The last –– and only –– time Ohio State men’s basketball beat North Carolina, every player on either current roster was several years from being born.
It’s one of the youngest players for the No. 7 Tar Heels (6-1) in freshman guard Cole Anthony who the No. 6 Buckeyes (7-0) will need to stop in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge Wednesday if they hope to win just the second of the programs’ 14 matchups.
“Against any great player, you’re trying to tell your team in general, it can’t be easy for them,” Holtmann said. “If it’s easy for them, that’s on us. They just can’t get walk-in 3s, they can’t get to the foul line because we’re fouling too much. Any great player, you’ve just gotta try to make them earn it.”
The athletic 6-foot-3 combo guard was the No. 4 prospect in this year’s class –– the No. 1 player in Virginia –– and he’s done anything but fail to live up to expectations thus far.
Putting up 20.7 points per game, Anthony averages nearly eight more points than the next leading Tar Heel scorer and dropped 34 in a coming-out party against Notre Dame in the season opener.
North Carolina boasts another top 30 freshman in 6-foot-10 center Armando Bacot, who is putting up nearly 12 points and 10 boards this year.
“They have, as every Carolina team, tremendous size and length across the front line,” Holtmann said. “They’ve got multiple bodies that they can throw in there. They’ve got tremendous depth. That’s gonna be a challenge for [Kaleb Wesson] to catch the ball in spots where he can be aggressive.”
Head coach Roy Williams has young talent, but he’s working with a very different nucleus, as he lost all five of his top scorers from a season ago, including three to the first round of the NBA Draft.
Meanwhile Ohio State’s experienced corps has given up a nation’s second-lowest 32.9-percent shooting to opponents, and its seven-game win streak has vaulted the Buckeyes to its highest ranking in six seasons. It’s only the fourth time Ohio State has held a higher ranking than North Carolina in a matchup between the two.
With six players averaging at least eight points per game for Ohio State, the Buckeyes offense spreads the ball more than the Tar Heels, with Kaleb Wesson leading the way at 12.7 per contest.
However, neither top 10 program is in the nation’s top 65 in scoring.
North Carolina’s 74.6 points per game are No. 130 in college basketball, and its lack of roster continuity aided in an early season tumble against unranked Michigan for a 73-64 loss this past Thursday.
“The things that they do at an elite level, really as long as Roy’s been there, is their transition game offensively, and their offensive rebounding,” Holtmann said.
Beside the loss, the Tar Heels have been in several tight games, pulling out a 4-point win against then-No. 11 Oregon Friday, and eking single-digit victories against Alabama and Notre Dame.
A weak point for North Carolina has been the 3-point line, where its 30-percent clip is among the country’s worst. Ohio State shoots almost 10 percent better, good for No. 27 in the nation, and one of its top shooters is heating up.
Amid an eye injury that kept him out of two games, senior forward Andre Wesson started the shot a career-low 28 percent in his first four games, but broke out for 19 points on 4-for-4 from distance against Morgan State Friday.
Ohio State knocked off the only ranked opponent it has faced this season with a 76-51 win against then-No. 10 Villanova Nov. 13, but it isn’t just Ohio State’s slots on the polls that give a matchup in storied Chapel Hill intrigue for the Buckeyes.
“We’re focused on going day-by-day, preparing for the next game, which is Carolina,” Kaleb Wesson said. “It’s historic. There’s more around this game obviously, but we’re gonna approach it like every other game.”
The game tips off at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at North Carolina.