This one was on its way to being a laugher after a Deon Thompson lay up gave North Carolina a bulging 55-36 lead over Ohio State with 10:26 to play but the Buckeyes outscored UNC 37-22 down the stretch before falling 4 points shy in the Garden.
Five points from David Lighty in the final minute cut the deficit to 74-70 with :22 left before a Jon Diebler triple trimmed it 75-73 with :15 but Larry Drew hit two clutch free throws after PJ Hill was forced to foul providing the final margin.
Though the Buckeyes can take a lot from the comeback, they were never really in sync as North Carolina used significant size and athleticism advantages on the defensive end to stifle ball movement and push the offense away from the hoop while building what became an insurmountable 38-24 lead at intermission. The first half saw OSU shoot a dreadful 29% (9/31) from the floor including a frigid 1/10 from downtown behind cold starts from Wil Buford (2/10) Jon Diebler (1/6) while Evan Turner coughed it up 5 times.
Even with the rally, the Buckeyes shot just 42% from the floor (30% 3FG) with Buford and Diebler combining on a 7/29 stinker. Both needed to show up for OSU to have any chance especially with Turner struggling to command the offense. ET did finish with 23 points and 8 boards but his 10 turnovers caused too many empty possessions to overcome.
David Lighty contributed 13 points (5/10) and 6 boards to go with Dielber's 17 and Buford's 8.
In addition to showing some moxie over the final 10 minutes the Buckeyes can take some solace in the fact they were game on the glass losing the battle 32-31 while forcing 20 turnovers. Lauderdale was a bit overmatched due to wave of bigs UNC threw at the small OSU front line but he did add 6 boards and 2 blocks in his second game back from a broken finger.
As expected, Matta showed some zone though he may have forced to play even more than he planned thanks to foul trouble. Turner picked up his 2nd with 11:26 left in the first half, his 3rd just 2 minutes into the second while Lauderdale recorded his 4th with 16:18 left in the game. The quick whistles worked both ways, however as UNC hit 18/25 (72%) while OSU shot 15/22 (68%).
The loss means the Buckeyes will take on California at 5pm tomorrow in the 3rd place game of 2K Sports Classic courtesy of a 95-73 beating handed down by Syracuse.