UNC rallies to win huge Garden classic over Ohio State

By R.L. Bynum

If it wasn’t clear before Saturday that North Carolina needs to run its offense through Armando Bacot, he left no doubt against No. 23 Ohio State.

It also became clear that leaning on Bacot may not be enough if the Tar Heels can’t shake their perimeter shooting slump. That finally happened in the latter part of regulation — thanks to Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Leaky Black — and Pete Nance hit a huge shot at the regulation buzzer as they earned a thrilling 89–84 overtime victory over the Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.

It was as much of a classic as the four-overtime 103–101 loss in Portland to Alabama on Nov. 27, but one with a much more satisfying outcome for the Tar Heels. Like in that game, UNC applied more defensive pressure toward the end of the game, having Nance guard a ballhandler instead of the player throwing inbound passes.

“I’m proud of their competitive fight in the second half,” UNC coach Hubert Davis told the Tar Heel Sports Network after the game. “I challenged them at halftime. I just didn’t feel like they were playing with any energy, effort and enthusiasm out there on the floor in this type of game against an incredible opponent in Ohio State.”

After scoring 16 of the Tar Heels’ final 21 first-half points, Bacot finished with 28 points, a season-high, and 15 rebounds to earn his 55th career double-double (five off of Billy Cunningham’s school record), seventh of the season and fifth in a row. Love scored 22, with three of his four 3-pointers coming in the last 11 minutes, and dished out seven assists against two turnovers.

RJ Davis had 21 points (13 in the second half), eight rebounds, four assists and two huge late free throws.

UNC (8–4) overcame rebounding and turnover woes down the stretch to earn a much-needed Quad 1 victory over Ohio State (7–3). The Tar Heels rallied from 10 down with 6:44 left in regulation. UNC, which committed 12 turnovers in regulation but only one in overtime, held Ohio State to 5 of 17 shooting with four turnovers in the final 6:44.

“Rebounding is the foundation of this team and Carolina basketball,” said Coach Davis, whose team won the rebounding battle 48–42. “If we can get second-chance opportunities on the offensive end and we can limit them to one shot every possession, then it’s going to be good news for us and bad news for the opponent.”

After Nance’s short turnaround buzzer-beating jumper off of Black’s inbounds pass sent the game into overtime, UNC took the lead for good on layups from Love and Bacot, its first lead since a two-point edge with 13:22 left in the first half.

With two seconds left, UNC was down two points and had to go the length of the court. After a pass to RJ Davis at halfcourt, the Tar Heels quickly called timeout, leaving them 1.2 seconds. Coach Davis said that assistant coach Jeff Lebo drew up the play at the end of regulation, which UNC had never run before, and it was supposed to go to Nance.

“We throw it over to Pete because of his length,” Davis said. “We just told him to jump up, and he loves that turnaround jump shot, and he made it. It’s awesome.”

A Love jumper and two RJ Davis free throws pushed UNC’s lead to 87–82 with 1:19 remaining in overtime.

Ohio State freshman Brice Sensabaugh’s jumper with 48 seconds left, to give him a season-high 22 points, cut the lead to three. With a chance to tie it on a corner 3-pointer, Ohio State’s Zed Key pump-faked as Bacot ran at him, and both lifted slightly before he could get a shot off. He was called for traveling with 11 seconds left.

RJ Davis put the game away on two free throws with seven seconds left as UNC won without a field goal in the last 2:30 of the game.

Davis said he just took it all in before he hit those free throws near where he grew up.

“I looked around me, a lot of Carolina fans, and for me to be back in my hometown, New York, and get a win, and for me to seal the win?” he said. “That’s something I always dreamed of. Something that I’m proud of myself for. The way I battled throughout the whole game, and my team as well. For us to hit adversity in the first half and respond in the second half and get a win in New York means a lot.”

Carolina’s starters played the game’s last 14 minutes and 14 seconds, with Love logging 42 minutes and both RJ Davis and Nance playing 40.

“They really responded in the second half,” Coach Davis said. “It’s obviously about getting defensive stops and making shots, but it’s also about that toughness. In the second half and in overtime, I think all the experience — specifically this year that this team has in late-clock, late-game situations — gave them confidence and gave them momentum to be able to close it down.”

Coach Davis said one lesson that his team gained from the Alabama game is that it didn’t want to play more than one overtime.

“They just didn’t want to do it again,” he said. “And they had fought so hard to get it to overtime that they wanted to end it in the first overtime. We really executed well and got the shots that we wanted on the offensive end, but it always starts — I’ve told them — on the defensive end. When we needed to get stops, we did. When we needed to get rebounds, we did.

“We were tough enough to be able to do that,” Coach Davis said. “And then we stepped up and made free throws. I’m so thankful that we won, but I’m so thankful that they got this experience of playing in New York City at Madison Square Garden. There’s nothing like it, and this is a game that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

With Bacot on the bench in favor of Puff Johnson, UNC stormed to an 11–1 run after Ohio State scored the game’s first five points, making five of its first eight shots. Bacot sat for six minutes picking up a quick foul.

The Buckeyes took a 12-point lead with an 18–2 run when their physical play down low and UNC turnovers contributed to the Tar Heels going without a field goal for 7½ minutes.  


Bacot scored seven consecutive UNC points, all but five of its final 21 first-half points. The Tar Heels cut the deficit to five on a Black free throw with 2:26 left. But Ohio State finished the half with an 8–4 run to lead 44–35 at halftime, and already had matched its season 3-pointers average with seven.

Ohio State was only 2 of 9 from 3-point range after halftime.

Coach Davis said that it was an important win for his team.

“It really is,” he said. “We’ve been in this situation before this year and, for whatever reason, at the beginning of the season, it just hasn’t gone our way. We needed this win. We needed a win against a quality opponent. We needed to come up big in late-clock, late-game situations to give us confidence.”

Carolina opened the second half with a 10–2 run, sparked by a 7–1 rebounding edge, to slice the deficit to one on a Bacot dunk with 16:38 remaining in regulation. Ohio State shoved the lead back to seven with a 10–5 run that Sean McNeil capped with a 3-pointer.

After a Key layup pushed the lead to 11, Love scored seven points on a 12–3 run to trim the UNC deficit to 69–67 on an RJ Davis three-point play. Black’s corner 3-pointer 34 seconds later cut the deficit to one with 3:58 left in regulation.

RJ Davis forced a shot-clock violation on one end, made a driving layup at the other to tie it at 72, then gave UNC a 75–74 lead on a 3-pointer with 1:29 left in regulation. After a Key 3-pointer put the Buckeyes back up by two with 31 seconds left, Bacot tied it 14 seconds later with a layup.

Sensabaugh’s driving jumper with three seconds left gave Ohio State a two-point lead before Nance then sent the game into overtime.

NOTES — Carolina heads to Charlotte for the Jumpman Invitational at 7 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN) to face Michigan (7–3), which beat Lipscomb 83–75 at home Saturday. The Wolverines have lost to Arizona State in Brooklyn (87–62), Virginia at home (70–68) and Kentucky in London (73–69). Junior 7–1, 260-pound center Hunter Dickinson leads Michigan, averaging 19.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. … It’s the first UNC win after trailing by double digits with less than 10 minutes left since beating Louisville 72–71 on Jan. 10, 2015. … It was Bacot’s fourth game with at least 20 points this season and the 20th of his career. He had a season-high 11 field goals, which was one off of his career-high. … Bacot has 1,129 rebounds and needs 40 to pass Sam Perkins and 91 to pass Tyler Hansbrough for the UNC record. … Carolina is 19–1 when Love scores at least 20 points and 6–0 this season when he has more assists than turnovers. … Nance, with eight points and 10 rebounds, had his third double-figure rebounding game of the season. …. Black was a game-high +27. … Carolina scored a season-high 27 points off 16 turnovers (the previous high was 24 points vs. Charleston). … The Tar Heels led for 9:29, the least amount of time in a win this season (the previous low was 18:15 against Charleston). … Carolina is 6–3 in the CBS Sports Classic, including beating the Buckeyes in all four meetings. All three losses have come against Kentucky. UNC is 13–3 all-time and 3–0 in Madison Square Garden against Ohio State. … The Tar Heels are 30–11 in the current Madison Square Garden and 44–25 in New York City. … Spike Lee was in a front-row courtside seat. … Coach Davis said after the game that UNC will play in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden next season.

North Carolina 89,
No. 23 Ohio State 84, OT

UNC lineup combinations


UNC statistics

(current ranking)
28FridayW, 101–40Johnson C. Smith HomeExhibition
7MondayW, 69–56UNCWHome1–0
11FridayW, 102–86College of CharlestonHome2–0
15TuesdayW, 72–66Gardner-WebbHome3–0
20SundayW, 80–64James MadisonHome4–0
Phil Knight Invitational
24ThursdayW, 89–81First round: PortlandPortland5–0
25FridayL, 70–65Semifinals:
Iowa State
27SundayL, 103–101,
4 OTs
No. 1 Alabama
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
30WednesdayL, 77–65 No. 21 IndianaBloomington, Ind.5–3
4SundayL, 80–72 Virginia TechBlacksburg, Va.5–4,
0–1 ACC
10SaturdayW, 75–59Georgia TechHome6–4,
1–1 ACC
13TuesdayW, 100–67The CitadelHome7–4
CBS Sports Classic
17SaturdayW, 89–84, OTOhio StateNew York8–4
Jumpman Invitational
21WednesdayW, 80–76MichiganCharlotte9–4
30 Friday L, 76–74PittsburghPittsburgh9–5,
1–2 ACC
4WednesdayW, 88–79Wake ForestHome10–5,
2–2 ACC
7SaturdayW, 81–64Notre DameHome11–5,
3–2 ACC
10TuesdayL, 65–58No. 14 VirginiaCharlottesville11–6,
3–3 ACC
14SaturdayW, 80–59LouisvilleLouisville, Ky.12–6,
4–3 ACC
17TuesdayW, 72–64Boston CollegeHome13–6,
5–3 ACC
21SaturdayW, 80–69N.C. StateHome14–6,
6–3 ACC
24TuesdayW, 72–68SyracuseSyracuse, N.Y.15–6,
7–3 ACC
1WednesdayL, 65–64PittsburghHome15–7,
7–4 ACC
4SaturdayL, 63–57No. 12 DukeDurham15–8,
7–5 ACC
7TuesdayL, 92–85Wake ForestWinston-Salem15–9,
7–6 ACC
11SaturdayW, 91–71ClemsonHome 16–9,
8–6 ACC
13MondayL, 80–72No. 16 MiamiHome16–10,
8–7 ACC
19SundayL, 77–69N.C. StateRaleigh16–11,
8–8 ACC
22WednesdayW, 63–59Notre DameSouth Bend, Ind.17–11,
9–8 ACC
25SaturdayW, 71–63No. 14 VirginiaHome18–11,
10–8 ACC
27MondayW, 77–66Florida StateTallahassee, Fla.19–11,
11–8 ACC
4SaturdayL, 62–57No. 12 DukeHome19–12,
11–9 ACC
ACC tournament
8WednesdayW, 85–61Boston CollegeGreensboro20–12
9ThursdayL, 68–59No. 14 Virginia Greensboro20–13

Photo via @UNC_Basketball


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