Buckeyes Face Stiff Test In Tar Heels

Ohio State breezed through its first two games of the season last week, but things get decidedly tougher now. After a week-long layoff, the Buckeyes take on defending national champion North Carolina at Madison Square Garden and are hoping to reverse some recent history against the Tar Heels.

Evan Turner and Jon Diebler remember their last game against North Carolina for different reasons.

Both freshmen, they were part of an Ohio State team that drew the Tar Heels for their foe in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. UNC came out with a 66-55 victory during which it was held to a season-low scoring output, but the Buckeyes headed into the locker room with a 32-29 lead thanks to a three-pointer from Diebler as time expired.

When his shot swished through the net, a capacity crowd of 19,049 erupted and the freshman pumped his fist in the air as he charged off the court with his teammates. It also made him 4 for 8 from three-point range after having gone 2 for 24 in the first five games of the season.

Reflecting on the game, Turner referred to it as the night Diebler "went off" although he went 1 for 6 in the second half. Diebler had something else come to his mind when asked about the game.

"We lost," he said.

The lessons learned in a defeat suffered two seasons ago could help the Buckeyes in this contest, however. In holding UNC to 66 points, both Diebler and junior teammate David Lighty said they were successful in helping keep the Tar Heels from torching them in transition. For the game, the visitors had just two fast-break points compared to seven for the Buckeyes.

Being similarly successful tonight (9:30 p.m., ESPN2) will depend largely on No. 15 OSU's ability to slow down the up-tempo pace the No. 4 Tar Heels thrive on. As a team, UNC is averaging 88.3 points per contest.

During the 2007-08 season, the Tar Heels averaged 88.6 points per game. They were also held to 66 points in their final game of the season, an 84-66 loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.

"I think our defense really bothered them and one of the main reasons it did was because we got back in transition on defense," Diebler said. "That's something we really have to do. We know they like to push it and get out and run and their bigs run the floor better than anyone. All five guys have to get back and we know once they do get back, they're going to try to pound it inside because they're very big."

The Tar Heels are led in scoring by 6-9 senior forward Deon Thompson, who is averaging 17.7 points per game. He is also the lone returning starter from last year's squad that captured the national championship. In addition, 6-10 sophomore center Tyler Zeller has scored 12 points in each of the team's first three games and is second on the team in scoring.

As Diebler pointed out, that could present a problem for the Buckeyes, who primarily run with a four-guard set. In addition, junior projected starter at center Dallas Lauderdale missed the first game of the season and came off the bench in the second as he recovers from a broken bone in his hand.

He stands 6-8 and is more known for his defense. On Tuesday, OSU head coach Thad Matta said he had not yet decided if Lauderdale would start against the Tar Heels or if it would go to senior Kyle Madsen, who earned the role in Lauderdale's place.

The key to not allowing UNC to be successful in the paint will largely lie on the perimeter, however.

"They want to push it as much as possible, so transition defense is going to be a must, getting the ball stopped and not letting them do things they want to do," said Lighty, who will be manning up in the paint at power forward. "Obviously they have size so they're going to try to get it in the post against us, so making them uncomfortable by pressuring the ball, fronting the post and making things hectic for them (will be key)."

This season, the Buckeyes are hoping to spend more time pushing the ball than in previous years. The trick is to not get worn out in the process against a team like the Tar Heels.

"We have a lot of guys who are very effective in the open court, but one thing North Carolina wants us to do is get caught up in a track meet with them," Diebler said. "I'm sure they bank on teams get caught up in the running game and 30 minutes into the game teams get tired because they're not used to it. We feel that we can run in spurts, but we also know we want to make them guard in the halfcourt."

The game marks the third meeting between the two teams in the past four seasons. UNC has won the last two and holds a 9-2 record overall against the Buckeyes. It also comes on a neutral court as part of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer and will be played in New York City's Madison Square Garden.

Lighty is the only member on the OSU who was on the court for OSU's 98-89 loss at Chapel Hill during the 2006-07 season. All but four players were there for the 2007-08 loss, and as such Lighty said he does not plan on giving any sort of big speech trying to prepare his teammates for what lies ahead.

He figures they already have a pretty good idea what to expect.

"Good games," he said. "Fun games. Real exciting. They just keep coming in waves. They've got a lot of good players. Real athletic. Real big. They've got size. They've got players who play their roles and fit in good with their system."

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