Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II viewed North Carolina's recent upset loss to Wofford as a test of their leadership.
The seniors provided a convincing response in a neutral-site, made-for-TV matchup against Ohio State.
Berry and Pinson each scored 19 points, and No. 5 North Carolina bounced back with an 86-72 victory over the Buckeyes on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic.
"Any team should have a great amount of focus after a loss," Pinson said. "I was just ready to come out and step up for my teammates."
Pinson scored six points on flawless free throw shooting inside the final 1:06 of the game as the Tar Heels (11-2) kept the Buckeyes (10-4) at bay.
"We've got veteran guys who know we can't sulk," Pinson said. "We need to move on to the next game, but at the same time, keep that loss in our minds."
Cameron Johnson — a graduate transfer from Pittsburgh whose recent debut was delayed by injuries — scored 13 points in just his second game for North Carolina, which had 13 3-pointers.
Keita Bates-Diop had 26 points — one point shy of his career high — for Ohio State. He shot 10 of 17 for the game and scored 19 points in the second half, including eight straight for Ohio State during a late 13-4 run that briefly pulled the Buckeyes within 78-69 with 1:10 to play.
In the first half, Bates-Diop played just 8 minutes because of a couple of quick fouls, and that helped Carolina take its first double-digit lead before halftime.
"When you're losing a guy as important to us as Keita is, you're going to feel it, and we felt it," said Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, who was called for a technical foul during the first half. "I'm sure that was a factor in them stretching the lead."
C.J. Jackson scored the first 11 points for Ohio State before finishing with 19 for the game, while Kaleb Wesson added 12 points.
"My teammates found in the right spots, pretty much," Jackson said, adding he was "just kind of taking what the defense gave me at the beginning."
North Carolina's Jalek Felton scored 12 points, joining Johnson in giving the Tar Heels two reserves with 12 or more points.
Felton "came in and gave them a big lift," Holtmann said.
Luke Maye grabbed 10 rebounds for North Carolina in an all-around performance that included nine points, four assists, two steals and a block.
THE BIG PICTURE
Ohio State: The Buckeyes looked competitive in stints, but never led and had trouble keeping their deficit under double digits against a UNC squad that had more balanced scoring. Ohio State also struggled with UNC's physicality and size under the basket. The Tar Heels outrebounded Ohio State 39-25.
North Carolina: A game against Ohio State might have been just what the Tar Heels needed to bounce back from a surprising loss at home to Wofford earlier this week. UNC is 12-2 all-time against the Buckeyes, including a 5-0 mark under coach Roy Williams.
While Williams praised his team's response, he did so with a cautious tone, noting that, "perhaps the ball going in the basket makes everything look better."
Indeed, UNC hit 13 of 25 shot from 3-point range with Felton scoring all of his points from deep, where he went 4 of 5.
"We did a better job of driving the ball, and I think it was because we were knocking down shots from outside," Berry said.
Ohio State has a week off before hosting in-state non-conference foe Miami of Ohio on Dec. 30.
North Carolina also is off until Dec. 30, when the Tar Heels open ACC play at home against Wake Forest.