The reward was a trip to the Sweet 16 and a matchup with Tennessee, and for that a number of Buckeyes had earned praise from their head coach. But when asked to single out one for most valuable player honors, the coach did not miss a beat with his answer.
"David Lighty," he said, pointing to one key play down the stretch as a result.
With OSU clinging to a six-point lead with a little more than a minute remaining on the clock, the Buckeyes were pushing the ball on a fast break. Junior guard Evan Turner drove the middle of the court and drew the attention of the two Yellow Jackets defenders before dishing to Lighty, who was streaking toward the basket from the left wing.
The pass was on target, but as he went up for the dunk Lighty was viciously fouled by freshman swingman Brian Oliver. With the ball flying out of Lighty's hands, the junior forward was sent sprawling to the court.
Connecting with the hardwood, he rolled once, twice, before coming to rest face down on the baseline.
"I thought he was hurt," Turner said. "He's my friend and I didn't want to see him hurt."
After a second, Lighty stood up and walked to halfcourt as he attempted to catch his breath. Oliver was whistled for an intentional foul, and he had two free throws to make.
First, there was the question of how to deal with the pain that was not localized to any one area of his body. Asked what hurt at that moment, Lighty said, "Everything. I landed on my back, my ribs, my shoulder but I'm used to it. I played football before."
Once he had his wits about him, Lighty stepped to the line and hit both free throws to push the OSU lead to 69-61 with 1:13 remaining.
It was that sequence that caught Matta's eye and allowed him to draw a parallel between the play and what he feels this Buckeye team is about.
"I think the intentional foul probably epitomizes him the most and this basketball team," the coach said. "He got knocked to the ground, sat there for a second, picked himself up, looked around, never lost his composure, stepped up and made both free throws and then went back down and had a great defensive possession.
"That's hopefully who this team is."
Lighty finished the game as the team's third-leading scorer with 18 points, but arguably most important was his play on the defensive end. Listed at 6-5, he was tasked with helping OSU keep order against a Georgia Tech frontcourt that started two players 6-9 or taller.
With Lighty, OSU turned a size mismatch into a speed advantage.
"I think that's something that you have to use, especially when it's a big guy with you," he said. "If you're in a fight with a big guy, you're not going to stand there and go toe-to-toe with him. You've got to stick and move. That's what I try to do, and I had a lot of help on the back side from my teammates."
Lighty said he felt he had frustrated Favors in particular, but credited junior center Dallas Lauderdale for the effort in the post as well.
Matta said Lighty reminded him of a point he forgot to make about the team's defense during a timeout.
"He's the best defender in college basketball," the coach said. "He can guard any position on the floor and his thing was he did a great job of showing his hands and moving around. We showed him on tape what to do and what not to do and he picks it up."
From hitting the free throws late in the game after a physical foul to frustrating bigger opponents, Matta said Lighty is proving to be a special player.
"That's why I've said this all along: that's why he'll go down as one of the all-time great Ohio State players," he said.