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March 21, 2019
Columbia, South Carolina
THE MODERATOR: We have the student-athletes from Gardner Webb University. Head coach Tim Craft. SID Marc Rabb. I'll introduce the players. We have David Efianayi, Eric Jamison, Jr., D.J. Laster, and Jose Perez.
Q. D.J., what is it that has been clicking for you here over the last five games or the end of the season? And how much confidence do you bring into this tournament?
D.J. LASTER: I have a lot of confidence. I think what's clicking is just being more efficient on the court and with my shot selection and getting the right shots and having my teammates find me in the right places. So I'm pretty confident in my workouts and everything that I'm doing. I'm pretty confident coming into this tournament.
Q. David, what has this past week-and-a-half been like and what has today been like, I guess starting yesterday, coming here for the first time and experiencing this for the first time, not only for you as players but as a program?
DAVID EFIANAYI: It's very exciting. The past few years we've been very close, losing the semifinals and quarterfinals. This is a great experience to be here, and we're just going to try to continue going on.
Q. For all of you four guys, I know this last two weeks has been quite a blur. What was your emotions pulling out yesterday morning at 8:30 knowing you were coming to Columbia, knowing you were coming to the NCAA Tournament, knowing you had meaningful practices left ahead of you for each one of you guys?
ERIC JAMISON JR.: For me, it was a very exciting feeling, just a dream come true to play in an NCAA Tournament. A lot of guys don't get a chance to play, and it's just really everybody is excited and happy, and we're just ready to play.
DAVID EFIANAYI: Yeah, like he said, it's just being a part of March Madness is very big. As a college player, that's what you want to do. It's just very exciting.
D.J. LASTER: Just great to have this opportunity to be here. Like Dave said, we've been in the semifinals, we've been to the quarterfinals, but we never got here in school history. Just an exciting experience and just an opportunity to play and compete at the highest level.
JOSE PEREZ: For me, this has been a dream come true being here as a freshman and being here with these guys. They're like my role models, and they're older. They always tell me what I'm doing wrong and right. Just being here is like a dream come true, like they said.
Q. For D.J. and Jose, what do you see when you look at De'Andre Hunter, and what do you anticipate in terms of who might match up there?
JOSE PEREZ: He's a great player. He won Defensive Player of the Year in the ACC. To me, he's going to be a tough matchup all night and just be physical with him as much as possible as we can and see what the refs let go and what they don't let go.
D.J. LASTER: Yeah, he's a great player, but we just want to compete at the highest level and just give him all we've got. I know he's going to come at us. We just want to compete.
Q. Anybody can answer this, but what does it mean playing so close to campus knowing there's going to be tons of fans wearing the red and black tomorrow?
JOSE PEREZ: It's going to be great here. I'm still getting a couple of phone calls on tickets and stuff. It's going to be a great atmosphere. They're probably going to travel with a lot of people. It's most likely going to be like a home game here. So let's see. Just ready to play tomorrow.
Q. David, Mike was asking D.J. earlier about his confidence, but what kind of confidence did the entire team derive from going on the road in the semifinals and the final of the conference tournament at Campbell and Radford and being able to win those games in those conditions?
DAVID EFIANAYI: It starts off with the coaches. The coaches do a great job preparing us for each game. We had a great game plan going into the games, and as players, we just go in there with just confidence. We just go in there playing together, playing freely, and we just knew that, if we played hard enough, that we can be able to come out with those Ws.
Q. You guys obviously know what happened to UVA in this game last year. How do you think that will affect them for this game? Do you think they'll be more focused? Do you think they'll be tight or anything?
DAVID EFIANAYI: Yeah, they're a high level team. I feel like they'll come out with a vengeance. They'll come out ready to compete just as well as us. I think we're going to come out ready to compete. Last year's team for UVA is different from this year's team, so I don't think they'll play any differently, but they'll play well. They'll be more focused coming into this game.
Q. To follow up on that question, your coach talked about how the fact that they lost last year had no bearing this year, but it gives you a belief that it can happen. A No. 16 had never beaten a Number 1 last year. Have you all reflected on that, or do you even care about the seeding number?
JOSE PEREZ: We're just going to come ready to play, to be honest. Anything can happen. When we're both on the court, they tie their shoes the same way we do, to be honest. We're just ready to play.
Q. Some of my question has been answered, but just talk about what you saw the night the pairings came out. Did you expect to see Virginia, or was that a surprise at all?
ERIC JAMISON JR.: It wasn't really a surprise. We were prepared to play anybody. It doesn't really matter who we play. We're just excited to be here. This is a great opportunity to play whoever.
THE MODERATOR: Any other student-athletes like to answer?
DAVID EFIANAYI: Yeah, it wasn't much of a surprise. Like Eric said, we're just ready to compete. We're going to give it our best shot, and we're going to go out there and play our best.
Q. For any of the players that want to answer this, this is the program's first time in the Division I NCAA Tournament, but it's got a pretty rich basketball history, NAIA, D-II. What do you guys kind of learn about the program's basketball history when you get there, and how important is that for you to show it off on the big stage?
D.J. LASTER: It's very important for us to show it off because this is our first time in history doing this. We just want to leave our legacy and leave it all out on the court. I trust all my teammates. We're not the biggest team, but we've got a lot of fight, we've got a lot of heart. I know my teammates are going to go out there and fight and give it all they have. That's all I can ask of all my teammates.
My coaches are going to prepare us the right way, and I'm just glad we have a chance to compete and have the opportunity to play at the highest level, playing the Number 1 seed, also.
Q. This question is for any of you all who might have watched last year's game with Virginia and UMBC? You all had to be college basketball fans your entire life. It had to be like a pretty amazing thing to watch. Did you picture yourself potentially if you could pull this off this year getting into this position, and if so, is it something you could imagine, going to a smaller school, that you would get this opportunity to knock off a Number 1 seed?
DAVID EFIANAYI: Yeah, playing a mid-major school, you want to have those opportunities to play those higher level teams. All of us is being recruited at a mid-major level truly believe that we can play at the highest level. So I don't think that matters to us. We're just going to go out there and compete.
ERIC JAMISON JR.: It's just a humbling experience to be here. So us playing Virginia is just going to make us better, to be on the court with them. We go into every game thinking we're going to win the game, no matter who the opponent is, but we respect the program that they have. We know they're a high level program, and we're still going to put our plan together, and we're going to go out there and fight and play.
D.J. LASTER: Like he said, they are a high level program. I believe that we have high level players on our team. So I think, if we just go out there and compete and just play with them and control the game and control the atmosphere of the game and how it's running, like we have a good chance.
JOSE PEREZ: First, let's start off they have a great coach and a great program there, but just seeing UMBC beat them last year, it's just like it happens, like you have to come ready to play every night here in March Madness, like anything can happen, like everybody said before. We have a great coaching staff, Coach Craft usually prepares us very hard when we're about to play a big name school or a low name school. He's just very detailed on what we've got to do, and I feel like tomorrow we're going to be very highly prepared for them.
Q. Just curious, playing off that last question, you see a 16 seed upset a 1 seed in Virginia, the team you guys are playing, that's the epitome of the underdog story. I'm curious, for each of you guys, when you think about what an underdog is, whether it's David versus Goliath or Rocky Balboa, what comes to mind for you when you think underdog?
JOSE PEREZ: Underdog to me is basically somebody like basically everybody is against them, but the underdog knows they can go out there and basically come out with the win. That's in my opinion, and that's what I think.
D.J. LASTER: Underdog to me, it just means that not everybody expects for you or for your team to win. I believe that the underdog has like the faith and the belief that they can win. So just having faith in being able to know that you can conquer even like the David and Goliath, like just knowing that, just having faith is more like what I think of an underdog.
ERIC JAMISON JR.: Perfect example of an underdog is, like you said, the David and Goliath story. You just can't go in with any fear. You've just got to go in with as much fight as possible and go out there and just execute the plan and see where everything goes.
DAVID EFIANAYI: Underdog is just what other people view us on the team. I guess you just go out there and just compete.
Q. I know you guys talked about, David with you back to the Big South media day, you felt this could be a special year as your senior year.
DAVID EFIANAYI: Yes, sir.
Q. At what point in the season did you think this was possible? Was it beating Wake and Georgia Tech or something else?
DAVID EFIANAYI: Yeah, beating Wake and Georgia Tech let us know we're capable of doing big things. And then just the beginning of the season. Everybody was just locked in. Started with like our preseason workouts. We're relentless in our ball skills. I just feel like everybody was ready to compete. Everybody was going at each other. We were playing together. It was just special.
D.J. LASTER: Yeah, like David said, we've been locked in all year, and beating Wake Forest and Georgia Tech really helped us with our confidence and stuff, but as we got in the conference, we kind of knew that we were one of those teams that people knew that they're going to have to fight and it's going to be a dogfight all night.
So I knew that with all my teammates, like everybody is going to go out with heart. Like we're not going to bend or fold, we're just going to keep on going, keep on going, no matter the adversity. When adversity hits, we're going to take care of it the right way. So I knew that, in crunch time, we'll be able to make the right decisions, and our coaches will make the right decisions. So I have trust in all my teammates and my coaches. Just confidence in myself and confidence in all my other teammates to make plays down the stretch. I think we have done that, and I'm glad we have the opportunity to play in the tournament to continue to play at that level.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you guys.
THE MODERATOR: Tim Craft, head coach Gardner-Webb University.
TIM CRAFT: It's great for our program to be here and represent Gardner-Webb University in the NCAA Tournament. As I was telling the guys from Westwood One back there, there's no one in our entire program, staff, our players, administrators that have been to the NCAA Tournament. So this is an exciting thing for every one of us. We're thrilled to be a part of it.
Q. Tim, if you would share what you will about kind of your plans for De'Andre Hunter, wanting Laster, Perez, where you see that matchup best for you?
TIM CRAFT: He's a monster to defend. He's so good inside and out, really versatile. Both of those guys will see him at times. We'll have other guys that will see him. We'll try to limit his ability to catch it close to the basket and then like give whoever's on him a lot of help, but he's a terrific player. We can't just guard him with one guy.
Q. Tim, what kind of confidence do you and your players derive from having already beaten two ACC squads this season?
TIM CRAFT: I think it helped us in our league certainly be confident in who we are as a team. I think it certainly helps our guys to know that we can beat a team that's from a power conference, which we had done in previous years, as well. In Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, no disrespect to those programs, but Virginia is a different animal for sure. They're the ACC champs. It's not a negative thing, it's certainly a positive thing that we won those games and can draw some confidence from those.
Q. Coach, do you think -- and I know you can't be in Tony Bennett's head or the UVA players' heads, but do you think they will be more focused or more inspired based on what happened to them last year in this round?
TIM CRAFT: Yeah, I would think potentially they would be, but I think they've done a great job kind of handling that whole thing throughout the year from the start of the year or when it was -- as soon as they lost a game, they did a great job of kind of putting that behind them and moving forward, and they've had a tremendous season.
I'm not sure whether they'll be more focused or less focused, but we know they're a great team, and it will be a challenge.
Q. Coach Craft, there have been so many firsts this year. A lot of people talk about coming in as a team the first time, jitters, nervousness. Being in this big moment, how would you deal with that? Obviously, you had the first ACC road win, first Big South Tournament finals, and then the Big South Tournament championship.
TIM CRAFT: Yeah, we have. We've done a lot of first things this year. First team to win 20 games at Gardner-Webb in the regular season, first team to be undefeated at home at Gardner-Webb. We've had a great year. We've been able to accomplish a lot of those first time things.
I think for us, the biggest thing is just our guys got to just play loose. They've just got to go out and play loose and free, and I'm going to try to really get them to just feel like, hey, let's go out and just have some fun. Let's go have some fun. We've got to be detailed in our plan, but offensively, I mean, we're going to be playing against one of the best defenses in the nation on a huge stage. Let's just go out and let it fly. I think that's got to be our guys' mindset in order to have success.
Q. Tim, I believe you're friendly with Coach Aldrich at Longwood. He was on the staff at UMBC. Did you hit him up for any advice on how to pull the upset?
TIM CRAFT: I did talk to them, not just about their plan for Virginia, but kind of their plan for the week and just how they helped their guys have the type of mindset they had coming into the game and what they did in practice and just kind of how they attacked shootaround. Just logistical things as well. But I did talk to Griff.
Q. What was the best advice he gave you?
TIM CRAFT: He said this, but a lot of people said this. It's just enjoy the moment, enjoy the experience. I just alluded to trying to -- just trying to play with confidence. Be attack minded and try to be loose and free. That's the approach we're going to try to take.
Q. Tim, a lot of people talk about Virginia's defense, but what concerns you about their offense, and how do you defend that?
TIM CRAFT: They've been so good defensively for so many years, and their defense is suffocating, but this year's team offensively, I think going into the tournament, they're like the No. 2 rated offense in KenPom efficiency. They really grind the clock down. They make you play for long periods of time. They're really sharp with their execution, whether they're running their mover blocker, pin downs and flares and constant motion and cutting and screening, and then they do it with really good players.
So they present a lot of challenges for you. I think Ty Jerome is the guy that kind of is the head of the snake in terms of can score, can facilitate, has got size, can make shots, can score it in the paint, and then obviously, you know, Hunter's had an amazing year and can do so many things for you, and then Guy that can make shots at such a high level. And the other thing that concerns me about them is their ability to offensive rebound. Their two big guys, whoever they have in -- and they rotate those post players, and they're all big, and they're all strong, and they crash the glass. That's been a little bit of a challenge for our team this year is defensive rebounding.
So trying to make them miss and be able to continue your stance to play late in the clock, get a great contest and make them miss and then limit them to one shot. All of it's a challenge.
Q. A lot of teams in your position just try to break it down into four-minute segments between the media time-out, and then you go and adjust from there. Is that kind of your approach tomorrow?
TIM CRAFT: Yeah, we kind of do that. I think a lot of teams do that, but we break the game up into what we call four-minute wars. We're trying to take each four minutes and trying to win that four minutes, try to focus on that four minutes when you're in that media time-out. But, yes, we do.
Q. So how much of your job tomorrow is psychological, and how much of it is Xs and Os?
TIM CRAFT: I think it's both. I think it's 100 percent both. I think it always is. It always is 100 percent both in every game. There's a different challenge you're facing from a psychological standpoint every time you go out there, and certainly with this one, I think it's to just enjoy it, seize the moment. I know we're going to play hard, but I want us to play really loose and attack minded offensively because I think that's -- you know, if we come out and play tight, we've got no shot.
Q. Coach, I asked your players what it meant to be an underdog and got some pretty good answers. I'm just curious, how has your team embraced the role of being an underdog while also rationalizing the fact that a Number 1 seed, as we saw last year, is not unbeatable?
TIM CRAFT: Sure, I think that's a familiar place that we've been in. Really, I think, since -- in my six years, we've been the underdog a lot. A lot of times we're not -- this year we were picked sixth in our league, came in as the 4 seed, won the tournament. Every year we play four to five road games against Power Five opponents. So we're certainly used to that role, and I think our guys enjoy embracing that role. We kind of took that mindset this season when we were picked sixth in the league that, hey, man, nobody's expecting us to do this. We've got a great team in this locker room, and every time-out kind of coming out with a chip on your shoulder and playing with an edge.
So sometimes that underdog role helps you play with that edge that you need to play well.
Q. You talked about talking to Coach Aldrich. How much have you mentioned the UMBC game to your team, and have you drawn anything from that?
TIM CRAFT: We haven't mentioned it much. They all know about the game, but we haven't talked about it a whole lot. Our conference tournament happens earlier than the rest. We won our league championship on the Sunday prior to Selection Sunday. We gave them two days off, and the first thing we did on Wednesday in our meeting was try to lock our guys in to, hey, we've achieved something great. Now let's focus on playing a game and getting ready to play well.
So we showed a lot of upset video clips, but really from the last 20 years, and we haven't really spent a lot of time on that specific one, but just, hey, anything can happen in this tournament. That's why this tournament is great. Let's get focused on preparing to play the best that we can play when the bracket comes out.
Q. Tim, you mentioned Ty Jerome is, quote, the head of the snake. Can you expound on that a little bit, especially what he does on the offensive end and creating angles and getting to places and his court vision?
TIM CRAFT: Sure, sure. He's just such a multi-dimensional player. He can play in pick-and-roll, or he's coming off those pin downs, down screens, where, like you said, just gets a little bit of an angle on a closeout. Now gets into the paint, can make jumpers in those midrange areas, can make floaters, can draw defense and dump it off to their post players for layups or spray it out to shooters for threes. Again, he does it in a lot of different ways. He can just do it on a pick-and-roll and a ball screen situation or coming off a screen off the ball or just beat you one-on-one sometimes from the top.
Then he's able to do that as well because his change of pace is so good and he's such a good shooter. So you've got to be tight to him, or he can shoot it from about 22, 23 feet at a high level. So he creates some problems for you defensively just from a one-on-one standpoint, but then in their actions with the pick-and-rolls and the down screens.
Q. You've talked about earlier that 6 seed in preseason pick. I sensed a quiet confidence out of you guys even back at Big South Media Day. How have you navigated that? And how special is it that you're finally here and we're not talking about it, you're actually doing it?
TIM CRAFT: It is really special. But, yeah, I do think our team has had a confidence just going into the season. We've got a really good mix of experience on our team and some really talented young players. Some of the guys that were up here -- D.J. Laster as a senior, David Efianayi, fifth year senior. Christian Turner is a junior point guard. Jaheam Cornwall is a sophomore point guard with a lot of experience that's been good for us. Eric Jamison is a fourth year redshirt junior, Justin Jenkins, a redshirt junior. So from the guys that are out front that have been real productive for us to our kind of role players that have just been great leaders in our locker room, all of that has really helped our team.
And then we've got a great freshman class, and Jose Perez has been the guy as a freshman that's been super productive for our team. So I think from the preseason, our guys really felt like that we had the makings of a team that could compete to win a championship in our league. But it's really special having a team that can do it and being able to accomplish it are two different things. We've had other teams that were talented enough to get here and lost in the semifinals three years. So it's hard to make it through that conference tournament. For this team to be able to play as well as they did, those three games in those four days, and be sitting here right now is certainly really special.
Q. I believe you're scoring 78 points per game. They're leading the nation in defense at 56 or whatever they've given up. Talk about tempo and will it make a big difference?
TIM CRAFT: They certainly want to play at a slower tempo. They're going to be really hard to get anything in transition on. They do such a good job in transition "D."
We certainly want to try to score in transition when we can. And then offensively, they're going to do a great job of controlling the tempo by a lot of times playing late in the clock.
So it's not a huge thing for our team. We're not a team that's emphasizing to playing really fast or, hey, we're playing really slow. Our tempo is pretty average. It's not a huge emphasis for us. I think the emphasis for us is, hey, we've got to be down in a stance sometimes for 28, 29, 30 seconds at a time defensively to get a stop because they're going to make you play two, three, four sides of the floor sometimes before they shoot the ball. We've just got to have great mental toughness in order to defend late in the clock.
But in terms of the amount of possessions and that, it's not a huge thing for us.
Q. Sticking with the 100 percent that's Xs and Os, you guys did not take the most threes in the league, but you had the best three-point percentage. The way they pack in the lane, how important will your three-point shooting be in this one?
TIM CRAFT: It's going to be really important, and you said it from our numbers. Offensively, we want to try to attack the paint on every possession, and we're trying to get paint touches every possession before we shoot. They make it real hard to do that with their defense. They make it really hard. Just their one-on-one "D" is so good, I think, on the ball, and they get in the gap so well and they're positioning so good. It's going to be hard to get into the paint.
So I think we've got to move the ball, we've got to cut, we've got to be patient, and we've just got to make simple plays so that, when we drive it and that help comes, we've just got to make the easy play and spray it and be ready to shoot for sure or be ready to attack the next closeout.
I do think making jump shots is important for our team to beat a team like Virginia, because they're really good, but also because the way they defend and how they pack their defense into the paint.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports