Ohio State wary of No. 5 North Carolina

The way Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann sees it, don’t let No. 5 North Carolina’s upset loss earlier this week fool you or the Buckeyes.

“I think North Carolina is really, really good,” Holtmann said, undeterred by the Tar Heels’ 79-75 setback Wednesday night to Wofford. “As we’ve watched them both home and away, they can be really, really explosive.”

Ohio State (10-3) and North Carolina (10-2) meet Saturday afternoon as part of the CBS Sports Classic at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

The Tar Heels were out of sorts offensively against Wofford and had trouble defensively in the lane. So they’ll want to fix their problems in the final non-conference game on their schedule.

“Every team is going to bring it,” North Carolina guard Joel Berry said. “We’re the defending national champions and they’re going to bring it each and every time. We didn’t come out with any effort (against Wofford) and it showed. Whether the ball is going in or not, you can always give effort.”

The Tar Heels have talent that can be impressive, so Holtmann said the Buckeyes have to be ready for that to be unleashed.

“We have not seen this level of pressure in size and athleticism at all this year,” said Holtmann, whose team owns a five-game winning streak. “That’s going to be a real challenge for us to see how we respond after not really having faced anything similar to that.”

Ohio State was unranked two years ago when it defeated No. 4 Kentucky as part of the CBS Sports Classic, which was contested in New York that year.

Holtmann said the magnitude of this game is apparent, so there’s no special motivation needed.

“There are games where guys understand the caliber of team we’re playing,” he said. “Just the idea of staying in the moment … and cutting loose and playing.”

North Carolina hasn’t dropped consecutive games since February 2016.

“After getting beat (last month) by Michigan State, they were phenomenal against Michigan,” Holtmann said. “They have really competitive guys. I’m pretty confident that we’re going to get their very best. Our guys have to be ready and expect that.”

North Carolina had transfer Cameron Johnson in action for the first time in the Wofford game. Coming off knee surgery, he scored 10 points as a reserve.

“I’m still trying to get my legs back under me, my arms back under me,” Johnson said. “This is just something that I need to build off.”

Johnson played 17 minutes, though coach Roy Williams said the plan was to limit him to 8-10 minutes.

Sophomore center Micah Potter is working back into the rotation for the Buckeyes after missing time with an ankle injury. He started four games earlier this season.

“He has got some rust he has got to shake off,” Holtmann said. “He has got to earn back the minutes.”

In the loss to Wofford, North Carolina shot a season-high 38 free throws (making 28).

North Carolina leads the series with Ohio State by an 11-2 mark, including a 4-0 record under Williams. The Tar Heels have won the last six matchups since Ohio State claimed a 1992 NCAA Tournament victory.

Ohio State is 8-15 all-time against teams holding a No. 5 ranking.

With this game, the Buckeyes will have played both teams that were in the 2017 national championship game. They lost in November to Gonzaga 86-59 in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Ore.

Ohio State last played both title game combatants from the previous season in 1993-94, when it lost to North Carolina and fell twice to Michigan.

This will be the 3,000th game in North Carolina program history. It stands with a 2,216-783 all-time record.

The Tar Heels have had good results in New Orleans at various sites, holding a 15-2 record in the city. They opened last season by defeating Tulane in the venue for Saturday’s game.