Thad Matta pointed to the final play of regulation from Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State, a missed layup by Shannon Scott, that if made, would have ended the Buckeyes’ four-game losing streak before it even started.

Matta used that play to illustrate the perils of life in the Big Ten, a league so deep that the schedule is stacked with games often decided by one bounce off the rim.

You win some, you lose some in this conference. But Ohio State’s season couldn’t afford one more bad bounce off the rim.

“As we told our guys,” Matta said, “This was a one-game season.”

That game was No. 17 Ohio State’s 62-55 win over Illinois in Value City Arena on Thursday night, the closest thing to a must-win in January Ohio State has seen for a long time under Matta.

This game wasn’t only to end a four-game losing streak or to restore confidence in a team that was clearly shaken. It may have been the difference between a salvageable season and a complete disaster.

“We knew we had six days off afterward,” Matta said. “And the schedule we have been through, we need it. To their credit, they laid it all on the line.”

Matta brought up Ohio State’s six-day reprieve from the rigors of the conference schedule three times in his postgame news conference. The coach wants to take a deep breath, he wants to get his head above water after enduring perhaps the toughest four-game stretch of his tenure.

Maybe the disaster already happened. After opening the season with 15 consecutive wins and a rise up to No. 3 in the Associated Press Poll, Ohio State’s four-game skid will likely result in it falling out of the polls all together.

Matta won’t even look at the Big Ten standings, the one paced by Michigan State (7-0) and Michigan (6-0), two teams that already have what seems to be an insurmountable lead in the race.

But now Ohio State (16-4, 3-4 Big Ten) has back the thing it thought it lost – time. Six days to build off of a win, something the Buckeyes hadn’t earned since Jan. 4. Six days to try and get their shots back. Six days to refocus.