Matta's Buckeyes proved to be game competition for the Fighting Illini for about 30 minutes before Illinois overwhelmed them and pulled away for an 84-65 win before 16,618 at Assembly Hall.
"We got beat by a great team tonight," said Matta, a native of Hoopeston, Ill. "They are probably the best team in the country today. They have the ability to make you pay so many ways. If you give this team an inch, that's all they need. They can exploit you in so many ways."
Center James Augustine led Illinois (15-0, 1-0) with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Deron Williams added 14 points and eight assists. Dee Brown scored 13 points, while Roger Powell had 12 points and six rebounds.
Illinois led 46-40 at halftime and OSU was still within eight at 65-57 with 10:20 left before the Illini went on a decisive 14-2 run to put the game away.
"We were scared," said Illini coach Bruce Weber. "The coaches were scared. We didn't know if the kids understood how tough this game was going to be. Our kids deserve credit in the second half for battling back and doing a good job."
Tony Stockman had 19 points and four assists in 38 minutes to lead Ohio State (11-3, 0-1).
"In the first half, we were executing exactly what Coach wanted us to do offensively and defensively," said Stockman, who was 7 of 14 from the field.
Ivan Harris scored all 14 of his points in the first half. J.J. Sullinger and Matt Sylvester each had eight points. Terence Dials was limited to 29 minutes because of foul trouble. He and Brandon Fuss-Cheatham each ended up with seven points.
"The second half shows that we have to put 40 minutes together," Dials said. "We didn't do it. We only played about 32 or 33 minutes. They played 40 minutes. That's why they won the game. You have to play good offensively and defensively to win the game."
Ohio State hung with Illinois throughout much of the first half, hitting 57.1 percent of its shots (16 of 28). Included in that tear was OSU's mark from behind the three-point arc, where they hit 7 of 11 shots (63.6 percent). There were seven lead changes during the first 20 minutes.
But OSU made just 38.1 percent of its shots (8 of 21) in the second half. OSU was outrebounded 39-23 and made just 50 percent (7 of 14) of its shots from the foul line.
"I'm proud of our guys' effort," Matta said. "I told them after the game they played hard. We need to play smart. You can't come on the road against a great team and make the mistakes we made tonight."
With the Buckeyes ineligible for postseason play, Matta remarked, "These type of games for us, these are our tournament games this year. We don't want to squander any opportunities."
Ohio State jumped out to an 11-6 lead. Harris hit a pair of threes during the first five minutes to help stake the Buckeyes to their early lead. Illinois answered with six straight points with Williams hitting a jumper, Ingram hitting a jumper and Augustine scoring a layup off a Brown feed to put the Illini up 12-11 with 12:28 left in the half.
OSU answered with Stockman hitting an 8-foot jumper and feeding Fuss-Cheatham for a back door layup to put the Buckeyes up 15-12 with 11:01 left in the half.
Illinois then went on a 9-2 run, keyed by four points from Augustine, to go up 21-17 with 8:40 left. But Harris' fourth trey of the half tied the game at 23-23 with 7:15 left. Fuss-Cheatham's three-pointer with 4:18 left gave OSU its last lead of the half at 30-29.
The Illini went on a 17-10 run to close the half. Augustine had six points during this run and Williams added five. His three-pointer gave Illinois its biggest lead of the first half at 46-37 with 37 seconds left. But OSU's Matt Sylvester buried a three-pointer with four seconds left to leave the Buckeyes down 46-40 at the break.
Illinois pulled ahead 59-47 after back-to-back transition baskets from Ingram and Augustine. Matta called a timeout with 14:06 left, and the Buckeyes responded.
Ohio State made its last great rally, going on an 8-2 run. Sylvester hit a three-pointer from the top and a 14-foot jumper before Stockman buried a three on an inbounds play to cut the Illini lead to 62-55 with 12:16 left. Stockman's foul line jumper with 10:20 left kept OSU within eight at 65-57.
But Illinois then went on a 14-2 run to put the game away. Powell had six points during this run as the Illini went up 79-60 with 4:35 left.
Illinois enjoyed its largest lead at 84-63 on Warren Carter's putback basket with 1:28 left.
* Matta talked about making his Big Ten debut in Champaign.
"The Illinois fans are incredible fans," Matta said. "To come back here to open up the Big Ten season, I really got indoctrinated to the Big Ten tonight.
"It was a great way to open up the Big Ten," he added in jest.
* Dials had been on a real tear during Ohio State's six-game winning streak, averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds a game during that stretch. But foul trouble – and Illinois' strong interior defense led by Augustine – held him down to seven points and six rebounds.
"We need to keep him on the floor," Matta said. "I think it's that plus Illinois forced us out on the floor so far. They were really ready for him tonight. They played very physical with him. They were bumping him and shoving him. We needed to get him going earlier so he could help us down the stretch."
* Illinois is one of four unbeaten teams left in Division I basketball. They are joined by Kansas, Boston College and Duke.
* This was Ohio State's first game against a No. 1 team in almost 12 years. The last time it happened was Feb. 23, 1993, when OSU upset No. 1 Indiana 81-77 in overtime in Columbus.
OSU last toppled a No. 1 on the road in 1987 with an 80-76 win at Iowa. The Buckeyes are now 6-9 all-time against No. 1 teams. The loss snapped OSU's four-game win streak against No. 1-ranked teams.
* OSU has now lost 10 of its last 11 visits to Champaign, including the last five visits since a 64-61 win in the Final Four year of 1999.
Over those last five trips, OSU has lost at Illinois by margins of 3, 15, 19, 22 and 19 points.
* The Illini have now won five straight over OSU overall. Illinois leads the all-time series 100-59, one of the most lopsided series for OSU in Big Ten play.
* OSU returns home to face No. 14 Iowa (12-2, 0-1), which opened Big Ten play with a 65-63 home loss to Michigan Wednesday night.
"We need to go out of here and correct some of things we did," Dials said. "I'm sure the rebounding will be a key (against Iowa). We'll have to take care of the ball and get out on their three-point shooters.
"They are ranked for a reason. It will be another challenge."
That game is set for a 12:07 p.m. start and will be televised regionally by ESPN-Plus.