After seven games, the nine-day break also served as a first midterm of sorts for the Buckeyes. A 4-3 record in that stretch that included games against three ranked teams showed what the Buckeyes can do, where they need to improve and just how much they need to buckle down for the rest of the season.
"The stretch we were on there was difficult," head coach Thad Matta said. "We needed practice. More than anything else, this team needed to get back and battle and do the drill work and work the fundamentals probably much more than we needed a game at this stage."
Professor Matta decided that the first place the Buckeyes needed to improve came in the intensity department. Throughout the break, Ohio State practices were dotted with games and competitions designed to raise the intensity of a squad that too often had been unable to play a full 40 minutes.
"Everything is competition and the loser runs," senior Matt Terwilliger said. "That's enough incentive for us to go hard because none of us like running."
The next quiz comes tonight at 8 p.m. in Value City Arena against Coppin State (3-6) of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. If games against then-Nos. 21 Syracuse, 15 Texas A&M and 1 North Carolina, as well as current No. 13 Butler, were lessons taught in a 700-level class, this game against the Eagles might be more along the lines of an entry-level course.
But what it will be is a chance for the Buckeyes to put the lessons they've learned during early struggles to the test. The first goal will be to stem the tide of runs that have killed the Buckeyes in each loss. Texas A&M opened the second half with a 23-5 run Nov. 23, North Carolina held the Buckeyes without a field goal for almost 11 minutes Nov. 28 and Butler outscored OSU 45-16 during the final 20 minutes.
That last game was perhaps the most troubling to Terwilliger, who had blunt words about his team's competitiveness once it got out to an early lead.
"When you watch the Butler game … when we got a lead we just kind of got comfortable and really just let them come back in it with our lack of intensity," the Troy, Ohio, native said. "Our practices have been aimed around that intensity and keeping it for the whole practice."
The Buckeyes will also look to improve on the offensive end. OSU shot just 17.2 percent in half No. 2 against Texas A&M in Madison Square Garden, 22.9 percent against the Tar Heels in the second stanza and 29.2 percent in the final half against Butler.
"We're trying to become a better shooting team," said Matta, who is known for having good shooting teams by virtue of putting them through shots hundreds of times in some practices. "We're really breaking it down, the shots guys get. Everything is charted, and it's a little pressure shooting if you will. You better make a certain amount in number."
The break also served as a chance for Ohio State's class of newcomers to find its bearings. The Buckeyes return just four players – Terwilliger, point guard Jamar Butler, guard/forward David Lighty and forward Othello Hunter – who played integral roles on last year's Final Four squad.
Entered into the picture this year was a highly rated freshman class in Kosta Koufos, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, Evan Turner and Eric Wallace as well as junior college transfer P.J. Hill and now-eligible transfer Kyle Madsen. So far, only Koufos has impressed, leading the squad with 16.1 points per game while adding 7.6 rebounds and 50.5 percent shooting.
On the other hand, the hot-shooting Diebler is making just 21.1 percent of his shots while the other five players in the group of newbies average a total of 9.1 points per game, led by Turner's 3.9 points.
"Once we get everything figured out, we're going to be really good, there's no doubt in my mind about that," Terwilliger said. "It's just the learning curve. Coach talks about it every day, people knowing their roles and figuring stuff out."
As for how well his team responded during the time off, Matta had good things to say.
"I think that we've made pretty good strides in that nature of understanding that this is the level that we need to play at consistently," he said. "I think this team has shown they can play some pretty good basketball, but it's the consistency nature that you have to come to grips with."