In the immediate aftermath of Ohio State's victory against Mississippi in the semifinal round of the MasterCard NIT Tournament, the head coach of the Buckeyes was asked about the title game that could have been. In the first game of the evening, Massachusetts engineered a second-half comeback and knocked off the Florida Gators and in the process preventing some history from being made.
One season ago, the Gators defeated the Buckeyes twice on the hardwood with the final victory coming in the NCAA championship game. OSU exacted some revenge this year with a 13-point victory in a game played in December, but the thought of a rematch for the NIT title this season – marking the first time two teams who played for the NCAA championship would rematch in the NIT title game the following season – was not an appealing one to Matta.
Asked if he was disappointed to not play the Gators, Matta responded with a laugh.
"I know there's a bunch of people in this room that are a lot more disappointed than I am; I will say that," he said. "You kind of take who comes at you and get ready to go."
OSU senior Othello Hunter said that not only had he been hoping to play the Gators, but that the two teams had been talking to each other about the potential matchup.
"Yeah, we wish they were there," he said. "We told some of the (Florida) guys that and they told some of us that."
UMass head coach Travis Ford was aware that his team is playing the role of spoiler, but he is more focused on the fact that his team is making some history of its own rather than the fact that they are disrupting a matchup two passionate fanbases apparently wanted to see.
"It's understandable," he said. "I think the media and everybody did (want to see OSU and Florida). If I was a fan, maybe I'd feel the same thing.
"But with all the great history of UMass basketball, there's never been a team to play in the month of April … and there's never been a team playing for a championship this time of year. We're trying to represent the tradition of UMass basketball."
OSU senior Jamar Butler perhaps summed it up best, though, with his usual blunt delivery.
"Not really," he said when asked if he was disappointed not to play Florida. "It would've been nice to play them again, but UMass proved they're the better team. We have to look past Florida now and get ready for them."
High Praise, Indeed – As is typically the case before a game, Ford was asked for his thoughts on the Buckeyes. Although he admitted to not having had much time to watch film on them, the former Kentucky sharpshooter had plenty of praise for his team's Thursday-night opponent.
"They are a big, physical team in every spot," he said. "They are big, tall, athletic, physical, and aggressive. They are one of the most aggressive, physical teams we've seen this year."
When asked for a reaction to Ford's characterization of his team, Matta quipped: "He should play in the Big Ten."
Citing the physical nature of play prevalent within the conference, the OSU head coach classified his team as being in the lower echelon of the Big Ten when it comes to playing a physical style of game. Instead, Matta said his team tries to rely more on speed and skill as opposed to brute, raw power.
"We want to be a team that you can't grab and hold what you can't catch," he said. "I like the way that we're playing right now. We have a good blend of physical play and finesse play which has helped our team."
Winning At Any Cost – Evan Turner really hates to lose.
Really. So much so that Matta was forced to change the score during a practice game to placate his freshman slasher and allow him to be able to focus on the task at hand.
"One day we were shooting and Jamar's team must have killed my team like 20-2 and I was so upset, Coach did me a favor by changing the score to 22-20 so I could focus more," Turner said.
That would be a two-point lead for Turner's team, not a two-point deficit.
"He did it just to calm me down," Turner said. "I always hated losing. I was the biggest baby growing up, but I'm a little brother so I had to win to show I belonged."