As Ohio State navigated its first 24 games of the season like a cat down to its last life, the team's head coach was constantly questioned about whether or not his team needed to experience a loss in order to learn lessons needed to make a deep run through the NCAA Tournament. His response then was that he hoped the Buckeyes were learning what they needed to be learning though the close victories that were becoming the norm.
"(I am) telling the guys we can stay content with the way we're playing and winning or we can learn our lessons even though we won the game," he said Jan. 11.
So now that Wisconsin has popped OSU's bubble, what does Matta hope his charges got out of the process? The answer is not much different than the one he had been giving following the team's prior victories.
"We got beat Saturday, our first loss of the year on February 12," he said. "We lost to a really, really good basketball team who played well. I don't know who could have beaten them the way they got rolling on us there. For our guys, it's a situation where we've got to pick ourselves up knowing the next one is coming down the pipe."
That process started immediately. One day after the Buckeyes lost to the Badgers, they took to the practice court to start preparing for Michigan State. When Matta was asked how the team's leaders had changed their leadership approach in any way, he hesitated for several seconds before saying, "Not necessarily."
"I don't think I had anything in my mind (specifically)," he said. "I just wanted time to be normal, be focused and paying attention to what we were trying to get accomplished."
In other words, it was mostly business as usual at Value City Arena as the Buckeyes looked to rebound from a loss – although Buford noticed a slight change.
"I think we were more focused in," he said. "I think everybody is a little more focused after we lost. Nobody on the team likes to lose."
Diebler said Matta gave his players a refresher on what their primary goal is when the season begins.
"Coach hit it on the head: we didn't come here into the season trying to go undefeated," he said. "Obviously it would've been nice, but we're still two games up on second place in the Big Ten. That's our first goal, to win the Big Ten. Yes we lost, yes it's not acceptable to lose but it's not the end of the world. We still have six more games left and we're sitting in a pretty good position right now."
OSU's streak of 24 wins to open the season was the second-best such mark in program history, falling short of the 27-game winning streak put together to open the 1960-61 season. In addition, it marked the longest such streak for a team replacing the nation's player of the year. That mark was held by the 1969-70 UCLA team that opened the year 21-0 after losing Lew Alcindor.
The loss dropped the Buckeyes to 11-1 in conference play and improved the Badgers to 9-3. That put Wisconsin in a tie with the Boilermakers for second place.
With OSU preparing for the Spartans, only one of the two teams trailing the Big Ten leader had the chance to gain on the Buckeyes during the week. One day after the OSU-MSU game, Purdue was set to host Wisconsin.
Despite the defeat, Matta cautioned fans from expecting to see any sort of significant changes in the way the Buckeyes do things on the court. Rather, the focus was getting back to what had made them so successful to that point.
"The biggest thing is we are who we are," he said. "You can't panic. Unfortunately this isn't the first loss of my career. You can start to second-guess why did we do this or why did we do that, but it's February 14. We're pretty established with what we're going to do and how we're going to do it.
That feeling has trickled down to the players as well.
"Obviously you're going to feel differently coming off a loss, but it's not the end of the world," Diebler said. "We're still very confident with the guys that we have in our locker room. We're still very confident in the system we're running. Obviously it worked for 24 straight games.
"You can't pout about losses, because when you start doing that then things start happening that shouldn't. We weren't excited about losing. If we had a choice we'd love to win every single game that we've played but we didn't. Like our mentality has been every year, even after wins: who do we play next? It's back to work. We're getting refocused."