NEW YORK - When North Carolina coach Roy Williams chewed out fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard after the lackluster home win against Valparaiso that preceded the Tar Heels' trip to Madison Square Garden, Ginyard wasn't the only one to take notice.
"If I'm gonna chew him out, it scares the dickens out of the rest of the team because he's one of my pets," Williams said.
Williams was a lot happier with Ginyard and the rest of the sixth-ranked Tar Heels after they beat No. 15 Ohio State 77-73 in the semifinal of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer at Madison Square Garden.
It was far from being a pretty game, and a lot of the growing pains Carolina (4-0) displayed in its first three wins were still obvious on the bigger stage.
Carolina has made a living off of winning ugly in the opening weeks of the season, but at least now they can say they did it against a ranked team.
"We still want to get better at doing the things Coach asks us to do," said forward Deon Thompson, who led UNC with 15 points. "But when you play a good team and win the way we won, you'll take it."
The Buckeyes (2-1) were atrocious shooting the ball in the first half, allowing Carolina to get away with some of the less-than-smooth basketball that has served them well enough in the first three games of the year.
But OSU, which came into the game shooting nearly 50 percent in its first two games, wasn't going to keep missing shots forever.
After 38 minutes of uninspiring basketball from an entertainment standpoint, the teams put on a thrill ride of a finish.
Ohio State started hitting 3-pointers and putting pressure on Carolina in the final two minutes, eventually cutting the Heels' lead to two points, 75-73 with 11 seconds remaining.
"It was just a big frenzy," Will Graves said.
Then it was pressure time for one of the less-proven Tar Heels.
Point guard Larry Drew, who at one point in the final minute missed three straight free throws, knocked down a pair from the line to extend the lead.
And it was his hands the ball ended up in - with him flinging it in the air to run out the final seconds of clock - after Ohio State missed one last shot.
"I was pretty relieved," Drew said. "It was a hard-fought win for us."
That's why Williams was far more pleased with this ugly win than the Tar Heels last one.
There was more effort and no sign of quitting even though it was a better team threatening to undo UNC's lead than the ones they had faced at home to start the season.
"I liked our competitiveness tonight," Williams said. "That was a very good basketball team we beat."
A lot of the credit goes to Ginyard, who in addition to a career-high three 3-pointers brought a focus and fire that rubbed off on his younger teammates.
That's why they were able to withstand the Buckeyes' late barrage.
"You saw, the whole team picked it up," Graves said.
Make no mistake, this was still another ugly win.
The Heels had more turnovers (19) than assists (17) and got out-rebounded despite a big size advantage.
But Ohio State was so bad in the first half, missing its first nine 3-point attempts and shooting 29 percent overall at the break, that there was margin for error.
When there was no more wiggle room, in the tense final minutes of the game, that's when the Tar Heels finally showed the kind of grit that had been lacking previously.
The kind Williams counts on Ginyard to spark in this team. That sense of purpose was obvious in the UNC locker room after the win.
"You're definitely a lot more excited when you come to Madison Square Garden, New York, and you play a ranked team," Thompson said. "It's a big-time game. Guys get excited by that, and that's a good sign."