The Buckeyes were without preseason All-American Jared Sullinger, who missed his second consecutive game because of back spasms. It wasn't until that point that Matta finally disclosed that Sullinger wouldn't be able to play against the Jayhawks in a marquee non-conference showdown.
With Sullinger in street clothes, Deshaun Thomas played all 40 minutes for the second-ranked Buckeyes, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the first half in a 78-67 loss to the No. 13 Jayhawks.
"As I told Coach Self when we shook hands before the game, 'Merry Christmas early,'" Matta said.
"I don't think his exact words were, 'Merry Christmas,'" Self said with a grin. "I think there were some other words in there, maybe describing the holiday."
Matta didn't want to jeopardize Sullinger's future because of a game in December. If it was the NCAA tournament, though, Matta said there's little doubt he would have played.
"When we came back in off the floor, I had a long talk with the trainer, 'What do you say, we just roll him out there,'" Matta said jokingly.
William Buford led the Buckeyes with 21 points, 17 coming in the second half. He said playing without Sullinger is a tremendous change because he's the best big man in the country.
"When you're missing out on that, you're going to have difficulties and have to make some adjustments," Buford said.
Kansas wanted Sullinger to play.
"I don't think you put an asterisk with the win," Self said. "Ohio State can certainly say, and rightfully so, Jared didn't play. And we know he didn't play, and they're a much better team with him. But just because he plays doesn't guarantee anything."
Thomas Robinson scored 21 points and Elijah Johnson added 15 for Kansas, which led for all but 23 seconds. Coming into Lawrence, Ohio State had trailed for 19 minutes, 34 seconds all season, and led the entire way in its victory over Duke.
Newcomer forward Kevin Young came off the bench to score a career-high 14 points, and Tyshawn Taylor had nine points and a career-best 13 assists for the Jayhawks (6-2), who extended their winning streak to 47 games over non-conference opponents at Allen Fieldhouse.
Taylor played despite a torn meniscus and sprained MCL in his right knee.
The Jayhawks were desperate for a high-profile victory after losses to top-ranked Kentucky and Duke, and they got it against a Buckeyes (8-1) team that led the nation in scoring margin.
Buoyed by a frenzied crowd that jammed Allen Fieldhouse to the rafters, the Jayhawks raced to a 23-13 lead just over midway through the first half, the decibel level at one point registering 114 on the scoreboard — roughly equal to that of a rock concert.
Robinson did most of the work inside, capitalizing on the absence of Sullinger to score around the rim. He had all seven of his first-half points during the opening flurry, and Teahan and Johnson each hit 3-pointers as noise seemed ready to lift the roof from the building.
The Buckeyes finally hit their stride, and it was Thomas who jump-started them.
The sophomore forward hit consecutive 3-pointers from well beyond the arc, and Amir Williams added his only basket of the first half to slice into the lead. Thomas' third 3-pointer of the half and free throws by Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Evan Ravenel trimmed it to 33-29 with a minute left.
Young's basket moments later off a feed from Robinson gave Kansas a six-point lead at the break.
The school announced new football coach Charlie Weis during the intermission, and he concluded a brief statement by saying, "Let's go whup Ohio State. Rock chalk, Jayhawk!"
The Jayhawks gladly obliged.
Johnson hit two more 3-pointers early in the second half, and the lead swelled to 47-37 when Releford hit a 3-pointer off a feed from Johnson and Jeff Withey scored on a putback.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta called timeout to calm his team down, and Buford proved his veteran poise by scoring the first basket when play resumed. It was the start of four-minute run in which he scored all five of the Buckeyes' field goals, getting them back within single digits.
The closest it ever got was 62-58, though.
Back-to-back turnovers by Thomas and Jordan Sibert prevented the Buckeyes from having a chance to take the lead, and Robinson converted a three-point play when he was fouled on a putback off a miss by Young with 2:40 remaining in the game. His free throw restored the lead to 71-61.
Robinson and the Jayhawks took care of things from the foul line down the stretch, allowing the reigning Big 12 champions to beat the defending Big Ten champs for the fourth straight time.
"We competed. We're a competitive team and that's a positive," Thomas said. "Without Jared, we came out and competed without him. We're a great team with him, don't get me wrong, but we came out and competed and that's one thing that coach noticed."