But on Monday night, Ohio State was up to the challenge.
The Buckeyes jumped on visiting Virginia Tech early and held on late for a 69-56 victory before 13,218 at Value City Arena. The win gives the Big Ten an early 1-0 edge in a 7-year-old series it has never won. Ten more games between Big Ten and ACC teams will be contested over the next two days.
Sylvester Mayes came off the bench and scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half as the Buckeyes (3-0) opened a 46-25 halftime lead and then had to hold on for dear life against the Hokies (5-2). Tech got the OSU lead down to three points with 3:18 left before OSU rediscovered some late offense to put it (back) away.
Je'Kel Foster ended an OSU scoring drought with a clutch 15-foot jumper and Ron Lewis canned a big three-pointer with 2:09 left as the Buckeyes drew away late.
"There were some great things that happened for us," said OSU coach Thad Matta. "Some things weren't as good. This is a time where we can learn from the positives and the negatives.
"One of the biggest travesties we could do to ourselves is just say the first half is it and not look at the second half. As coaches, trust me, we will not let them do that."
J.J. Sullinger led the Buckeyes with 14 points and nine rebounds. Terence Dials added 11 points and seven rebounds. He played just 24 minutes due to foul trouble. Lewis had 10 points for OSU.
"Teams are going to make a run," Dials said. "We were up (21) at the half. But we knew they were well coached. They are a member of the ACC. We knew they were not going to go away. They came out and gave us all they had in the second half. But we were able to sustain it and pull it out."
Zabian Dowdell led Virginia Tech with 15 points, while Coleman Collins had 14 points and 14 rebounds.
"I thought we competed in the second half," said Hokies head coach Seth Greenberg. "I was disappointed with the competitive spirit in the first half. We didn't come here to cut it to three points and lose by 13. In the first half, we didn't pressure the basketball and we let them have a flow to their offense.
"Then, we did a good job of executing in the second half until the last three minutes. We weren't as tough as we needed to be."
Ohio State never trailed in the game as Foster hit a three on the opening possession. After the game was tied at 4-4, OSU reeled off eight unanswered points. Matt Sylvester had a hook and a runner in that stretch as OSU went up 12-4 with 14:45 left in the first half.
Virginia Tech cut it to 12-11 after Cheick Diakite scored on a rebound basket with 12:58 left. Mayes answered with a three-pointer off a feed from Sullinger as OSU embarked on a 15-8 run. Jamar Butler also hit a three and Sullinger had four points in this spurt as OSU moved on top 27-19 with 7:51 left in the first half.
Tech's Dowdell scored on a rebound to cut it to 27-21 with 7:19 left in the half. But the Hokies would not make another shot from the floor over the next 5-1/2 minutes. They were outscored 16-2 during that string. VCA started to rock just a little bit during this run, which saw Foster hit a three, Sullinger score twice off feeds from Sylvester and Mayes also bury a three. Mayes capped it with his layup to beat the shot clock that put OSU ahead 43-23 with 2:05 left in the half.
Tech's Deron Washington had a jam off a simple inbounds play to end the drought with 1:47 left. But Mayes splashed another three off a feed from Butler with 19 seconds left, then watched as Tech's Dowdell dribbled out the final 11 seconds of the half without getting a shot up.
OSU enjoyed its largest lead at 48-26 when Sullinger made a pair of free throws with 18:54 left in the game.
That's when Virginia Tech went to work. The Hokies gradually whittled the lead down to 52-38 after Dowdell turned an OSU turnover into a layup with 14:39 left. Coleman Collins scored on a jam to cut it to 53-40 with 11:30 left. A Dowdell three trimmed it to 55-45 with 8:58 left.
The Hokies got inside double digits on a basket by Wynton Witherspoon to make it 55-47 with 7:24 left. Things got tighter with 4:56 left when OSU's Je'Kel Foster fouled Dowdell on a three-point try. He made all three free throws to get it down to 57-52.
When Sullinger and Dials missed shots on OSU's next two possessions, the Buckeyes had made just 3 of their 19 second-half shots and had committed 11 turnovers.
Things got worse when Collins banked in a shot to cut it to 57-54 with 3:18 left.
But Foster righted the ship with a pull-up 15-foot jumper that put OSU ahead 59-54 with 2:57 left.
"I know we needed a basket," Foster said. "I just tried to take my time and knock it down and fortunately it fell for me."
Tech's Jamon Gordon drove for a basket to cut it to 59-56 with 2:39 left.
However, OSU answered with Lewis splashing a long three from the right wing off a feed from Foster to push the lead to 62-56 with 2:09 left.
"The only thing I was thinking was stay aggressive," Lewis said. "I know in the second half we were struggling. We needed a big boost from somewhere, anybody. That was my chance to give us a big boost. I just took the three."
Dowdell then missed a three-point try and OSU's Sylvester rebounded and outletted to teammate Ron Lewis. Lewis had a breakaway, but Dowdell committed an intentional foul. Lewis made 1 of 2 free throws with 1:36 left and OSU led 63-56.
The Buckeyes got the ball on the ensuing possession and scored as Sylvester rebounded a missed Lewis trey and scored with 1:18 left to put OSU up 65-56.
"(Those two Sylvester rebounds) were big," Matta said. "The last thing we said was, ‘We gotta rebound' because at times we have a small team out there. That was huge."
Coleman then missed a pair of shots at the Tech end and Lewis tracked down the long rebound of the second. He raced into the OSU forecourt. He banked in a prayer and Dowdell fouled him. The free throw to complete the three-point play moved OSU up 68-56 with 54.7 seconds left.
Dials made 1 of 2 free throws with 27.1 seconds left for OSU.
* OSU coach Thad Matta started his fifth different starting lineup between the two exhibition games and the three regular season games. Starting this game were Sullinger, Sylvester, Dials, Foster and Butler. Dials is the only OSU player to start every game so far.
* Foster added eight points and four assists for OSU, while Sylvester had six points and six rebounds. Butler finished with three, while Ivan Harris and Matt Terwilliger each had two points.
With Dials in foul trouble, Terwilliger matched his career high with 16 minutes.
* The Buckeyes improved to 2-3 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. OSU won its first game in the Challenge against N.C. State in 2001, but lost its last three (Duke in 2002, Georgia Tech in 2003 and Clemson in 2004).
OSU improved to 36-25 all-time against ACC competition. Tech still holds a 4-2 series lead on OSU, though.
* With exams next week, Ohio State does not play again until Sat., Dec. 10, when it visits St. Joseph's at the Palestra in Philadelphia.
* OSU unveiled an alternate jersey for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was mostly white with just a touch of gray over the shoulders.