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March 28, 2019
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by LSU interim head coach Tony Benford, and then he will be followed by student-athletes Tremont Waters, Skylar Mays and Naz Reid. Coach, an opening statement?
COACH BENFORD: First of all, we're excited to obviously be in the Sweet 16. Our guys have worked hard all year to put ourselves in this position. I'm really pleased with the leadership we've gotten all year from Skylar Mays and Tremont Waters and those guys have kind of set the example through a lot of adversity that these guys have gone through all year.
So we're excited and we're looking forward to playing against a great Michigan State team led by a hall of fame coach in Coach Izzo looking. And we're looking forward to the challenge.
Q. You had mentioned a little bit last week, but how has your previous head coaching experience helped the past three weeks and in what ways? And when you also mention that the team had taken ownership, how have they taken ownership?
COACH BENFORD: Well, of course previous head coaching experience helps, when you've been a head coach. It's kind of tough in an adverse situation like this. But as far as managing a team and managing practices and coaches and players, I've been in that position and making in-game decisions.
So that previous experience has helped in that. And then I think when we have quality players like Tremont and Skylar and Naz Reid, they've taken ownership. I mentioned this before, they've helped keep one another accountable, too. And then on the floor during the in game, you've got a guy like Tremont and Sky, they're really good; they're like coaches out on the floor. They help myself and other coaches, for in-game stuff, making adjustments and everything.
Q. When you looked at your team before the season you thought this is a team that could get to this point, but obviously you've had so much adversity with Wayde and then with Coach Wade. What qualities aside from talent have helped you guys to fulfill your potential to this point?
COACH BENFORD: That's a good question. You can have good players but at some point there's got to be a buy-in factor, I think. And I think one thing about these guys we've got good character guys. They trust one another. They love one another. They respect one another. I think that helps.
And we felt like we had a chance to have a good team. Obviously one of our goals was to have -- we had a challenging non-conference schedule; we thought that would prepare us for conference. Once we got to conference we thought we would have an opportunity to compete for a championship.
And we got off to a great start. And I thought our guys really, probably some of those overtime games, close games we went through, they really bought into what we were teaching them in practice. For instance, we were working on a six-minute game, we get down in close games, what we have to do to finish games. I thought those guys really bought in to execution, and then defensively they bought in, hey, we've got to get stops and rebound the basketball and I think the guys, the buy-in factor has been huge for our guys, for our coaches.
Q. Coach, what's your favorite quality about Tremont? And what do you expect out of him facing a player like Cassius Winston tomorrow night?
COACH BENFORD: That's a great -- I think I think he's very competitive. Tremont is a gamer. I think the bigger the stage, I think you see him take his game to another level. And I think that's one of the things -- he's become a great leader. He's more vocal than he was last year. I thought -- and he might tell you this, when he put his name in the draft and went through some of the workouts, the pro workouts, I thought that was good for him.
He got a chance to get a lot of feedback from NBA guys on things he had to work on. I thought one of them was defensively he had to become a better defender. And he's proven that being co-defensive player of the year in our league. And being more vocal, more of a leader. And he's become more of a leader for us kind of an extension of our coaching staff on the floor. Those are great qualities to have as a point guard.
Q. You talked about how big the level, the bigger the game, the better he is. What do you expect out of him tomorrow night against a player like Winston, arguably the best point guard in the country?
COACH BENFORD: Tre's pretty good, too. It's not just going to be Tremont; we'll have different guys on Cassius. He's tremendous player, but we'll have different guys who will guard him.
Q. How would you describe Michigan State's big men? And how did playing Maryland and those guys maybe get you ready and how did they compare maybe?
COACH BENFORD: Physical, defensive linemen. They're pretty physical. They're good players. You look at start with Tillman, he's playing really well. He does a great job getting great position down there. Then they bring in Nick. Nick has had an injury, but he's really physical and strong. And those two guys there, they get position on you it's over.
We've got to do our work early in the post. We've got to get great help from the other guys.
And Goins is tough. Goins is a tough matchup. Michigan State remembers me a lot of Tennessee in our league as far as the balance that they have offensively and defensively. And I think a guy like Goins is a little bit like a Schofield, a pick and pop guy. Their bigs, they present a problem.
Q. Back to Tremont, this is a school in Georgetown where Tremont originally committed to. How fortunate do you feel as a program that he chose to go to LSU instead? And how important is he to getting as far as you guys have gotten on this journey?
COACH BENFORD: There's no doubt. We're very fortunate to have him. Tre, like I said he's an extension of our coaching staff out there. He's a great leader for our players. I'll tell you, I didn't bring this up, but I thought he did a great job in the summer with his workouts and in the weight room. He's changed his body since he's been with us, too. He'll tell you that he's really, I think on and off the floor he's really matured a lot.
Q. How much influence -- I know you guys talk with Will Wade a lot -- how much has he given you guys versus how much do you think you've taken control of this and running it yourself?
COACH BENFORD: Like I said, Coach texts with the players and texts with our coaching staff, but he's not here. We've had to take ownership. Coach Heiar, myself and Coach Armstrong, we have to implement the game plan and we're doing the game plan. That's what we have to continue to do.
All we're trying to do is give our guys the best chance to win. Like I say, nothing has changed as far as. Our routine, coach Heiar has the scout. He's done a great job preparing our guys for this Michigan State -- for the Michigan State game. And our guys will be prepared.
Q. Regardless of how you got here, are you having the time of your life in your coaching career?
COACH BENFORD: Well, that's a good question. I told our guys, have fun. All the adversity we've been through, enjoy the process. This is rare. You get to a Sweet 16, you can go your whole career -- a lot of coaches coaching never get to it, and a lot of players playing never get to it. I told them enjoy the moment. We'll just try to prepare you and get better every day. And when game time shows we'll be ready to compete.
Q. What about you personally?
COACH BENFORD: I'm enjoying it. I'm enjoying the opportunity to have this opportunity. But my focus is on the kids. That's where it's got to be. Of course my experience, I'm enjoying it but I'm going to make sure these guys are prepared.
Q. If you could just describe how you're using the adversity you and the players to as motivation?
COACH BENFORD: Good question. Obviously, guys, when you lose a teammate like these guys, a brother in Wayde, I mean these guys grew up with them, and Skylar is like a brother, grew up together. That's something you don't want anybody to go through. And these guys have dedicated the season to Wayde. Everything they do is about 44.
For instance, the other night we were playing Maryland there was a 44 on the scoreboard, and Tre just stopped the huddle and said, Coach, look what's on the scoreboard, guys. The guys got out and got more focused. We did it.
It's been about Wayde this entire year. And it will be. I told these guys, the rest of their life, they'll never forget Wayde Sims.
Q. When you look at Michigan State and they defend very well from inside the 3-point line and your team has struggled from outside the 3-point line, without revealing the game plan what's the challenge like when you're facing a team maybe their strengths match up with the weaknesses like that?
COACH BENFORD: One of the things with them, obviously outstanding coach in Coach Izzo, they're one of the best teams in the country in transition. They get their points in transition. We the have to do a good job in defense getting back and protecting the paint.
Conversely -- and then rebounding the ball, once we get stops. And conversely, we have to push the ball. We've got to try to get easy baskets. We're really good, we've got guards that can make plays. We're good in transition. We've got big guys who can score inside.
It's going to be a game of wills. We have to make sure that we have good execution on the half court. We can't turn over the ball over. Live ball turnovers, they feed off it. And we're pretty good on the offensive glass, so we have to a great job on the glass like we've been doing all season.
Q. You talk about Tremont being an extension of the coaching staff on the court. What goes into that, what do you allow them to do, how long is the leash?
COACH BENFORD: It's pretty long. It's pretty long. But one of the things I think is this: On the bench sometimes, when he's on the floor he's communicating with Coach Heiar and Coach Armstrong, sometimes myself. For instance, Coach Armstrong will call our defenses out. So he's gotta have constant contact with Coach Armstrong about what are we in. Are we picking up full court, are we calling fist, are we in -- we go 1-3-1, which we call 1. So he gets defensive calls from coach all the time.
And for plays, we give them the freedom to push it in transition. But if it's not there we want to pull it out and execute and run a set play. He does a good job of -- I'll communicate that to him -- but he has the option of calling that on his own.
Q. I understand you're not much of a sleeper. How are you sleeping these nights?
COACH BENFORD: Not much sleep. There's time to sleep after this. We want to keep this thing going. I don't need much sleep. I want to keep this thing going.
Q. A lot of teams, if they lost a player the way you lost a player right before the season began, the season would have been over right then. Why wasn't your season over? What enabled your guys to keep going?
COACH BENFORD: That's a really good question. I think this. Wayde, and these guys will tell you when they come up here, Wayde really set the tone with our guys along with Skylar and Kavell Bigby-Williams and Tre, with these new guys we have coming in, we have a lot of new talent coming in -- when we started in June, in the weight room, in our individual workouts, in our conditioning through boot camp, Wayde was at the front. He was leading these guys.
When some of these young guys, like Emmitt Williams or Naz, they were struggling getting through workouts, he would lead those guys, especially the big guys. Wayde set the tone early for our guys and our guys kind of fed off that. And they've kind of taken that.
And like I say, he was a brother to these guys and they really dedicated the season to him.
Q. LSU played Michigan State in 1979. I was wondering, you were a kid then. Did you watch the Michigan State-Indiana State game, the championship game that year?
COACH BENFORD: I did, watching Bird and Magic and those guys. Pretty good players. (Laughter).
Q. What else do you remember about that tournament on television?
COACH BENFORD: I mean, I think that was the one that got everything going, with what the tournament is today. When you look back on that, those guys obviously went on and they took the pro game to another level. And I thought those two guys are really the ones that kind of set the tone on what you see today in the NBA.
Q. What do you remember about when you were playing at Texas Tech? What are your greatest memories of playing?
COACH BENFORD: I remember my last --
Q. At the tournament.
COACH BENFORD: My tournament, my senior year we played Georgetown after they won the national championship. They had some great players -- David Wingate, Reggie Williams, Michael Jackson, Ralph Dalton. I remember all those guys. We played them in Dayton.
We played pretty well. They ended up beating us I think by three points in Dayton. I remember Coach Thompson. They were a really good group.
Q. Wondering how much you know about Shannon Foreman. He's guy in Baton Rouge, a mentor in Javonte's life. How much is he around your program and what do you know about him mentoring kids in the area?
COACH BENFORD: I've met Shannon. He's been, I don't know as far as mentoring. I know he's got a relationship with Javonte. That's all I know.
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by the LSU student-athletes Tremont Waters, Skylar Mays, and Naz Reid.
Q. Tremont, when you go up against a point guard like Cassius Winston, obviously that's kind of a marquee matchup here. What do you see out of him and what do you think you can attack well?
TREMONT WATERS: Obviously a great all-around player offensively and defensively, but watching film I just see that he's really good in transition. He controls the offense. He runs the team, and everything pretty much runs through him.
Q. Skylar, can you talk -- the other players as well -- how you've used the adversity as a motivating factor to get to this point?
SKYLAR MAYS: It started with Wayde in September, him passing away, and we have definitely used it as a driving force in what we've been able to do this season. And we give a lot of the credit in the wins we've had to him.
And obviously with what happened with Coach Wade, we just see it as an opportunity to prove ourselves when chips are down. So I think we've done a tremendous job of that. And it's going to continue to drive us as we move forward.
Q. Tremont, follow-up on Cassius Winston, and I think your coach referred to him -- he reminded him of Kemba Walker. Do you take a matchup like this personally? And do you feel you have some attributes, quickness and stuff like that, that you can use on him?
TREMONT WATERS: Obviously I take every game personal. It's a team sport, obviously. And I don't necessarily get into matchups and everything that goes into that. That's for everyone else to pretty much evaluate. I go in knowing that I have to run my team. It's about myself and my teammates and the coaching staff.
So, like you said, I heard Coach Benford. He's a great point guard. He controls the offense and everything. But my job is to go out and run my team and just pretty much do what I have to do to help us win. That's really it.
Q. You guys huddled together when the score reached 44- 44, and you have a huge performance late in the game. What was the emotional like? Can you share with us?
NAZ REID: We've been through like adverse moments before. I mean for the score to be 44-44, it was actually something Tremont pointed out. It was actually something that we all realized that it was time to go out and play our game and do the best we can.
And everything was for him and Coach Wade. They obviously both played a big part in what we do. Without them, like Sky said, we wouldn't be here right now. Getting through moments like that helps the team a lot.
Q. Tremont, Coach Benford just talked about you as an extension of the coaching staff. How do you take that when they talk about that? How much freedom have you gotten this year, maybe, not necessarily recently?
TREMONT WATERS: I would say -- I was sitting behind the curtains when he was talking. So I would say my leash is pretty long. They allow me to play my game, obviously, run the team. And they trust me with the ball in late-game situations. And they trust that I'm going to make the right reads for my teammates as well.
So just knowing that I have my teammates or they have confidence in me and my coaching staff have a ton of confidence in me, it makes me play a lot more relaxed, if that makes sense, because I'm able to play off instinct, make reads and pretty much run the show. So it's a very free-flowing offense, if I would say that. Yeah.
Q. Tremont, you were originally going to come to Georgetown you would have been in this building before. What ultimately made you make the decision to go to LSU. And as you sit in the NCAA Tournament how do you look back at that decision and your journey to get here?
TREMONT WATERS: Yes, I was committed to Georgetown, as you said. And the coaching staff was on edge about being fired or whatever. And they pretty much talked about that all season. So my parents and I, we kept noticing that they were talking about that. And then he actually got fired. So I just reeled my recruitment in. And Coach Wade sent me the picture and it fit.
Q. Skylar, you get a little freedom, too, probably, but is your leash a little bit slower? And how does Tremont do as a coach on the court?
SKYLAR MAYS: I think my leash is pretty long as well. Probably not as long as Tremont's. But as far as Tremont's game, Tremont runs the show for us. He's done a tremendous job all season. And he's just what makes us go on the offensive and defensive end. We've got his back. So pretty much everything he does and every shot he takes we think he's going to make. And we think he's going to make the right play all the time. So we just go as he goes and it's been working for us.
Q. What do you see on film out of Michigan State that you think, wow, this is really a strength for them and what do you see that, like, we can attack this and help us win?
NAZ REID: They're a team that can go. They play quick. They play fast, kind of like us. Their bigs are tough, physical. The guards, they get in the lane. They can score the ball. Shoot the ball. They can do a lot of things we can do. They're a great team. They're one of the best teams in the country, I would say. And we're just looking to go after them.
SKYLAR MAYS: Coaches have stressed transition a lot. They play really fast. So a big key for us is going to be getting back in transition defense. And hopefully we can try to make things tough on their guards and see what happens.
Q. Michigan State's obviously a little thin right now rotation-wise, about six deep. What kinds of things do you do to attack a team that's thin, whether it's getting out and running to try and wear them down or trying to get them in foul trouble?
TREMONT WATERS: This is pretty much out to the public because this is media, so we don't want to give our game schemes out. But as a team, we just continue to do what we do, push the ball and play our game, play in transition. We like to play free-flowing and pretty much play inside/out.
SKYLAR MAYS: Based on the film, they're going to play hard regardless. Those guys go out there and play as if they've got somebody who is going to give them some rest time. So they play really fast. And I don't think how much depth, per se, they have is going to affect how fast and how hard they play. We can't look at them having six guys playing as an advantage. They're going to give us a tough -- they're going to give us challenges in some areas, and we're going to try to do the same to them.
Q. Skylar, obviously it's well-documented, your season has been bookended by these two issues. What qualities about your team -- a lot of these guys you didn't know before the last year or so -- has allowed you to all live up to your potential to this point?
SKYLAR MAYS: You're talking about the issues as far as --
Q. How have you all gotten past all that to be the team that has gotten to this point to win the SEC, that sort of thing?
SKYLAR MAYS: Me, personally, I haven't gotten past what happened to Wayde. I'll never get past what happened to Wayde. I'm pretty sure I could say the same for all these guys. With Coach Wade, with what happened with Coach Wade, we'll have to just move forward because that's something that none of us can control. And we're out here to play basketball for the university. So at the end of the day the ball isn't going to stop bouncing for us whether he's on the court -- whether he's on the sideline or not. So we've used it to come together. And we're here.
Q. Naz, having this kind of senior year, the last couple of games -- you've got sort of this old school center game, is that a fair way to assess your game, how do you feel in with the modern game shooting the 3-pointers, spreading the court, things like that?
NAZ REID: I guess that's a way to put it. I mean, I kind of just look at my game as it is, like handling the ball and post moves, hook shots shooting 3s. It's something I work on. And it's kind of something that comes.
And, like, I'll relate it to the moderate game because a lot of bigs nowadays handle the ball, shoot the ball and pretty much do guard play. I mean, it isn't easy. For you to be able to do it at the size and the weight and things of that nature, people are surprised. But when you work on it consistently, it comes to you.
Q. Naz, you guys played a couple formidable bigs in Fernando and Smith from Maryland last week. But now you've had a longer layover before some other interesting front-court matchups this week. How do you and Kavell kind of approach playing down low? Would you say it's mostly a matter of game plan implementation or just going out there and seeing what happens?
NAZ REID: I mean, game plan of course and then just playing tough. Those two bigs -- they're really tough, they're strong. They're physical. They really get after it. So just playing tough, physical basketball. And just like I said before, doing what we do. They're going to get buckets and they're going to do what they do. So it's going to be all within the game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports