This was a case of “Live by the Three and Die by the Three”.
For the vast majority of the game, the Buckeyes played in panic as if the fact that the opponants jersey’s read “North Carolina” meant more than the actual game. The Tar Heels took advantage of it and managed to go ahead by enough to keep the Bucks from being able to finish the comeback. North Carolina secured the win in the last seconds with solid defense and a pair of good free-throws with a final score of 77-73.
The Bucks looked horrifying in the first half. At about the 10 minute point the team had 5 turnovers to just 3 baskets. The team spent a ridiculous amount of time down low trying to force shots up against UNC’s big men, which often turned out to be disasterous. OSU looked completely out matched down low, often letting 3 UNC players surround the offensive basket with no box-outs looking for the rebound.
Things changed a bit when Kyle Madsen was taken out in favor of Dallas Lauderdale. Lauderdale had the physicality to deal with the UNC players that Madsen clearly was unable to handle. Lauderdale did a much better job rebounding than he has in recent games and looked solid down low.
The OSU backcourt did nothing to counteract the scoring of the UNC frontcourt during the course of the first half. When the Bucks were able to get free-throws, they couldn’t sink them. They couldn’t find many open baskets, and when they could the ball just wouldn’t go down. Many times the players tried to force the ball on the pass only to have it intercepted or tipped into a turnover. The team looked scared, overmatched, and panicked all game.
Evan Turner had to leave the game with 11 minutes left in the first half with 2 fouls, but found his way back onto the court when the Buckeyes couldn’t get anything going without him. The one bright spot, however, was PJ Hill’s play in replacing Turner. Hill was able to create some serious defensive intensity off the bench, created a couple turnovers and was able to secure one steal in the backcourt to get a reasonably easy layup to try to get some momentum going the Buck’s way.
One big negative on this team is Lighty’s desperate desire to shoot the three ball. I’m sick and tired of seeing Lighty jack up three pointers, especially when the game seems like it’s on the line. I understand why he does it, as a team leader he’s trying to create momentum by making a big basket. However, his game is not outside the arc – at least from what we’ve been able to see this season – and therefore he’s hurting the team more by taking those shots than by looking for another open man.
Also notable was the free throw shooting. I already hit upon it earlier, but it deserves some extra attention. One of the first things Basketball coaches get mad about is when their players leave easy baskets on the floor. The Bucks hit only 1 of their first 6 free throws. Luckily, Diebler rained in the next four to make the percentage slightly more acceptable at 5-10 for the first half.
The end of the first half finally showed the Buckeyes displaying decent offense when Turner drove the UNC players down inside, passed it outside to Lighty. Lighty tossed it across court to Buford who gave the extra pass to the open Diebler who drained the triple. That accounted first the first triple the Buckeyes scored in the game in 9 attempts. However, Buford continued to commit the mortal sin. Down 11 with a chance to shoot the final shot of the half, Buford squeezed off a quick shot with 12 seconds left that didn’t go down. At that point, Buford had shot 2/10 for the half. North Carolina recovered the rebound, got the ball down the court and dropped the three-pointer to take a 14 point lead at the half.
Buford is a fantastic shooter who I honestly believed would never fall into the shooter’s trap. The shooter’s trap is not unlike a gambling addiction; you jack up a shot and it doesn’t go down so you get frustrated and jack up another. The more you jack up, the more you miss and subsequently the more frustrated you get. Eventually the trap starts to affect the offense of your entire team, as you continually blow opportunities by taking increasingly worse shots during the game. Buford fell into the trap in the first half of this game. I really hope he learns a lesson from this game and can avoid the trap in the future.
I feel like a big part of our shooting problem, especially from three, was caused by the inclusion of the NBA 3-point line. Several times I watched Diebler throw up a long range shot from beyond NBA range. While I know he’s capable of hitting that shot, I feel like he was making life more difficult on himself than he had to. I would have thought Diebler would be experienced enough to know better than this, but perhaps it was because of the defensive pressure from UNC.
Two other problems really stood out tonight. The first is that Evan Turner still sometimes feels like he has to do it all. That feeling leads him to trying to do way too much, causing him to turn the ball over to easily. His 10 turnovers is a testament to that fact. As the Point Guard, Turner needs to get control of his play and control the ball better. He also needs to distribute a bit better. His 1 assist was unacceptable for the role he’s trying to play now. The other problem is one that we saw a little bit early in the season against Walsh in the Exhibition and also against Alcorn State a little. This team has a big personal foul problem. They play hard and they hustle, but they also don’t play in control and it causes them to commit a few too many fouls during the course of the game. UNC took advantage of this by playing in such a way as to put themselves in a position to take the foul. By the end of the 2nd half, 4 OSU players (Lauderale, Madsen, Turner and Lighty) all had 4 fouls. Lighty and Lauderdale even had sat out the majority of the 2nd with their 4! That was an excellent bit of coaching by Roy Williams and deserves some credit.
With 10 minutes left the game, the Buckeyes started putting on a good show on the defensive end. Down 19 and essentially looking done, Jon Diebler was able to make some things happen, including raining in only the second OSU three pointer for the game after a steal by Evan Turner (knocked away by Diebler). The sudden surge in gameplay began to light a spark in the rest of the team allowing things to start to happen.
It was a slow comeback, but over the course of several minutes, the Buckeyes narrowed the difference to 11 just in time for North Carolina to drain a 3 and completely steal the momentum away. PJ Hill had hit the bucket to narrow it to 11, but it was off a rebound of a Jon Diebler three that could have completely seized the momentum for the Buckeyes. North Carolina took advantage of the sudden resurgance of their momentum to restablish their 16 point lead with 5 minutes left in the game.
Ohio State continued to fight valiantly into the last seconds of the game. The Buckeyes managed to close to within 6 with 36.2 seconds left and control of the ball and continued to scrap down low to try to make the game respectable. Suddenly, North Carolina started missing their free throws and allowed the Buckeyes to bring it to 75 to 73 with 11 seconds left after a very long range Diebler three. After a deadball foul, UNC’s Wells sank both free throws making it a two score game. Ohio State tried to get the ball to an open shooter, but could only find Buford who took a tough shot with a hand in his face. Unfortunately, the shot did not go down and the Tar Heels were able to smack the ball out of the way to get the clock to run out.
In the end, the Buckeyes shot 41.9% (26-62) from the floor and 30% (6-20) from three, with them hitting 5 of their last 7 shots from beyond the arc. North Carolina had their coldest night from the floor with a still hot 49.1% shooting (26-53) with an impressive 46.7% (7-15) from three. The sudden emergence of a three point shooting game from UNC was the big surprise in this game as the Tar Heel’s backcourt started to gel a little against the Bucks.
The comeback was vintage Thad Matta. The Buckeyes began to find their shots, including David Lighty, and inched slowly closer as North Carolina began to relax a little bit. Just like the 2007 Tennessee Sweet 16 game, the Bucks put themselves in a position to steal the game back after being down by nearly 20 points (it was actually 20 against Tennessee that game). Unfortunately, the scoring didn’t strike fast enough for the Bucks, and they ran out of time to finish the comeback.
It’s pretty obvious that if the Buckeyes don’t play themselves into such a deep hole, they could have hung with UNC and maybe even pulled off the upset. Unfortunately, the Bucks did not get the job done early. However, it gives some confidence in this team that they just didn’t pack it in and take the big loss, but fought back tooth and nail not only to make it respectable but to actually try to win the game in the end. The fact that we were able to do this speaks volumes of their talent and depth. Here’s to hoping they don’t dig themselves any more holes this season.
North Carolina moves on to the Championship game of the 2k Sports “Coaches vs. Cancer” classic against #24 Syracuse. Ohio State will face #12 California in the 3rd place game. Both games occur tomorrow night (Friday, November 20th) with the first game (the 3rd place game) occuring at 7:00 pm on ESPN 2.