"Toughness, character, camaraderie, leadership," the Ohio State guard said were missing from the Buckeyes, who had just lost five of six games. "This game hurts the most out of every game since I've been at Ohio State."
The Buckeyes had just dropped a home game to Penn State, marking the Nittany Lions' first win in Columbus since 2001. With its season seemingly sputtering out of control, Ohio State appeared to be in for a long second half stretch of Big Ten play.
But since its rock bottom moment, the Buckeyes have bounced back, reeling off six victories in a seven-game stretch. Heading to Happy Valley for a rematch with Penn State, No. 22 Ohio State is in a better place than it was a month ago, touting a 22-6 record, with its 9-6 mark good enough for fourth place in the league standings.
"We're a better team," Buckeyes forward Sam Thompson said. "One of the sayings going around in our locker room is, ‘No more ‘my bads.'' We don't want to be put in a position in the game where we mess up and have to say, ‘My bad.' We feel that at this point in the season, we can no longer live through those."
There were plenty of 'my bads' to go around in OSU's first meeting with Penn State.
The Buckeyes surrendered a game-tying three-pointer to D.J. Newbill in regulation, before letting the senior guard sink the game-winning three with two seconds left in overtime. Thompson, however, believes that the miscommunications that the Buckeyes endured during that game are no longer an issue. And per the junior forward, Ohio State will have a different mentality when it takes the court at the Bryce Jordan Center on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2).
"We didn't come out with the intensity and the toughness that we needed to win. We allowed them to push us around a little bit on our home floor, we allowed them to get into a rhythm on both sides of the floor and really dictate the way that that game was played," Thompson said. "We're a different team. We learned from that loss."
That's a belief that's shared by Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta, who also sees his team trending in the right direction. Ohio State hasn't been perfect since its last showdown with the Nittany Lions but the way that it's bounced back has been encouraging to the 10th-year head coach.
"Our defense is hitting its stride in terms of what we're trying to do. We're getting better attention to detail. Offensively, our execution is getting better. We seem a little bit more sound in terms of the pace and just the right reads that we want to make," Matta said. "We've had some letdowns here and there. But those are things that seeing us play out of them has been important to me in terms of how they've done it."
The lessons learned from the Buckeyes' midseason struggles could prove to be especially advantageous in the coming weeks. Following its trip to Happy Valley, Ohio State will wrap up its regular season with games against Indiana and Michigan State. Currently poised for a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, a deep postseason run again seems possible for the Buckeyes. But as they learned a month ago, all it takes is one bad game to change your outlook for what's left.
"We're not trying to fall to the tape, we're definitely trying to bust through it," Thompson said. "Every game from here on out is a desperation game. We look at every game from here on out is a tournament-type game that we have to win and that we have to come out and give our best effort for 40 minutes."