Buckeyes often settled when it came to the season-high 29 three-pointers that they hoisted up, but that was also a product of UNC forcing the Buckeyes outside. OSU’s two starting forwards, Thomson and Marc Loving, combined for 13 attempts from behind the arc.
“We knew North Carolina was going to step up and load the guys in the paint on our drives, and we were going to have a lot of kick-out threes,” Thompson said. “Like Shannon said, I think we settled a bit.”
The Buckeyes have until March to work out the interior issues that have plagued them in the losses to Louisville and UNC, and Big Ten play will provide far more tests than the non-conference slate did. If Matta heads into the NCAA Tournament with a post game that he still can’t trust, though, it’s not hard to see what will happen to a team that entered the season with plenty of promise.