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March 16, 2017
Greenville, South Carolina
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by South Carolina student-athletes Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and PJ Dozier.
Q. I'm sure you didn't finish the regular season the way you wanted to but you're here now. Have you talked about how none of that matters the last month if you just go out and play a great game tomorrow night?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: Yeah, that's really what we talked about is just going out and having fun and embracing the moment. And that's really it, forgetting about everything that's happened in the regular season and in the SEC Tournament and just going out and playing our game and enjoying every moment. Just glad we're going on.
DUANE NOTICE: Not really too concerned about the future, not too concerned about the past, but trying to focus on being the best we can be everyday individually and as a team, trying to embrace the moment, like Sin said. It's a great experience to be out here and we're just trying to get better every day.
PJ DOZIER: Just to piggyback what they said, those wins that we got in the past don't even really matter anymore. It's like a 0-0 record. So we just focus on getting the next win.
Q. Sin, if you can just talk me about your reaction when you're watching Selection Sunday and you find out you're going to Greenville?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: Yeah, so Coach had talked to us, like, before it came on and stuff to the returners, and was telling us what he thought and stuff like that. And so we always was thinking that we was about to be, like, a tenth seed, be headed somewhere far.
So when we got the seventh seed and playing in Greenville, we all was happy we got to stay home and stay and play in front of our fans and didn't have to travel so far away and just happy, excited and ready to play.
Q. Sin, how many times have you heard from fans: You gotta win the game; we haven't won a NCAA game in my lifetime, in 44 years or whatever it is? Have you heard that a lot this week?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: No, nobody's said we gotta win a game or nobody said anything like that. Everybody just trying to do what they can to relieve the pressure from us. Everybody's just been saying just go out there and have fun and play our game. That's all we can do and control what we can control. And that's what we're focusing on is just having fun and enjoying the moment.
Q. Sindarius, to follow that up, are you aware this program hasn't won a tournament game since the '70s? And is that something Coach has mentioned as one of the special things you could achieve in this ride?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: We was aware and we had Mack come talk to us. Those who know who Mack is, Mack's been around the program longer than anybody than I know. And he came and talked to us and told us how much it means for him for us to just make the tournament and how much it would mean for him to just, for us to win that win first game, it would mean so much for him and for us and our relationship with Mack.
If we was to win the game tomorrow it would be for Mack and all he's done and for all the players that play for the University of South Carolina, we all have a relationship with him and how much he loves and cares for the program and the work he put in goes unnoticed. And if we win it will really just be for Mack.
Q. Because of geography and because of what the reasons that North Carolina/Duke had to come farther, do you guys feel like this is kind of a home regional since this is geographically closer than any other team?
DUANE NOTICE: Yeah. We kind of do have that sense, that home field. We have a lot of supporters and fans around the region and in the area. So we want to come out there and play as well as we can because all year we've had a great home crowd.
For us to have that support behind us at this tournament would mean a lot to us. And the fact that we didn't have to travel out West or something that we thought we were going to be doing, it kind of is a benefit -- beneficial to us and it kind of helps with our confidence and things like that. So it's also a good thing that we're close to home.
Q. How much of a benefit is that in a situation like this?
DUANE NOTICE: It's huge. It's huge. Like I said, we're the type of team that we play off of our home crowd, things like that. I know once we get on a run and get things going and we kind of hear the building erupt and just see familiar faces and things like that, and everybody just play loose and relaxed and be willing to be at the top of their game.
Q. Sindarius, then maybe one others can chime in -- how often during the preseason practice or preseason that the heartbreak of last year and being left out, motivate you? Was it mentioned coming down the stretch when things got a little wobbly and that kind of thing?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: That was really our focus point coming into the season, preseason, everything. Our slogan this year was "unfinished business" because we felt us not making the tournament last year our business here wasn't finished. So we had that slogan all year. And that was really the goal.
The goal all year was just to make it to the NCAA Tournament. And coming down the stretch, we didn't really -- like we pressured ourselves, but Coach talked to us and Coach tried to tell us don't worry about it and stuff like that.
But I think we pressured ourselves too much about it. And I think just us being here, you know, that pressure we brought on ourselves is gone now, and we can relax and just play.
Q. Just with the game tipping off so late at night, how does that adjust or affect the way you guys prepare for the game, if at all?
PJ DOZIER: I don't think it affects how we prepare at all. Each day coming into practice we're preparing for the next game. And our coaching staff does a great job on getting us prepared.
Our slogan for the game is, like, we play the game before the game is actually played. We win the day. That's what we say -- we win the day in practice. And it carries over into the games.
Q. Defensively Marquette's numbers don't look very good. How much confidence does it get that you'll be able to find some easy shots or get to the lane and get to the rim and force them back?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: It gives us a lot of confidence just knowing that we're going to have our opportunities and we just gotta step up and make the shots. We've had opportunities even coming down the stretch, you know, we just didn't make shots.
Like I said, I think they just came in with pressure stuff like that. Now I feel that the pressure is gone and everybody's relaxed and just trying to have fun. That's what we're trying to do is get back to having fun and playing our game.
Q. Marquette is good at 3-point shooting. How have you guys prepared to go up against them and defend them as a team that's noted for being a really good defensive team with really good defensive players?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: We're really good at 3-point defense too. So it starts with Duane guarding the ball. Starts with me and PJ denying our bigs, doing their job, too. So we're just going to get out there and do what we've been doing all season. After that is getting after it and guarding and trying to make them feel uncomfortable.
Q. Duane, you were going to respond to what I asked earlier about what you used as a motivation from last year's heart break. What do you have to say about that?
DUANE NOTICE: Similar. The team, we all have the slogan "unfinished business." A lot of the new guys we had, our first-year guys, weren't along the ride with us so they didn't understand the heartbreak we faced.
We try to instill that to them in practice and know that you guys don't want to feel what we felt last year, just sitting around on Selection Sunday and just not being picked. We wanted to make sure we did everything in our power that we didn't feel like that way anymore.
We let some games slip at the end, but we remain confident because of what we did in our non-conference schedule and put everything in God's hands. And once we were able to be selected we let everybody know that God was looking out and we know we did what we had to do, and what's in the past is in the past and we've got to focus on the future now.
Q. What does it feel like just to be here and see the NCAA logos and look at the court? Does it match your expectations of what you thought, like, this environment would be?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: Yeah, as a matter of fact, just when we were walking here, Duane said something like: Man we should have been here all four years. But it's fun. We're just enjoying it and embracing it and just trying to have fun.
Q. You're about to go out to the open practice session after this, some fan interaction. Are you looking forward to that, or is it more focused on practice and let's get ready for this game tomorrow?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: Everybody is going to look at me every question (laughter). We've had practice already. We practiced earlier today. I think today right now we'll go out here just getting up shots, getting used to shooting in the arena and interacting with the fans, I think that's what we're really just focusing on right now.
Q. Sindarius and Duane, at some point, whether it's this weekend, next weekend, the weekend after that, it's going to be over for you guys. Have you gotten the chance to think about what you've done for this program, what you've meant for this program? Have you kind of started to think about that?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: No, I haven't. I'm just enjoying the moment, just trying to keep the season going as long as I can and keep this thing going and trying to make it as far as I can. And I can think about everything else when it's all over with.
Q. Frank said to you all this week in preparing, he's been through this before, and what have practices been like? Has he kept the pedal to the metal and worked you really hard or has he let up a little?
DUANE NOTICE: We've been practicing hard. We've been practicing hard because we're preparing for what's about to come. He wants to make sure we're all prepared but at the same time I think he's done a good job of letting us know he's been there before. So he really wants us to enjoy the experience. And I think that's just a testament to the type of coach he is, and he just wants us all to feel relaxed and loose.
We worked on watching film and worked on our defensive schemes and getting shots up and things like that. But at the same time he's going to make sure we all enjoy this experience and this ride because it took a lot for us to get here, and we want to make sure that we cherish it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. We're joined by coach Frank Martin.
COACH MARTIN: Unbelievably exciting week for us for obvious reasons. I'm so happy for our players, for our alums, for our former players, for the administration that believed in me and gave me a chance. And here we are and it's been five years worth of work by everybody involved to make this a reality and now we're excited for the opportunity.
Q. Have you sensed a more loose atmosphere around the kids as they've gotten ready for this week, a more fancy-free kind of thing, no pressure on them?
COACH MARTIN: Yeah, I think -- I don't know if I'm the kind of person that enjoys work in that kind of freelance mode, just like everybody have a good time and hug and kiss and high-five each other. I just think there's a time for that and a time to work.
But the pressure part, I think there's no doubt. I think there's absolutely zero doubt that last year we set a school record for wins and it wasn't good enough. Plain and simple. We can all complain, whatever, it's irrelevant. It wasn't good enough.
And I think as we were coming down the stretch, we played some real hard games against postseason teams in road games. And I think our guys kind of felt that a little bit.
And anytime you bog yourself down a little bit you don't perform as well. So from that standpoint, there's no doubt. I think our guys are in an unbelievable place right now mentally. And they've been great this week.
Q. The last time you faced Andrew Rowsey, albeit at UNCA a few years back, he had 30 points in that game. I'm assuming you've impressed upon your players that they may want to guard him a little more closely this time?
COACH MARTIN: We weren't as bad as it makes it sound. He's just a real good player. We guarded him pretty good that day. He just knows how to play.
It's hard to defend real good players. It's not as easy as it sounds. And we also weren't -- you know, my guys, just like him, were young, like Sindarius, Duane. They're in the same class he is. So they were all young.
So defensively we weren't as good as we needed to be yet at that time. We we're much better defensively but you know what, he's also -- he's playing his tail off right now. I watched some of their games early this year. And he's playing in a completely different place now right now.
He's got that confidence going. He's aggressive. He's got that unbelievable knack to get to the foul line with his shot fakes. And if you're late on any coverage, that ball's in the net.
And he's a real good player. I didn't have to say a word to our players. Our guys, they remember.
Q. You've been in the NCAA Tournament before. Obviously none of the players have. What's the main thing you've stressed to them about what they need to do and what differences there may be when you get here?
COACH MARTIN: I showed them a picture of me on March 27th, 2012, which is right after I coached my last NCAA game, and I showed them a picture of me last Sunday. And I told them: If it takes five years between appearances, this is how you look (laughter). I've tried to share what I know, what I've lived, what our players that I've coached that have been in it, what they shared with me.
I've tried to share that with them, with the understanding that they've earned the right to be here. This wasn't, like, let's just kind of draw names out of a hat and, oh, my God, we're, in this thing! Wow, do we belong? No, we've earned the right to be here.
And enjoy the moment, enjoy the ride. It can last a long time or it can be over quick. You don't control that. So don't worry about those things. Just enjoy the ride and just do everything in your power to play the best game that we've played all year. That's it.
And at the end of the day, you know, you've earned something special. They earned the right to be part of this exclusive club for this year. And that's something that they should be proud of and at the same time feel a lot of confidence in.
Q. You've been to a number of NCAA Tournaments. Does this experience because of the five years in between mean any more to you than any of the others?
COACH MARTIN: They're all special. They're all different. Anytime you're in this event, I told my wife this morning, I said, I feel like a little kid.
Anytime you're part of this event, you can be here -- you'd have to ask K and Roy and some of those guys that have been in it like forever, what it feels to them. But I can tell you, for me, it's incredible.
Every second that you're a part of this, it's just an unbelievable feel, a joy. You realize how lucky you are that you're around so many special people that allow you to be a part of this.
And it's a special deal. They're all different. Every team's different. Every year's different.
The one thing that was satisfying at K-State, the first time we went, and has been satisfying here, is that both schools had not been to it in a long time.
And to be able to be a part of a team that kind of returns makes it fun personally. One day I'll sit back and I'll say, you know what? It feels pretty good, feels pretty good that you can take two different programs that hadn't been a part of it for a long time and you were a part of the team that went back.
Q. When you're at K-State, I know you said they're all different, but you won your first game the four times you got there, most of which were seedings around this. Is there anything in common from how you won those kind of games you can apply to how you approach this one?
COACH MARTIN: Yeah, the first year as a head coach, I didn't know what I was doing. I got no idea. I know we practiced real hard and we were the 11 seed and we played USC. And I had two guys on my team that Bill Walker and Mike Beasley, and those two guys were unbelievable that game. And that's why they're both pros.
And we figured out a way to win, and the game ended and I had no idea we had won. It was just crazy.
But all the other guys who were on the team were freshmen that year and then we missed it a year. The following three years we went.
And every time we went, we had returning players that got a taste of it. And then that drives you, because you understand what a special feeling it is to be a part of this. And it drives your guys to do things better, to be more aggressive, to be better decision makers so they don't make mistakes off the court, to be more on edge for offseason workouts, because they understand how hard it is to get here.
Like Sindarius and Duane, the reason we got here this year, those two guys, Justin, PJ, Chris Silva, the disappointment of last year drove those guys. They didn't make excuses. They didn't blame. It drove them all offseason to prepare for this year. That's why we're here this year. And now once you're in it, all the other guys are first-year guys. They don't know what's going on right now.
But being a part of this, it's going to give them a taste. How does all that help us figure out a way to win tomorrow? I got no idea. We gotta trust in who we are. That's all I've talked to our team about. It's been six months in the making of getting ready to become the team that we are.
You've got to trust in that and you've got to go play through that personality and that identity. And at the end of the day a team's going to be good enough or it's not. That doesn't make us a good or bad team.
It just means that tomorrow night, at whatever time at night, heck, I used to be taking showers to go out to South Beach. Now I've got to worry about going and coaching a game at 10:00 at night. I hope I don't nod off on the bench. But we've gotta be the best team that we can be tomorrow night.
Q. Since Hassani joined the starting lineup, what's he give you on defense and really at the start of that game, in those First Four minutes?
COACH MARTIN: I thought he had been practicing real well, and Mike, I kind of saw what I saw in PJ last year, just a first-year guy that was trying to take a deep breath and couldn't figure out when he could take that breath.
And Hassani practiced, well, and he gives us another decision-maker with the basketball. I thought our passing had gotten bad and Hassani is one of our better passers. Defensively we were getting ready to play a bunch of teams that play small, for lack of better words.
So I thought why not? If I'm going to try something to shake this up a little bit, why not now. And he did his part. He did his part. And I think Mike's playing a lot better again. I think that decision helped Mike take a step back, take a deep breath and recompose himself.
Q. I know you've said in the past that you have a friendship with Steve Wojciechowski. I just wanted to understand where that friendship came from, where it started and how it's grown over time?
COACH MARTIN: First of all, I'm a fan of basketball. And watching him play was awesome. I wasn't very good, but when I tried to play, that's how I tried to play.
And so from afar I always respected him. And then the first day he got put on the road as an assistant by Coach K, him, Hugs and I were at the same event and Andy Kennedy, all four of us, out recruiting. We spent the whole day together and just conversations on the first day on the road.
We kind of hit it off. And over the years, you know, we've shared scouting reports with one another. We've shared ideas. When he got hired at Marquette, we spent some time talking about my first year at K-State and some of the challenges and things that I experienced.
And then he had to hire a trainer. And that's probably when we spent the most time as far as personally speaking about things. And he hired Brandon Yoder, a dear friend, who is an unbelievable trainer. And I think who Brandon has been for Wojo and their program has created unbelievable trust towards me and us.
And I've got a lot of respect for Woj. He's a star in this business. He's great for kids. Watching his team play, it's a machine.
Everyone wants to talk about them defensively. They're so good offensively. And what's used against people is how many points do they give up per game. That's because they score a lot of points. To score a lot of points you've got to play very fast. So they're pretty good on defense.
They fight you. If you remember Woj, he's not going to accept playing people that don't fight their tails off to get on the court. And they're good. They're good. They're fun to watch. I'm not enjoying watching them on tape right now. And it's not going to be any fun guarding them, but I'm exciting for him, excited for what he's building.
Q. As far as the 44 years since an NCAA Tournament win for this program, what's your coaching philosophy on that? Is it something you avoid because of extra pressure, is it something you address because of extra motivation or something in between?
COACH MARTIN: I don't know if that impacts us one way or the other. I'll be honest with you, first couple of years at South Carolina I didn't even know that because, let's be honest, nobody really cared about what we were doing so no one really spoke about it.
But last year, once we started earning respect and it kind of became popular, and this year, I'm not trying to sell our program here, I'm just telling you the truth -- we're 13th in the country in total attendance. That means a lot of people are coming to watch our kids play.
And with our guys being able to succeed again this year and get this bid, a lot of that is starting to come up. I don't know if that impacts our guys one way or the other, I really don't.
But I can tell you personally nothing would make me happier for us to eventually break that. You go back and you think of some of the guys that have played at South Carolina, the incredible coaches that have coached at South Carolina over those 44 years, I think it's a remarkable -- it's one of those stats that you're like how is that happening.
How is Frank McGuire not win an NCAA game since 1973. How does Eddie Fogler, Dave Odom? Keep going -- the names of the coaches and players that have come through there. How does that happen?
And I'd love the opportunity to be able, not for me selfishly, that doesn't do anything for me, but for all those former guys and our administrators and former coaches that sacrificed. Because this is hard, getting here is hard. Winning here is even harder. To be able to accomplish that I think would soothe a lot of people. It would make a lot of people smile. At the end of the day that's what our job and life is to make others smile.
Q. Going back to Marquette's offense, in your preparation, how have you addressed dealing with their 3-point shooting and how do you feel about your 3-point shooting defense at this stage of the season?
COACH MARTIN: Am I in a better mood today, Phil? Last Sunday you were worried about my mood.
Q. You seem a tad bit happier?
COACH MARTIN: I am. I'm a bundle of joy (laughter). They're as good a passing and shooting team as we've played against. And anytime -- usually good shooting teams are very good passing teams. Usually teams that don't shoot well aren't very good passers.
Their spacing is very good. They play fast. They're aggressive. Their ball-screen offense is what they used to create separation from their shooters. They try and put you in situations where if your ball-screen defense is not perfect, then you're forced to help. And when you help against a real good passing team, that usually means someone's getting shots.
And they've got a lot of guys that can shoot it. One thing I know about our team even when we didn't play great, I go back, I don't think we played bad. We just didn't play as great as we did, I don't know, through early February.
We have to go play some hard teams. I thought our 3-point defense was still pretty good. It's got to be the best it's been all year tomorrow. It's our ball-screen defense has to be tremendous. And then our perimeter defense has to be the best it's been all year.
Here's something else they're great at -- shot faking. They're unbelievable at shot faking and getting you up in the air and creating fouls that way. You've got to keep them off the line. They don't miss free throws.
So we have to be very disciplined defensively. But we've been that all year. So we just gotta be real good at it tomorrow.
Q. What's the main message you want to leave with your guys right before you step out on that court this morning?
COACH MARTIN: I've been kind of preaching to them all week about this. You go through decisions and benchings and disciplines and hugs and tears and all kinds of emotions that the season brings to you. So it hardens you.
It makes you understand how important it is that you play 40 minutes. Go out there and do it. Go out there and forget all the good and bad that's happened up to this point, trust in who you are. Do your job with an unbelievable commitment to it, and play as close to the -- this tournament you could play for 39 minutes and 52 seconds and get beat for those 8 seconds you didn't play well.
You have to do your job the best you can. And at the end of the day enjoy the ride. It's a special, special thing and it's something that they get to talk to their parents and their family and their children one day about the ride that they've taken me and everyone else at South Carolina on.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
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