A No. 15 Ohio State team that was supposed to be more experienced and perhaps deeper than No. 4 North Carolina instead reverted to form, playing sloppy basketball in a 77-73 loss at New York City's Madison Square Garden.
What little momentum OSU could muster was too little, too late. The Tar Heels (4-0) never trailed and led by as many as 17 points at the midway point of the second quarter. It was not until the final moments of the game that the Buckeyes would mount a charge, however.
Trailing 68-55 with 2:39 remaining, OSU closed the game on an 18-9 run but was never able to have the ball with a chance to tie the score or take the lead. Trailing by five with less than 20 seconds left, junior guard Jon Diebler canned a three-pointer from deep above the top of the circle to pull his team within two points at 75-73 with 11.3 seconds left.
Timeout was called, and OSU reserve guard P.J. Hill was whistled for a foul on UNC's attempted inbounds play. At the other end of the court, Larry Drew Jr. – who missed four free throws in the final moment of the game – connected on both this time to set the final score. OSU sophomore guard William Buford missed a three-point attempt on what would be his team's final possession.
It was a frantic comeback, but one that simply came up short.
"It's definitely a tough thing to come back from a hole like that," OSU assistant coach Jeff Boals told the Ohio State Basketball Radio Network. "We got some really good looks. Those are shots that we normally make. We got down 14 at the half and fortunately we were able to claw back into it and make a game of it."
At the 10:02 mark, the Buckeyes had trailed 55-36, and it was a 68-55 UNC lead with 2:39 remaining before the final comeback attempt.
Reserve OSU point guard P.J. Hill put in an offensive rebound with 6:22 remaining, making the score 58-47 in favor of the Tar Heels. One possession later, UNC used great ball movement at the other end of the court to find a wide-open Drew. He buried the three-point attempt to push the lead back to 14, helping keep OSU at bay.
Two games after putting up the second recorded triple-double in school history, Turner duplicated that feat – sort of. The junior finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 turnovers. He fouled out with 20 seconds remaining. In his third game as the team's point guard, he finished with four assists.
He did not receive much help from his teammates, however. Diebler finished with 17 points but went 4 for 13 from the floor. The only other Buckeye in double digits was David Lighty, who had 11 points on 4 of 9 shooting. Buford suffered through one of the worst games of his OSU career, finishing with eight points on 3-for-16 shooting that included a 1-for-5 performance from beyond the three-point arc.
Four Tar Heels finished in double digits, led by forward Deon Thompson's 15 points.
"Hats off to North Carolina," Boals said. "Obviously they're a great team. They're going to win a lot of basketball games. If something bad happens, we can't let it multiply against us. In the second half we hit shots that we didn't hit in the first half and that was the difference."
Buford compounded a rough first half by contributing to a potential six-point swing in favor of the Tar Heels. After trailing by as many as 16 points, the Buckeyes shaved the UNC lead to 11 when Jon Diebler connected on the team's first three-pointer of the half. That broke a combined 0-for-8 slump.
After neither team scored on its next two possessions, OSU brought the ball up with a chance to hold it and get the last shot. Instead, Buford – who was 0 for 2 from 3 and 2 for 9 from the floor – fired up another trey with about 18 seconds left that did not go down.
Pushing the ball the other way, the Tar Heels showed excellent ball movement and got the ball into the hands of Marcus Ginyard on the left wing. He buried the attempt with about eight seconds left in the half, and the Buckeyes were unable to get another shot off before the horn sounded.
At the half: UNC 38, OSU 24.
It was a fitting end to a half filled with frustration for the Buckeyes. They opened the game by missing their first four shots and committing a turnover on their first five possessions, and it was not until Dallas Lauderdale came off the bench at the 17:16 mark and dunked an alley-oop pass from David Lighty on the ensuing possession that OSU got on the board.
Conversely, the Tar Heels opened the game on a 7-0 run. At the midway point of the half, the Buckeyes had scored only seven points and trailed by eight, having committed five turnovers and connected on three field goals to that point.
Their ability to force a young UNC team to turn the ball over kept the Buckeyes in the game, and senior reserve P.J. Hill converted one into a lay-up that made it 17-11 in favor of the Tar Heels at the 9:01 mark. From there, however, UNC would put together a 9-0 run that made it 26-11 and forced Matta to call a timeout with 7:06 remaining.
When the Buckeyes headed back onto the court, they had abandoned their man-to-man defense in favor of the 3-2 zone they have utilized almost exclusively in the past. The Tar Heels still finished the half shooting 48.3 percent (14 of 29) from the floor compared to 29.0 percent (9 for 31) for the Buckeyes. However, the Tar Heels committed 10 first-half turnovers compared to eight from OSU.
The game marked the third matchup between the two teams in four years. The Tar Heels prevailed 98-89 during the 2005-06 season and 66-55 the following year.