Entering Ohio State's prime-time showdown with No. 1 North Carolina, the freshman shooting guard was bogged down in a 2 for 24 slump from beyond the three-point arc. It seemed that everyone had a different reason as to why Ohio's all-time leading prep scorer was struggling to find the bottom of the basket early in his collegiate career, but the advice from those around him remained simple.
Keep shooting, they said, and things will finally turn up. On Wednesday night, they did – at least for one half.
Facing the Tar Heels, Diebler missed the first two treys he took. On the first one, he clearly faded away from the basket after releasing the ball, something head coach Thad Matta had said he wanted Diebler to work on.
He would miss his next three-point attempt as well, but with 5:21 remaining in the first half Diebler would do something he hadn't done since the second half of OSU's 79-65 victory against Syracuse on Nov. 21.
He canned a trey, pulling the Buckeyes to within one point at 21-20.
"I was struggling the first couple games, but everyone on the team had a lot of confidence in me," Diebler said. "When I'm out there I have to be a threat. I was just trying to be aggressive and they fell tonight."
Two possessions later, Diebler caught a fast-break pass from senior guard Jamar Butler, dribbled once and canned a trey from well beyond the arc, giving the Buckeyes a 23-21 lead with 4:46 remaining in the half. Running back down the court to play defense, he pumped his fist against his chest and glanced at Matta, who was celebrating near the team bench.
Diebler would go on to hit two more treys in the first half, the latter of which came at the buzzer and banked off the glass, breaking a 29-all tie and sending the Buckeyes into the locker room with a three-point lead.
The second half would be another story, though, as Diebler would go just 1 for 6 in the final 20 minutes to finish 5 of 14 from beyond the arc for the game. While he would have liked to continue his first-half success for the entire game, the fact that he made more three pointers in the one game than he had in the first five of his collegiate career was cause for celebration enough.
"It was a great lift for us to see Jon knock a couple down," Matta said. "The other day in practice he goes 8 of 10 (on threes). We knew it was in there. It was just a matter of time."
No More Streaking: The loss to UNC not only gave the Buckeyes two in their first six games, it ended a handful of impressive streaks they had going.
OSU is now 2-1 when facing the nation's No. 1 team on its home court under Matta. The Buckeyes, ranked No. 2 at the time, knocked off No. 1 Wisconsin one season ago, 49-48. Prior to that, it was Matt Sylvester's three pointer that gave the unranked Buckeyes a 65-64 victory over undefeated Illinois.
The loss also marked the first official loss suffered by the Buckeyes on their home court since Jan. 15, 2006, a streak of 31 games that includes one game apiece at St. John Arena and Nationwide Arena.
"We feel very fortunate," UNC head coach Roy Williams said. "It feels good in the locker room right now. Having Ohio State win (31) in a row at home, it feels good to come out on top tonight."
Rising To The Occasion: Things have not gone exactly the way senior forward Othello Hunter would have liked them to early on this season. First, Hunter battled leg cramps through the first two games, often riding on a stationary exercise bike during games to keep himself loose.
Now recently, the 6-8, 225-pound Hunter has battled an upper respiratory infection that limited him to just four minutes of playing time in the team's 90-57 victory over Virginia Military Institute on Nov. 25.
Needing a fully healthy Hunter in uniform and ready to go for the game against UNC, he responded with his most complete game of the year. In 31 minutes of action, he had a team-high 10 rebounds grabbed equally on defense and offense. Hunter had just five points on 2 of 5 shooting, but he also contributed a game-high six blocks – one more than the entire UNC team had.
With the Buckeyes trailing 42-39 with less than 15 minutes remaining in the game, Hunter rejected UNC forward Alex Stepheson only to watch as the Tar Heels retained possession. Six seconds later, however, Hunter packed swingman Danny Green. He would finish the defensive possession by grabbing the rebound for the Buckeyes.
They could not turn the momentum into points at the other end, however, and the Tar Heels began to pull away from that point on.
It was a step in the right direction for Hunter, a player whom Matta has said he has seen make marked improvements in each practice leading up to this season. The trick now is to continue to improve, he said.
"Othello has to keep it going," Matta said. "He gave a tremendous effort tonight. He came up with some lose balls and made big plays. He has to build on this game and that has to become a standard for us."