CHICAGO — Ohio State has played two ranked teams and lost each time. Coach Thad Matta thinks that's a good reminder of how far the Buckeyes have to go.
Marc Loving made five 3-pointers and scored 19 points, but No. 12 Ohio State shot 35 percent from the field in an 82-74 loss to No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday. The Buckeyes had won four in a row since they shot 30 percent in a 64-55 loss at No. 4 Louisville on Dec. 2.
"We've got to look ourselves in the mirror and say, hey, we're not there yet, which is fine, but we've got to look at all the little things that we have to do to get better and get that established," Matta said. "Knowing that it's, I don't want to say it's early, but it's still December. We've got January, February, March still to play basketball.
"How much better can we get in that time?"
Sam Thompson scored 17 for Ohio State (9-2), and D'Angelo Russell had 11 points and eight rebounds. The Buckeyes 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," Matta said.
Johnson also had nine rebounds, helping 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."
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 run that got 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 was 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."
BACK IN CHICAGO
Thompson was 6 for 13 from the field. He also had four rebounds and two blocked shots. Despite being back in his hometown, he called it "just another game."
"It's a big game, big-time venue, but at the end of the day, you're not thinking about being back home and playing," he said. "I'm just thinking about winning the basketball game."
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.
"I mean, they're a long team, but we settled a lot," Shannon Scott said. "We shot 29 3-pointers, and we don't need to shoot that many 3s to win a game."
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. ... The Tar Heels have won six in a row against the Buckeyes and lead 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