"Even though we lost the game the next day, maybe it opened their eyes to maybe what the coaches are telling us is true, that the way we play games is the way we practice," Matta said. "Unfortunately, we had to take a home loss for it, but maybe it helped us in the end."
The Buckeyes got an opportunity to show how far they had come after a win over Loyola of Maryland to open the NCAA tournament.
Ohio State rolled to a 19-point victory, but it was chalked up to the Buckeyes being bigger, faster and stronger than Loyola, not because the team was playing well.
The players, fortified with their new sense of purpose, had that it-could-have-been-better feeling, too, so they decided to hold a team meeting before their next game against Gonzaga.
Gathered in a Pittsburgh hotel room, they talked about focus, not taking anything for granted, communicating better, playing more as a team instead of individuals — a players-led refresher course of many of the same things Matta stressed after his get-out-of-my-sight move.
The players' meeting only lasted 10 minutes or so, but, like their coach's practice toss, the message made it through.
The next day, Ohio State fought through Sullinger's early foul trouble for a 73-66 victory over Gonzaga, earning a trip to the East Regional in Boston.
Once there, the Buckeyes held their composure after blowing a 12-point lead against cross-state rival Cincinnati, then knocked off top-seeded Syracuse to reach the Final Four for the second time since 2007, when Greg Oden led them to the national title game.
"We knew we had a chance to do something special, so we just wanted to try to keep our guys together," Buford said of the meeting. "We let everybody know that we need each other and that we needed to keep uplifting each other and help each other out."
Their season once on the brink of collapse, the Buckeyes are two wins from their first national championship in 52 years.
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