With the challenges his team will face when the Big Ten season begins two weeks from today at No. 1-ranked Illinois, Matta's version of tough love is probably the best thing the Buckeyes have going for them these days.
He is preparing them for the challenges that lie ahead, even as the challenges they are facing right now are not the best.
On Sunday, OSU jumped on outmanned Morehead State for a 20-4 lead and coasted to a 74-48 win. The Buckeyes committed 11 turnovers – an acceptable number on most occasions. But Matta recognized that some of the careless mistakes his team was making against Morehead State could lead to some painful moments in a matter of days as OSU (8-2) prepares to face three ranked teams to open conference play.
"After going back to watch the tape, I thought early we played well," said Matta, whose team hosts Mercer (5-1) tonight at Value City Arena (8 p.m., ESPN-Plus). "We really let our guard down. We made some mental errors both offensively and defensively.
"We need to focus in on what we do and we need to be concerned about doing the things we need to do."
Matta was asked if his team understands his message.
"They understand and have a feel that we didn't compete at the level we need to compete at for 40 minutes," Matta said. "Hopefully, they learned that lesson."
OSU's schedule is ranked 17th toughest nationally thus far by collegerpi.com.
"I think it's helped us, I honestly do," Matta said. "The road games we have played have been good. Plus, it helps us to play teams like Mercer that have a great inside/outside game.
"We don't view anybody on our schedule as a cupcake."
Mercer (5-1) has won four consecutive games heading into its match-up with Ohio State. The Bears are 5-1 overall with wins over Albany State, Georgia Southern, Stetson, Jacksonville and Fort Valley State. The wins over Stetson and Jacksonville were on the road. The lone loss of the season to date was at Maryland, a 93-67 setback.
"Mercer is a very good basketball team," Matta said. "They are coming in here 5-1. We played them last year (with Xavier). They are a very good basketball team and are well coached. They are probably one of the better teams we have played this year."
Will Emerson, a 6-10 junior, leads Mercer at 18.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Jacob Skogen, a 6-4 sophomore, adds 17.3 points per game. James Odoms (14.5 ppg) and Wesley Duke (11.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) – each at 6-5 -- also average in double figures. Damitrius Coleman, a 6-1 junior, adds a nation's best 9.2 assists per game as well.
Mercer is led by coach Mark Slonaker, who is 95-123 in eight years. In 2002-03, Slonaker orchestrated one of the biggest one-season turnarounds in NCAA history after taking the Bears from 6-23 in 2001-02 to 23-6 in 2002-03. Mercer won the Atlantic Sun regular season title that year.
OSU center Terence Dials was named the Big Ten Player of the Week after averaging 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in wins over Texas Tech and Morehead State.
Dials, a junior from Youngstown, Ohio, recorded a double-double in Dallas against the Red Raiders with 17 points and 10 rebounds in a 77-71 victory. He followed that effort with 20 points and seven boards Sunday in a 74-48 victory over Morehead State. Dials shot 61 percent from the field (14 of 23) while adding three blocks and three steals.
"Terence is understanding how hard he has to play," Matta said. "He is getting himself into better shape and playing hard at both ends."
Dials discussed the honor and the recent improvement in his play.
"It is a nice little accomplishment," he said. "It does feel real good. It's a tribute to my coaches and my teammates. As long as we're winning, people are going to notice.
"Coach just talked to me about staying aggressive and taking the ball to the basket. My teammates are doing a good job of getting me the ball where I can score.
"Coach said I hadn't been dominating in practice and it was carrying over to the games. I needed to practice harder and it started to carry over to the games."
The Buckeyes played the Morehead State game before a season-high 12,493 fans at VCA. That number was probably attributable to the win over Texas Tech three days earlier. But fans who attended the game braved a winter blast that kept temperatures in the teens and the wind chill near zero on Sunday.
"We hope so," Matta said when asked if people were starting to take notice of his team's winning ways. "Our ultimate goal is to get as many people in here as we can and make it a passionate crowd and a rowdy environment – all staying within the sportsmanship of college basketball."
* The 8-2 start to the 2004-05 season is the best since Ohio State began the 2001-02 campaign 15-2.
* In 106 years of basketball since 1898, the men's basketball program at Ohio State has an overall record of 1,399-976 after the 8-2 start to the 2004-05 season.
* Ohio State is meeting Mercer for the first time in men's basketball. Ohio State is 6-0 all time vs. the Atlantic Sun Conference with wins over Central Florida, Florida Atlantic, Jacksonville and Stetson (3-0). Other teams in the league include Belmont, Campbell, Gardner Webb, Georgia State, Lipscomb and Troy.
* The Buckeyes are 82-20 all-time when playing in Value City Arena.
* Ohio State has led at halftime in all 10 contests this season, by an average of 12.5 points.
* The Buckeyes held Morehead State to a .296 shooting percentage from the field, the lowest this season for an Ohio State opponent. Ohio State has yet to allow a team to shoot over 50 percent in a game this season.