NEW YORK (AP) — Down two with under two seconds left, North Carolina assistant Jeff Lebo drew up a play the Tar Heels hadn’t even run in practice — and it worked perfectly.
Pete Nance made a turnaround jumper at the buzzer to force overtime, R.J. Davis iced a much-needed victory for scuffling North Carolina with two late free throws, and the Tar Heels beat No. 23 Ohio State 89-84 on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic.
“That’s one of my go-to shots,” said Nance, a graduate transfer from Northwestern. “If I could pick two or three shots I had saved my life with it’d probably be that fadeaway. Been working on it kind of all my life. It was definitely a comfortable shot for me.”
Armando Bacot had 28 points and 15 rebounds and Caleb Love scored 22 for North Carolina (8-4).
The Tar Heels are trying to right themselves after a four-game losing streak — all away from home — knocked the preseason No. 1 team out of the Top 25 two weeks ago.
They have now won three straight, none bigger than this one against the Buckeyes (7-3) at Madison Square Garden.
It was the opener of a doubleheader, with No. 13 Kentucky facing No. 16 UCLA in the nightcap.
The Tar Heels trailed for most of Game 1 before Davis hit a 3 from the wing with 1:29 left to make it 75-74 North Carolina.
“Down the stretch we needed to be more locked in,” said Ohio State’s Justice Sueing, who scored 16 points.
Brice Sensabaugh made a jumper from inside the foul line with two seconds left to give the Buckeyes a 79-77 lead.
North Carolina used a couple of timeouts to get the play it wanted, first completing a long inbounds pass to get the ball past halfcourt.
That left 1.2 seconds, just enough for Leaky Black to lob an inbounds pass from the sideline across the court to the 6-foot-11 Nance, who was drifting away from the pack to the far side of the basket.
With about a five-inch advantage on the defender Sensabaugh, Nance felt comfortable he was going to get a clean look.
“I thought it was a great play,” Nance said.
Black, the former high school quarterback, said the pass was thrown more to a spot than to the receiver — and it was better to risk overthrowing it than underthrowing and giving the defender a chance to bat it away.
“Just throwing that pass and him catching it like that was just, I don’t know, it still brings me chills, man,” Black said. “Beautiful play. Beautiful play.”
Sensabaugh, making his second straight start with Isaac Likekele out, had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Buckeyes.
Likekele went home to Texas for personal reasons about two weeks ago, but was back with the team in New York.
The Buckeyes had not played since beating Rutgers on a buzzer-beating 3 nine days ago.
North Carolina’s Hubert Davis, who played the first four seasons of his 12-year NBA career with the New York Knicks, returned to the Garden as coach of his alma mater for the first time.
Davis said he told his team playing at MSG would be something they would remember for the rest of their lives.
“I love this place,” he said.
Davis received a welcome back message from former Knicks backcourt mate John Starks on the MSG videoboard, but his team continued to have trouble shooting 3s and getting consistent stops.
Ohio State led by as many as 14 in the first half as the Tar Heels were going 1 for 9 from 3-point range.
Bacot pulled UNC within six, scoring 14 points and having his way in the paint.
But Sueing made a 3 at the first-half buzzer to put the Buckeyes up 44-35.
“In the first half, they punked us,” Bacot said.
Davis said he told his team at half that it wasn’t playing with enough intensity or physicality.
“I was direct,” Davis said. “And I did it at a higher volume.”
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann took the blame for the Buckeyes not responding to the Tar Heels’ pressure defense in the second half.
“We didn’t come out with the necessary understanding of how the game is going to change,” Holtmann said.
North Carolina: R.J. Davis, from White Plains just north of the city, scored 21 points and made two free throws with seven seconds left in OT to make it a two-possession game.
Ohio State: Leading scorer Zed Key had 11 points, four rebounds and four fouls as he spent much of his day leaning on Bacot. The Buckeyes also threw 6-foot-11 freshman Felix Okpara at the Tar Heels’ big man. Okpara fouled out in 12 minutes.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes return home to face Maine on Wednesday.