NEW ORLEANS — North Carolina used its 3-point shooting to separate from Ohio State in the first half.
Then, the Tar Heels took advantage by going to the basket and the foul line to keep the Buckeyes at bay in the second half.
It all added up to an 86-72 victory for No. 5 North Carolina in the first game of the CBS Sports Classic on Saturday afternoon in the Smoothie King Center.
North Carolina made 9 of 16 3-pointers and 5 of 15 2-pointers as it took a 41-27 halftime lead. In the second half, it took just nine 3-pointers, making four, and made 12 of 26 2-pointers. It made 17 of 19 free throws in the second half as the Buckeyes fouled to try to catch up.
“I think in the first half shooting the ball as well as we did was huge for us,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “We made a bunch of 3s and stretched it out. I thought in the second half we took the ball to the basket a little bit more than in the first half.”
Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson scored 19 points each. Cameron Johnson, playing his second game since coming back from knee surgery, scored 14 points and Jalek Felton scored 12.
Felton made 4 of 5 3-pointers and the Tar Heels (11-2) made 13 of 25. Pinson made all 10 of his free throws.
Keita Bates-Diop led the Buckeyes (10-4) with 26 points, C.J. Jackson scored 19 and Kaleb Wesson had 12.
No. 7 Kentucky and UCLA met in the second game of the doubleheader.
North Carolina led 41-27 at halftime, but Ohio State scored the first five points of the second half.
Berry’s 3-pointer stopped the run and started a 10-4 push that gave the Tar Heels a 51-36 lead.
The Buckeyes scored six consecutive points before Berry scored on consecutive drives and turned the second into a three-point play after being fouled. That gave North Carolina a 56-42 lead with 10:21 remaining.
Jae’Sean Tate scored consecutive baskets for Ohio State, but Felton and Brandon Robinson each made a 3-pointer to help give the Tar Heels a 62-48 lead.
Wesson scored eight consecutive Ohio State points, but the Buckeyes didn’t get closer than 10 points until Bates-Diop made a 3-pointer to make it 78-69 with 1:10 left. But they got no closer.
“We just cut it to 10 and we just couldn’t ever get it to real striking distance, unfortunately,” Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said.
Seven different Tar Heels made at least one 3-pointer.
“Whenever the ball is going in from the 3-point line, that’s always a plus for us,” Berry said. “But I think that 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 and we were able to open up the lanes for us to get inside, guys started moving better on the offensive end and making harder cuts.”
The score was tied 23-23 before Felton and Kenny Williams made consecutive 3-pointers and Garrison Brooks added a layup for a 31-23 North Carolina lead.
Jackson scored four straight points for the Buckeyes before Berry and Johnson made 3-pointers to start a 10-0 run that left the Tar Heels with a 41-27 halftime lead.
“It was a span in the first half where they kind of took control and they took a larger lead on us,” Bates-Diop said. “I think we tied them in the second half. We’ve got to play for a full 40 minutes against a team like that or else they will take advantage of like they did, so credit to them.”
NOTES: The North Carolina bench outscored the Ohio State bench 32-6. … It was the 3,000th basketball game in North Carolina history. … The Tar Heels rebounded from a 79-75 upset loss at home against Wofford on Wednesday night. … This was Carolina‘s final nonconference game of the regular season. … Ohio State had won its last five games. … The Buckeyes have now played both schools that were in last year’s NCAA title game, having lost to runner-up Gonzaga 86-59 on Nov. 23.