Looking to bounce back from a devastating home loss to Wofford this past Wednesday, the fifth-ranked Tar Heels put on a shooting clinic in New Orleans on Saturday—draining 13 three-pointers in an 86-72 victory over Ohio State.
While perimeter shooting has been more of a weakness than a strength for UNC in recent seasons, this particular Tar Heel squad is proving to be quite the force from outside.
Seven different players made at least one three-pointer against the Buckeyes (10-4), as UNC (11-2) scored nearly half its points via the trey-ball—while shooting 52 percent in the process.
Senior point guard Joel Berry connected three times from deep, which helped him tie Theo Pinson—who went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line–with a team-high 19 points.
Head coach Roy Williams also received plenty of shooting from his bench. Graduate transfer Cameron Johnson scored 14 points and hit a pair of threes, while freshman guard Jalek Felton drilled four shots from beyond the arc to score his 12 points.
Ohio State tied the game at 23-23 with just under six minutes to play in the first half, but UNC reeled off an 18-4 run before the break—knocking down four threes during the stretch and never looking back.
After such a tough loss earlier in the week, this game brought to life one of Williams’ favorite sayings—everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket.
“Early in the game I thought we were really focused,” Williams told reporters afterwards. “Perhaps, the ball going in the basket—as I’ve always said—makes everything look better. Maybe even our defense. I’d have to watch it on film to make sure.
“But I’ve never believed you have to lose to learn something, the coach added. “I like to win close, and still learn something.”
With the shots falling so often, so early from deep—UNC made nine of its 13 threes in the first half—the Tar Heels went into the locker room having only scored four points inside the paint.
Junior forward Luke Maye came into the day averaging nearly 20 points per game, but was held to just nine in this one.
Meanwhile, the freshman frontcourt duo of Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley combined to post just five points on six shot attempts.
The perimeter shooting decided the outcome in this game, but it also allowed the lane to open up for drives and easy buckets as the second half wore on.
Over the final eight minutes of the game, each of UNC’s final 24 points was scored by either a free throw or a shot right at the rim.
“Whenever the ball is going in from the three-point line, that’s always a plus and good for us,” Berry said. “But I think in the second half we did a better job of driving the ball. And I think it’s because we were knocking down shots from the outside.”
Ohio State received 26 points from star forward Keita Bates-Diop, but wasn’t able to keep with up the Tar Heels red-hot shooting pace.
The Buckeyes—who represent UNC’s final non-conference opponent of the regular season—were also outrebounded by a margin of 39-26.
By responding to Wednesday’s upset loss with an impressive performance against Ohio State, UNC appeared more than ready to enter ACC play with a full head of steam.
The Tar Heels will have a week before their next game, which is the ACC opener against Wake Forest at the Dean Dome on Dec. 30. Tip-off for the matchup against the Demon Deacons is set for 12 p.m.
- UNC came up just three shy of the mark for most three-pointers made by a Tar Heel team under Roy Williams (16), which was set earlier this season against Tulane.
- The Tar Heels converted on 21 of their 25 attempts at the free-throw line.
- Ohio State made just five of its 16 three-point shots.
Cover photo Scott Threlkeld (Associated Press)