Johnson, Tar Heels walk past Buckeyes
CHICAGO (AP) — Playing in Michael Jordan’s longtime home is a big deal for North Carolina, and the Tar Heels honored their most famous basketball alum with a winning performance.
Brice Johnson had 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting, and No. 24 North Carolina used its stout defense to hold off No. 12 Ohio State for an 82-74 victory Saturday.
Jordan led the Tar Heels to the national championship in 1982, and then powered the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles during his Hall of Fame career.
The Tar Heels had their picture taken in front of Jordan’s statue at the United Center on Friday, and Johnson said he got the chills when he looked up during Saturday’s national anthem and saw Jordan’s No. 23 hanging from the rafters.
“Just a great opportunity to be here and just be able to get a win here,” said Johnson, who also had nine rebounds.
Marcus Paige added 16 points for the Tar Heels (8-3), and Kennedy Meeks finished with eight points, 13 boards and two blocked shots. Meeks and Johnson led North Carolina to a 53-40 rebounding advantage in the opener of a college basketball doubleheader at the home of the Bulls and NHL’s Blackhawks.
Johnson and Meeks “have done a great job this year of being an inside presence,” Paige said. “We wanted Kennedy to finish a little stronger around the basket today, but Brice was great.”
Marc Loving made five 3-pointers and scored 19 points for Ohio State (9-2), which had won four in a row. Sam Thompson scored 17, and D’Angelo Russell had 11 points and eight rebounds.
But the Buckeyes shot 35 percent. They were averaging 84.2 points and shooting 53.7 percent coming into the day.
“That’s one of the best defenses in the country, and you look at the size, you’re going to have to make some tough shots in order to beat those guys just in terms of their length,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
The Tar Heels led by as many as 18 in the second half, but Thompson helped the Buckeyes get back in the game by attacking the rim. The former Chicago high school star had an alley-oop jam and a rebound dunk, and then added four consecutive foul shots during a 10-2 Ohio State run that pulled the Buckeyes within eight with 5:48 remaining.
Ohio State trailed 77-70 with 1:19 to go and had a chance to get even closer but went cold from the field down the stretch. The Tar Heels managed to hold on despite going 15 for 25 at the line in the second half.
“I don’t hear the happy song in my ears right now. We stunk it up down the stretch,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said, “and I think we’ve got to get better there.”
TURN THE PAIGE
Paige was 4 for 12 from the field and is shooting 34.7 percent this season. The junior guard also had four turnovers against the Buckeyes, matching a season high.
“I’ve never seen Marcus Paige miss as many open shots as he had in the second half, and two layups,” Williams said. “But I still think that says a lot about how good we can be, because eventually he’s going to start really playing.”
Ohio State guard Shannon Scott’s father, Charlie, played for North Carolina from 1967-70 and is sixth on the Tar Heels’ star-studded career scoring list with 2,007 points. Shannon Scott had 10 points, nine assists and six rebounds in his first game against his dad’s old team.
Ohio State: Since Matta took over before the 2004-05 season, Ohio State is 50-18 in neutral-site games. … The Buckeyes dropped to 67-44 against the Atlantic Coast Conference.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels improved to 3-1 against ranked teams this season, with the only loss coming against No. 1 Kentucky. … North Carolina has won six in a row against the Buckeyes and leads the series 11-2.
Ohio State hosts Miami of Ohio on Monday night.
North Carolina hosts UAB next Saturday.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap