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March 23, 2019

Nate Oats

Dontay Caruthers

CJ Massinburg

Nick Perkins

Tulsa, Oklahoma

THE MODERATOR: We'll go right to questions for the three gentlemen here.

Q. This is for Nick and CJ, what do you guys see that they do defensively that makes them so tough.
CJ MASSINBURG: It's really their defense, and, of course, it helps to have the type of athletes this they do, that they have, you know with the length that they have and the jumping ability. So, you beat the first line of defense, it's always going to be a second guy ready to challenge your shot or even block your shot, and also good at taking charges. Everybody on their team takes charges. So, that's one of the reasons they're good on defense.

NICK PERKINS: The charges and also they kind of force everything one way, which is kind of different than what we're used to seeing and I think -- yeah, that's what makes the defense so good.

Q. CJ, what stands out to you most about Jarrett Culver?
CJ MASSINBURG: We actually played on the same AAU team, but he's younger than me. He's a sophomore. Didn't really play with him, but we played for the same organization. He's just an overall scorer. He's a guy who can score at all three levels. He got the turn-around fade going. He's a really good athlete. If you don't put a body on him, he's susceptible to dump the ball on you and stuff like that.

I just try to fight him, play him tough, and he's a good player, but I'm also a good player and a good defender. We'll see what happens.

Q. Question for CJ, could you just walk me through your path from South Oak Cliff to Buffalo and was Tech or any of the other Big 12 teams in on you in terms of the recruiting process, what was that like for you?
CJ MASSINBURG: No. I didn't really get any Big 12 or any of those offers, any looks at all from that. Buffalo actually got me from a tip from a Louisiana Tech coach at the time. I was playing as an unsigned senior, so I was most likely going to go to the junior college route before Buffalo called me. They seen me play as an unsigned seniors. They liked my defense. They had seen my numbers, but they never -- they didn't really know that I could really shoot the ball like I can.

And then I got there, on my visit, had the -- still didn't have a scholarship. They called me up on a visit, but I still didn't have a scholarship at the time. So I had to work out and pretty much earn my scholarship then and there.

Q. Any of the players. Jeremy Harris who has been in double figures, I think 6 or 7 of the last games, what is it about this time of year that causes him to elevate his game? Does he prepare differently? Does he take these games a little more seriously, not that he doesn't take the game seriously, but what is it about Jeremy that brings him to another level in March?
DONTAY CARUTHERS: Well, as of right now, I'm staying with him, so like I just see how he really takes everything more seriously. I think now he's really out here having fun. He's not letting all the stuff and the crazy get to him about anything. He's the type of guy that can really get hot, and I think he's really just out here having fun.

NICK PERKINS: I would just say it's March. Big time players show up in March, and he's a big time player. He's been showing everybody what type of player he was in MAC conference. He stopped folks, what's going to happen after this. You're seeing him do that, and I think he's putting a little too much pressure on himself. He's been playing unbelievable.

Q. CJ and Dontay, kind of overlooked maybe how well Jayvon played in the last game. What have you two seen over last two, three months in his game, because he seems to be playing with a lot of confidence right now?
CJ MASSINBURG: Oh, yeah. I totally agree. Jayvon has been playing unbelievable basketball. Really been the X factor in most of these games. He's given us great defense, consistent outside shooting, athleticism, finishing on the break. He's getting those balls, getting steals. He's pretty much doing it all for us. And it's good to have a guy like that that's consistently bringing the same thing every night. You know what you'll get out of him. He's showing flashes of his greatness for years to come what he's capable of.

DONTAY CARUTHERS: Yeah, just add on. CJ pretty much touched on everything. He's starting to really see like the stuff that he can do with his size. He's a big six-three, six-four, physical guard. Can shoot it. That's pretty tough at this level, and you know Jayvon is the type of guy that takes pride in everything. And his defense picked up tremendously, and that's one thing that our coaches been loving as of right now and of course his shooting.

Q. For Nick and CJ. First off, is Texas Tech defense the best defense that you guys have probably seen this season? And to follow-up on that, do you guys get up more knowing that it's one of the best offenses in the nation against one of the best defenses in the nation, you want to prove yourself against a group like that?
NICK PERKINS: Yeah, definitely. Texas Tech, their defense is really good. I don't want to say it's the best defense we played all year, because we haven't actually played against it so we don't really know. Other teams match up differently depending on who you're playing.

It's going to be good. They do some things different. I don't think they played anybody like us all year. Big 12 is a little different with the matchup. Teams play a little slower. I think the two teams that beat them this year in conference play played a little faster. It's will be good to see how they matchup. It's going to be a good game.

CJ MASSINBURG: Yeah. I really agree with Nick. I mean, you can go off analytics and things like that, but we don't actually know until we play how good that defense is. But I don't know the exact numbers, but we might be top 30 in the nation in both offense and defense, so we feel like we're a force to be reckoned with, too. Yeah.

Q. Nick and CJ, you played teams with a lot of length before, sometimes that you've struggled. When you go up against a team that's top 15 in the country in blocking shots, do you have to not worry if a shot gets blocked or do you have to fight the urge to want to change the way you shoot, worrying about there being somebody in your way like that?
NICK PERKINS: That's a good question. I think it's just you got to go out there, you know. I mean, shoot the ones you can shoot and pass the ones you can't. You can get a little ahead of yourself when you start guessing if he's going to block. If you can make the shot, shoot it. If you can't, pass it out. I think that's where take you that route.

CJ MASSINBURG: You pretty much can't really overthink it. Because you know that they have shot blockers. Usually the shot blocking comes from the help side. So if you beat your guy and the giant 7-footer come over and try to contest your shot, then he obviously left his guy so you can try to hit him or the next rotation. Just play free, you know, and yeah, just play free.

Q. Dontay, CJ mentioned the fact you guys are such a great defensive team. What do you guys need to do to slow down Jarrett Culver and what are some of the other players you guys know you need to stop as well?
DONTAY CARUTHERS: Well, it's not just Culver. Those guys are a great team. They got five guys in the rotation, not just one guy out there playing basketball. They got a great point guard, shooting almost 55, 60 percent from 3. We got the key on our guy. Culver is a big piece of them, and that's something that our main guys are going to have to be ready for. I mean, we're going to do what we do.

THE MODERATOR: Anything else for the Bulls of Buffalo?

All right. Gentlemen, thank you very much. You're excused.

Head coach of Buffalo is here, Nate Oats. We're going to ask him to start off with a statement about the day in between games and then we'll go to questions.

Nate, please.

NATE OATS: I mean, it's a little bit better than last year. Last year we had the night game and very quick turnaround. At least we get to play in the afternoon and got our legs in condition and got to watch some video with the evening to prepare for it. So, then we don't play until 5:00 tomorrow. So we have a little bit more time in between games than last year.

I think our guys are a little bit more mature. Last year we really excited to get the first win in school history in the NCAA Tournament. This year -- we've already won last year, we're expected to win, we're the favorite team. I think our guys are a little bit more locked in, which we're going to need to be because Texas Tech is unbelievably good. We've got our hands full.

We've got a mature group. I really like our group and I think they're pretty locked in. Hopefully, our bodies are rested enough and play with a lot of energy tomorrow.

Q. Coach, I know you can't really assess since you haven't been on the court -- players mentioned that. Just looking at the tape, do you think this is the best defense that you guys will face this season?
NATE OATS: The numbers say so. I always go to Kenpom and try to pull the analytics up. Number one by their defensive efficiency. They're supposed to be the best in the country. I did that before I even looked at the film. Then get to the film and figure out why they're number one.

We take pride in our defense, too. We were a lot better this year than last year. That's a big difference in the amount of wins we got this year versus last year, even though we were really good last year. We pride ourselves in taking charges. Texas Tech probably takes more than we do. We pride ourselves diving on the floor for loose balls. I see them doing all the same stuff.

They got better rim protection than we probably have with some more athletic bigs inside. They do it a little bit different than we do schematic-wise. They're better. Shoot, I mean our guys, we've got some seniors that really pride themselves on defense, too. It's going to be a good game between two tough, hard-nosed, hard-playing teams, in my opinion.

Q. Coach, from your perspective, how much does it help to have those senior leaders, as you kind of mentioned, going into this that have kind of gone through the games last year and kind of {yearning} to get back even farther this year?
NATE OATS: I think it's huge. I think that's part of the reason that we were so good this year. We've got five seniors. Typically we've been more experienced than the teams we played.

Now coming into tomorrow's game, you look at Texas Tech's roster they have three seniors in their starting lineup. Two are fifth-year seniors. The sophomore they've got supposed to be a lottery pick. And then the other -- Moretti is shooting 55 percent from 3.

They're pretty good. Their experience is at the same level as ours. They play hard and blue collar like we are. Lot of the same attributes. That's the reason they were so good this year in the Big 12. It's been crucial for us. Our guys can get locked into a scouting report with a much higher level at the level that we have.

Q. In the NCAA Tournament, you may be playing a team you may not have seen before. Have you seen Texas Tech before? Have you kind of crossed paths with Coach Beard at all throughout your career?
NATE OATS: There's kind of two aspects. First off, I have not. I just met him for the first time in the hallway, great guy. Friends of mine are friends of his, as is the case in this profession sometimes. I will say this, I've respected him from afar for a long time.

I'm a junkie, he's a junkie. He's coaching out of his car six, seven years ago, some semi pro ball, whatever it is, to stay in the business, and now all of a sudden, the next thing you know, he gets a D2 job. Arkansas-Little Rock, bang, bang, bang. Next thing you know, he's one of the best coaches in the country. From a guy who was a high school coach six years ago and a guy really respects guys who maybe took a non-traditional route to get where they're at, I got a ton of respect for him.

As far as watching them, I'm a big analytics guy. Midway through the year, I went and looked at the best defenses in the country and pulled a bunch of film on them. Them and Michigan and maybe Gonzaga were the three I could pulled to see if I could steal some ideas of what they're doing that we're not doing.

I took a pretty good look at them a few months ago not having any idea we would have to play them. I don't know if that helped at all are or not. Lot of what I saw is they've got some great rim protection and send the ball right there. He obviously uses his personnel really well, and we don't really have the same type of personnel he does with regards to that. I did pick up a few things from their defense.

Q. Nate, what is it that they do in particular defensively that makes them so good?
NATE OATS: I think the best thing they do is they're just tough and physical and hard-nosed. Schematic-wise, they don't let you get to your stuff. They get the ball to a side. They keep it to the side. Their help defense is better than anybody in the country. When they come to help, they're coming and coming aggressive and trying the steal the ball.

Look, if you put your head down on a drive, you're going to get a charge. They take charges better than anybody in the country. If you come and you're soft going to the rim, they're going to block your shot. So you're either getting a charge or getting shot blocked.

We got to be really smart on our drives. We can't overdrive. We got the make sure we've got our spacing exactly right with guys where they're supposed to be. And I mean, our offense we played against some pretty good defenses. Different ones. I mean, Syracuse's zone was great and figured it out. Our offense is pretty good.

I went through all the Big 12 numbers and analytics. Nobody in the Big 12 plays quite as fast as we do. Hopefully we can get out in transition a little bit. Our defense going to have to be elite in order to do that. It's hard to run off makes. It's a lot easier running off stops and rebounds and turnovers. Our defense will have to be elite, which will help our offense in turn.

Q. Jeremy Harris, he's seems really elevated his game over last few weeks. He went through a slump earlier this season, not a slump but a lull. What did he do to break out of it and like catch fire over last few weeks?
NATE OATS: Turned from February to March. Jeremy shows up in March. Look at last year. Everybody said he was in a slump last year and all of a sudden it was okay. For whatever reason, he turns it up. Me and him talk. I personally took him through workouts for like a week and rebounded for him and spent a lot of time with him. After like a week, I said to him, "There's nothing wrong with your shot, like they're all going in."

He goes, "I know."

"Then just shoot the ball. What are you doing? Quit being passive and be aggressive."

And I think that was down in Ohio, the shoot-around the night before the game at Ohio.

You know, kind of sensed and March came and he picked it up. The other thing he's been doing well, he won the hardhat award last game. I tell our guys, "Lose yourself in the game, rebound, get deflections, take charges, just do all the dirty, grimy work that people don't necessarily think about," all of a sudden, you just lose yourself in a game and your offense comes.

We kind of do a correlation. When you win the hardhat, you frequently also lead us in scoring. Jeremy won the hardhat last night and led us in scoring with 21. Nick Perkins had the highest plus minus and did that. When they're both really active doing the other stuff, the offense follows.

I think he's also just gotten to the point where the more he thought about his shot, the worse it got. Quit thinking about your shot. Just if you're open, shoot it, be aggressive, think about making winning plays in every other area of the game and your offense will come.

Q. Coach, I think maybe it was overlooked by some people that how well Jayvon played in the last game and kind of how well he's played last couple of months. Where have you seen him grow since maybe the midway point of season and where is his confidence level right now?
NATE OATS: As high as it's been since he's been in college. Getting a little bit the same with Jeremy. He's started to pick up his defense over the last month and a half and the offense followed. We put him on, Dort which is tough matchup. Dort is arguably their best player. Until Jeremy had that kind of weird unfortunate bad turnover where Dort hit the 3 off it, until he hit the 3, Dort only had 7 for the game. So he had 4 points. I don't think he had one, Jayvon. I don't think Jayvon gave him a bucket.

So for Jayvon to do the job he did on Dort speaks volumes to where he's come since the beginning of this year. And we've got to I think elite level defenders in Caruthers and Jordan. Caruthers is defensive player of the year and Jordan is right there with him. He'd be an odds-on favorite to win defensive player of the year in our league next year because he was right there with Caruthers all year this year.

When you add in Jayvon, that gives us a pretty lethal backcourt as far as our defensive weapons go and then Massinburg is pretty good himself getting locked in.

That's really to me where Jayvon has picked it up on the defense. You were at a lot of our games. He won us some games on his offensive rebounding because he's playing so hard, playing the right way, and for him to be a sophomore doing that, he's got huge upside here in this program.

Q. Nate, I think a lot of athletic departments have their own mental skills coach or guy, but maybe not as many basketball programs have their own specific coach helping them out in that regard. Can you explain your decision to bring in Arnie and how he's helped you guys?
NATE OATS: I kind of got to know him in the community a little bit through different things. And he kind of broached it with me, like "I think I can help you." That was not last year, the year before. I'm always open to getting help. I really think if you go back 20 years, I think the strength and conditioning coach was like some programs had it, some didn't. Now everybody in the country has it. You don't have one, you're not competing at the highest level, not a Division 1 program, really. I think that's the next step.

It's so important to me. As a high school guy, you're always thinking of different ways you can reach them mentally to not necessarily just motivate them, but just get their minds right. I think as a coach it's my job to help grow these men into the young men you send into society. The better character young men you have, the better your team is going to be.

If you do it for the sole purpose of winning games, it's all wrong. You do it because it's the right thing to do. It's my job as a coach to help these -- we get them as young men or boys coming out of high school, and when we get done with them, they're supposed to go into society. They're men now on their own. Not going back home to mommy.

To have a character coach, a mental skills coach, that can do all types of different things. And Arnie has got a -- he's a licensed psychotherapist counselor. He's able to do one-on-one sessions when we need it. He's been great with the team. We did it part-time three years ago -- or not last year, the year before, and then that summer he said, "I either want to be all in or" -- he's kind of all in or not.

We sat down and came up with -- we developed a little culture playbook with him and other staff. We instituted that summer. He came in twice a week during the year, meets with the team once a week, comes in another day, does individual meetings if guys need him or just observes a practice and there to bounce ideas off. Last summer we did a whole summer retreat. It's been really good. Our guys like it. They respect him. The fact that he's a licensed therapist, he's not -- by law, he's not able to share with me some of the stuff the guys share with him.

They've got a guy they can go to when they have off-the-court issues that's trained on how to do it and help them work through them and knowing that I'm -- coaches aren't necessarily going to get all the information. He's not allowed to share it all with me. He's been great. I think it's been really helpful. I think a lot of programs are going to start to go that direction in the future.

Q. Your ball pressure, Dontay, Davonta, having two guys like that, how valuable is it and how much of a factor has that been in your team's defensive success?
NATE OATS: Huge. It was big last year with the Arizona win. They wanted to get the ball into Ayton and Ristic. Ball pressure makes that really hard in front of the post, back side with all the pressure. They can't pinpoint passes. Yesterday Arizona State, we had a size disadvantage inside. Again, the harder we pressure the ball, the more harder it is to get the ball in the post to make us pay for the size.

We can stay with Jeremy at the 4 because our guards pressure the ball so hard and really help him out guarding another big and that big can't guard Jeremy on the other end. So those guards know it. Jeremy knows it. They all work together. These guys love each other. They really love helping each other out. That way these guards know our bigs maybe are outmatched at times and need some help and that ball pressure gives it. The other thing it does it forces turnovers. We get a deflection. The ball is dead and pick it up. All of a sudden everybody is blowing handoffs off. Remy Martin had a hard time getting the ball back to run their offense like they wanted to do. So it took them out of sync. We're going to have to try to do some of the same. It will be a little bit harder. Mooney is so big and strong and Moretti is really smart. It's who we are.

We have five non-negotiables. Number one is ball pressure. If we're not pressuring the ball in practice, we call it game over. Game over, get on the end line, run your sprint. You lost the game. This isn't something we turn up for the NCAA Tournament. This is who we are through the course of the year.

THE MODERATOR: Anything else for the head coach?

All right. Nate, thank you very much. Best of luck.

NATE OATS: Thank you. Appreciate it.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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