It hasn’t been a smooth start to the season for California. Its next game doesn’t figure to get much easier with second-leading scorer Theo Robertson already ruled out.
The No. 13 Golden Bears meet their first ranked opponent Friday when they take on No. 15 Ohio State in the consolation game of the 2K Sports Classic.
California (2-1) returned four starters from last season’s team, which reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years. The Golden Bears were shaky in their opener, though, winning by only five points over Murray State. After seemingly working out some kinks in a rout of Detroit, they fell 95-73 to unranked Syracuse on Thursday.
Cal struggled through much of the game, allowing Syracuse to shoot 57.1 percent from the field and make 9 of 23 3-point attempts (39.1 percent). The Orange went on a 15-4 run early in the second half to put the game away after taking an 11-point lead into halftime.
“If we would have done a better job defending,” Cal senior Jerome Randle said, “then we would have won the game.”
Randle scored a game-high 25 points with five 3-pointers for the Bears, who were without Robertson. The senior forward, who averaged 18.0 points and shot 64.7 percent in the first two games, experienced swelling in his foot and it’s unclear when he’ll return.
“He won’t play tomorrow,” coach Mike Montgomery said. “We expected him to play, he wanted to play, but it got worse between the time we left Cal and got here.”
Jorge Gutierrez made his first start Thursday and had six points, shooting 2 of 6 from the floor.
The Bears, who expect to challenge for the Pac-10 title, don’t have much time to contemplate Thursday’s loss as they try to bounce back against Ohio State (2-1) and remain in the Top 25.
“Hopefully we respond well,” Randle said. “We just can’t be down right now. If you go into the game tomorrow thinking about this game we just lost, we’ll lose again.”
While California couldn’t keep up with Syracuse’s offense, it might have trouble putting up points against Evan Turner and the Ohio State defense.
The Buckeyes beat Alcorn State and James Madison by a combined 68 points in their first two games but couldn’t complete an impressive comeback attempt in a 77-73 loss to No. 6 North Carolina on Thursday.
The Buckeyes shot 29.0 percent in the first half and trailed by 19 with 10:24 to play. They pulled within two with 11 seconds left, but North Carolina made two free throws to seal the win.
“We obviously made a great comeback,” said coach Thad Matta, whose team had shot 50.0 percent in the first halves of its first two games. “We had a stretch where I think we lost our composure, and they were able to get it to a double-digit lead. … Hopefully we learned a lesson there getting ourselves ready to go right from the start.”
Turner, who recorded a triple-double in the season opener, had 23 points and 11 rebounds against the Tar Heels but committed 10 turnovers. He also struggled with foul trouble.
“It was a rough night obviously,” Turner said. “I just have to come out tomorrow … and I just have to make sure it never happens again. Sometimes I might have thought about the situation too much, whether I should shoot or pass, so I traveled here and there.”
Ohio State and Cal last met in the second round of the NIT in 2008 with the Buckeyes winning 73-56. Randle led Cal with 18 points in that game, while Turner finished with three points and four turnovers for Ohio State.