It’s been as much a part of North Carolina’s basketball tradition as pointing to the passer and the secondary break.
Frank McGuire established the Tar Heels’ pipeline to New York for players and Dean Smith maintained a yearly presence there and current head coach Hubert Davis wants to permanently restore both.
“Every year, as long as I’m head coach, the Tar Heels will be up in New York,” Davis said.
Carolina (7-4) takes on No. 23 Ohio State (7-2) on Saturday at 3 p.m. in Madison Square Garden in the CBS Classic.
After non-conference losses to Iowa State, Alabama and Indiana, the Heels haven’t beaten a power conference opponent yet this season. Saturday against the Buckeyes, and Wednesday’s Jumpman Invitational game against Michigan in Charlotte, represent their last chances to do so.
Carolina has a bit of its swagger back going into the World’s Most Famous Arena.
“I wouldn’t say we figured it out all the way, but we’re getting there for sure,” junior guard Caleb Love said. “…We feel great going in. We have a lot of confidence and it’s going to be a great atmosphere going into MSG.”
The Heels didn’t play a regular-season game in the New York metro area last season, but the ACC tournament was in Brooklyn.
Davis said it was both “significant and important” to be in New York for multiple reasons, including the fact that it’s where his NBA career began with the Knicks. Davis said he hasn’t been back to the Garden since he retired from the NBA in 2004.
“I remember the first time that I played in Madison Square Garden my freshman year and we were in the preseason NIT,” Davis said. “It was the first time that I was ever in New York City and coach Smith called me up to the front of the bus. I sat with coach Smith and he was pointing out all the buildings to me because I couldn’t believe how big the city was.”
Davis smiled as he recalled the memory, adding that Smith brought his teams to MSG or the Meadowlands in New Jersey where the Nets used to play. Smith believed in recruiting New York too, just as McGuire did before him. Although it’s not as important as it once was, Davis wants to continue that as well.
From Lennie Rosenbluth to Larry Brown, from Kenny Smith to Cole Anthony, Carolina’s roster has stayed peppered with a greater New York metro influence. Currently, junior guard R.J. Davis is from White Plains, N.Y. And Simeon Wilcher, who signed with UNC in the class of 2023, hails from Roselle, N.J., which is only about 25 miles from MSG.
“The four years that I was here at North Carolina, we always had three or four guys from New York on our team,” Hubert Davis said. “And they always had a nice chip on their shoulder. I like those type of guys, so I’d like to have a presence recruiting up in New York.”
The Heels are in a much better position heading into the Garden than they were this time last week.
Their four game losing streak is behind them as they put together arguably their best two performances of the season in home wins over Georgia Tech and The Citadel. Carolina revived what had been a stagnant, stand-around offense by notching a season-high 24 assists against the Bulldogs.
Davis said they were not a “finished product,” but since returning home after five straight games away from Chapel Hill, they improved simply because they had the time to practice. They didn’t when they played three games in Portland during the Phil Knight Invitational then going straight to Indiana.
“We’re playing better defense; we’re rebounding better; we have 24 assists, and we’re making the extra pass and shooting better,” Davis said. “And so does that mean that we’re exactly where we need to be? No. But I feel like that we’re moving in the right direction and it’s a great opportunity to play against a really, really good Ohio State team in New York City this Saturday. And we’re excited about the challenge.”
Forward Armando Bacot will be tested by Ohio State’s Zed Key, who has scored 20 or more points in two of their last three games including 21 in a loss at Duke. Bacot said the team has never lost confidence in their potential even during their clumsy start.
“Talent wise, we’re up there with all the top teams, you see Alabama go and beat Houston, we had that game, up five,” Bacot said. “So really once we can just fully be committed on both ends of the floor and detail-oriented, just locked in and trusting each other, we can be a really good team.”
Tipoff time + TV channel for Saturday’s game
The game will start at 3 p.m. on Saturday and will air on CBS.
How to stream UNC vs Ohio State game online
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If your preferred method of watching games involves streaming, there are options for that, too.
CBS is available on fuboTV, Hulu + Live TV and YouTubeTV. Or the game can be streamed by Paramount-plus subscribers.
Game day details: UNC vs Ohio State
Teams: UNC Tar Heels vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York.
Date: Saturday, Dec. 17
Time: 3 p.m.
Series history: The Tar Heels lead the series 12-3. The teams last met on Dec. 4, 2019 when the Buckeyes’ snapped a seven game losing streak in the series with a 74-49 victory in Chapel Hill as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.