The Buckeyes opened the game by switching out of their much-maligned zone defense and also utilized a different starting lineup for the first time in 16 games, and those two changes helped spark them to a 73-59 victory that kept them on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
"It's good to laugh, finally," the OSU head coach said after the game.
When OSU (18-8, 8-7 Big Ten) took to the floor, Matta had replaced the struggling Jeremie Simmons at point with reserve P.J. Hill. The move sparked both players, who responded with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Hill's figures represented a career high for the second consecutive game, and it was the first double-digit scoring performance of his career. His start came as the result of Simmons confronting Matta one day before the game and telling him to start Hill in his place.
"I just told (Matta) I think I'll be better coming off the bench and I'll be more productive," Simmons said. "I'm a real person. P.J., he works hard. I see him every day. He works hard. I knew he would start us off with a strong start on the defensive end so I wanted him to start."
Hill did not wait long to make an impact, hitting a three-pointer on OSU's second possession of the game to start the 16-0 run. Simmons, on the other hand, had scored five total points in OSU's last three games.
In addition, the Buckeyes caught the Nittany Lions (19-9, 8-7) off guard early by switching out of their patented 3-2 match-up zone defense. With just one day to prepare for PSU after losing a close game to Illinois, the Buckeyes learned that lessons Matta had been teaching them all season had prepared them to use a different type of defense.
That meant that in just one day's worth of preparation, they were able to switch out of what had been their bread-and-butter and use a triangle-and-two that allowed the Buckeyes to pressure PSU's guards.
It worked early, as OSU jumped out to a 10-2 lead nearly four minutes into the contest before switching back to its regular defense. After switching back, they extended that lead to 19-2 nearly eight minutes into the game.
"With the quick turnaround it's something we'd been playing with," Matta said. "They had six days to prepare for us and we didn't have a lot of time. We felt like trying to disrupt them early out of the beginning."
But as quickly as they built that lead, they squandered it as the Nittany Lions pulled to within one point thanks to a 16-0 run of their own that made it 19-18 in favor of the Buckeyes. PSU actually grabbed a one-point lead at 23-22 with 6:52 remaining in the half. They would increase that to a three-point lead at 30-27 before OSU used a B.J. Mullens dunk and a Simmons three-pointer to go into the half with a 32-30 lead.
The Nittany Lions would seize control in the second half, however, and opened up a 44-39 lead with 13:42 remaining in the game. It was their largest lead of the night, but the Buckeyes would answer.
After the teams traded baskets, OSU got a pair of free throws from Kyle Madsen to pull within three points at 46-43. Those baskets ignited a 16-3 Buckeye run that pushed the lead to 59-49 with 4:55 left and put the game out of reach for the visitors.
To do so, Matta made one of PSU's advantages work against them. With the Nittany Lions shadowing OSU leading scorer Evan Turner all night, Matta put Turner up top at the point guard spot on offense. That enabled Turner to drive and draw in the defense, then kick the ball back out to waiting shooters.
The primary benefactor of PSU's attention to Turner was Simmons, who hit three three-pointers from the same spot in the left corner in the final 10 minutes.
Simmons hit with 9:48 left to give OSU a 48-46 lead, then hit again one possession later after a Danny Morrissey trey to give the Buckeyes back the lead at 51-49 with 8:36 remaining.
They would not trail again.
"Our plan was to try and take Turner out and make somebody else make some shots," PSU head coach Ed DeChellis said. "We were trying to make somebody else beat us and Hill and Simmons beat us. We hadn't seen that consistency from them."
Simmons' 14 points led the Buckeyes, as Hill and Mullens each chipped in 13 points and freshman William Buford had 11 points – all in the first half, as he saw just four minutes of action in the second half. In his place, Matta went with Madsen for size purposes, and he responded with a career-high 18 minutes.
Turner was held to just six points, but he dished out a season- and game-high eight assists against two turnovers.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Buckeyes and moved them into a four-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten.
"We needed to win so bad," Hill said.
Columbus native Jamelle Cornley led four Nittany Lions in double figures with 11 points.