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March 19, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Ohio State student-athletes Aaron Craft and David Lighty. Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. I know you watched a little bit of George Mason yesterday. Just wondering what you thought of them while you were watching them, and I'm sure you've watched some film in the last 24 hours or so, just your impressions on the Patriots?
DAVID LIGHTY: They're a good team. They've got a little bit of everything. They've got guards who can shoot, guards who can penetrate, athletic bigs who can run the floor and rebound.
It's going to be a great matchup for us to come out, and look forward to executing and working on our game plan and getting it done.
AARON CRAFT: Piggybacking on what Dave said, they're a great team. The little bit we watched yesterday, I mean, they came back from being down 10 when we were watching. So it was kind of good to have that little view of them in person and also watching on film, like Dave said, they're a great team.
They have a little bit of everything. So we kind of have to execute our game plan, go over today and practice and go from there.
Q. Dave, I think you would have been a senior in high school when George Mason went to the Final Four. Aaron, I don't know what grade you were in.
DAVID LIGHTY: Sixth, probably.
Q. Just your memories of that. That was obviously pre-Butler making it to the Final Four. Just your memories of that and what you were thinking that some school named George Mason, which you may not have heard before then, was playing in the Final Four?
DAVID LIGHTY: Just watching them go through the run. And I think they played in Dayton where Ohio State was playing. So I remember watching Ohio State, of course, and, you know, their games are around the same time.
So I remember seeing them play, beating North Carolina, and making their run to the Final Four and just showing you that it's not about the name on your chest, it's about the players and the heart that they have.
And for them to go down and do that for their school and representing their school, they did something that hasn't been done since Butler, since Butler did it.
Q. Someone in George Mason's locker room asked Pearson can Ohio State be beaten. Did Thad Matta talk to you guys at all about that attitude or maybe that perception that you're unbeatable or that you need to be careful going up against a team like George Mason?
DAVID LIGHTY: Not at all. I mean, we've lost two games. So we're beatable. I mean, it's possible. It's just about us focusing on us. I think that's more of what Coach always tries to preach to us, just worry about what we control and what we can do and our effort and our tempo of the game that we have.
AARON CRAFT: I mean, we have lost twice this year. So it's not like we got to this point without losing. There's definitely some things we can get better at. It's not like we're a team that doesn't have any weaknesses or things like that.
Like Dave said, Coach more harps on things that we can have control over, our mindset before the games, our tempo, and trying to play, use our game plan to the best of its ability.
Q. David, you've been down this road before. How are you different? How have you grown from your first experience? And, Aaron, yesterday was your first game. It's out of the way. How will that affect you maybe in a positive way with tomorrow's game?
DAVID LIGHTY: I've grown a lot, kind of like you just said. That first game, for Aaron and I, it's out of the way. That means nothing now. So it's just about looking forward to tomorrow and how we can execute our game plan and our strategies of what the coaches come up with, try to get this win and move on to the next round.
So everything that happened before this pretty much means nothing.
AARON CRAFT: For me, it was a great experience. You always talk about March Madness growing up and thinking about it nine months ago I was filling out my own bracket and talking with my friends about it.
But I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to come into it with. I mean, playing yesterday, I was -- it kind of makes you realize -- it is a basketball game. There's a lot of hype and anticipation about it. But once you get on the court, there's nothing super special about it. All it is is a basketball game, and it comes down to executing your game plan just like all the other games throughout the season.
Q. David, you guys have won 33 games this year, you've seen all different styles of play like last night. And you have everybody like taking aim on you being No. 1. What's it been like this year playing under that kind of pressure, and how proud are you of the team for handling it?
DAVID LIGHTY: I'm very proud of the team for handling it, especially for the young guys. I think us older group of guys have kind of been through it before, especially going through seasons and seeing what it's like to go on the road and play in big places.
For the freshmen to come in with the maturity they have and for them to take hold of what we're telling them and to pretty much not be affected by what's going on around them and coming out, executing, and getting as many wins as we had this year, it's been great for us.
Q. Aaron, I just wanted to get your answer to that question about '06 George Mason. I think you probably would have been in eighth grade. Did you know who or what George Mason was at that time and what are your memories of that Final Four?
AARON CRAFT: I think everyone that was a basketball fan, even if you weren't, you heard about what they were doing. And I think it just kind of goes to show -- it has nothing to do with what's on your chest or what number's beside your name on the bracket; it has everything to do with your mindset.
And the team that they had, I mean, they had great players. They had great coaches. And I think that kind of just goes to show they kind of put everything, all the distractions out of the way, and they were able to do something that was pretty special.
Q. Kind of a double question for both of you. David, as you're coming down the stretch of your career here, do you find yourself being a little introspective, thinking back over everything you've been through and how it's almost over, obviously a lot more to accomplish, but how it's almost over now? And, Aaron, what have you learned from playing with him this past year?
DAVID LIGHTY: For me, I kind of did that yesterday, when I turned my last final in and I found out I was graduating. And, I mean, that kind of hits you hard, like it's really done now. There's no coming back after this. There's no sixth year that I can get and try to be a Buckeye again, even though I've been here forever.
So I kind of did that yesterday looking back on everything I've been through, and I wouldn't change it for the world. Being a Buckeye is a part of me and has made me who I am today. And, I mean, I just try to share my knowledge with the young guys, like Craft, and hope that they can be as successful going forward and doing what they're doing.
AARON CRAFT: I personally haven't learned too much from Dave. I'm just kidding. Dave, the stuff Dave's been through with the adversity with the injuries he's had and also going all the way back to his freshman year, the amount of information and just valuable knowledge that he's able to pass on is so valuable.
It's hard to describe in words. Whether it's on or off the court, I mean, he always has something that's helpful or can kind of have a twist on things that you might not look at it. And that's something that's awesome to see. And us freshmen are very lucky to have guys like Dave and Jon and Dallas as our leaders and our upperclassmen. Not many people get to walk into a situation like that.
I think they're just awesome and great that they've been willing to share the information they have with us.
And as freshmen, I think we've open it up and we've put ourselves aside that we can listen to them and we can trust what they say, and it's been awesome throughout the season to continue to learn from them.
Q. David, kind of along those lines, you were -- this could be your last game at Ohio. You kissed the O when you left the shot. I just wondered, are you a sentimental guy? Do you think you'll have anything like that happen?
DAVID LIGHTY: I'm not sure. I mean, if I would have played in the Q all five years, I probably would have. But, I mean, being here with my family and friends, they would have seen me, I think that's just emotional enough for me. Just for them to experience the ride that we're going through right now is a blessing for me.
Q. Dave, when did you know these freshmen were a special group and when did you start worrying about them?
DAVID LIGHTY: Stop worrying about them, probably after the Florida game, when I see how they handled everything that was going on. That's a hostile environment and a tough place to go down and get a win.
And for them to go out and pretty much put everything aside that was going on in the stands and everyone yelling and screaming at you, being against you, from then on I knew they were going to be okay. It's shown so far through the season.
Q. Since you guys are considered the defensive stoppers on this team, your two losses, E'Twaun Moore and Jordan Taylor kind of got hot and went off and you came up on the short end. You can't afford that in this tournament. Have you two guys taken it upon yourselves for this run that you're going to make, you hope to make, that, okay, if somebody gets going, either one of you will step up and make sure that that doesn't happen again?
DAVID LIGHTY: I would say personally we probably have done that. We haven't talked to each other about it or anything like that, but in our minds, both of us know that we are the defensive stoppers on the team. So I think we kind of take it as a personal challenge. Especially if someone's getting hot and scoring a lot of points on us, we think it's our job to go out there and disrupt them and make things as hectic as possible for them.
So it's a challenge and something that we hope doesn't happen. But if it does, I think we'll be ready.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for your time. We're joined now by Coach Thad Matta. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH MATTA: Well, I think that it's always good to be back for a second day of interviews. I felt like yesterday's game was a little bit of an odd game, unique game, with the holding of the ball.
But I thought our guys did a great job keeping the focus as we move forward. As we told our guys, every time you win in the NCAA Tournament, you're going to play a better basketball team.
And obviously George Mason's comeback last night against Villanova was incredible. I know their team has won 17 of their last 18 games in a great league with three teams in from the Colonial.
So I think our guys will be ready to play. They've had a great way about them. And we're excited.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. I just asked David and Aaron this. The two games that you lost this year, somebody on the other team got really, really hot and it seemed to be the difference. Have you as a coaching staff talked about that, or will you talk about that with David and Aaron, about making sure if someone seems to be getting on a little bit of a roll that you try and take that guy out of the game?
COACH MATTA: Honestly, we've talked about that with the entire team. And, I mean, that's something that we've probably since the Purdue game have talked with our guys about, you know, at some point when somebody gets going like that, you know, we've got to get it done.
I will give both Jordan and E'Twaun credit. I mean, the performances they had against us were spectacular. The shots that they made and that sort of thing.
But that's something that I think is resonating in our guys' minds. I know it is in our staff's minds.
Q. I know Butler is near and dear to your heart, but before Butler last year there was George Mason in '06. And, ironically enough, they came out of the Dayton pod. Having been a player at a, quote/unquote, mid major and a coach in that situation, what were you thinking as their run kept going? And did you think, like maybe everybody else, that this was eventually going to have to end and it didn't until it reached the Final Four?
COACH MATTA: I think that was -- watching them make the run the year -- we were actually in Dayton with them in '06. I remember they beat North Carolina in the second round.
Yeah, I don't recall exactly what my mindset was, but I think that it shows you this tournament's about momentum and gaining confidence and getting on a roll and playing great basketball for a period of time.
And as I was watching them do that, I remember two years prior, when I was at Xavier, we lost by three to go to the Final Four. And that team was rolling about as well as we could possibly play. And I think, quite honestly, that's all it takes. And then the matchups and getting the right teams, that sort of thing, I think plays a huge advantage as well.
Q. I know you said a month ago or whatever Lighty should have his own statue, but I'm curious, to get where you want to go, does he need to be -- what do you need out of him, I guess?
COACH MATTA: I think David needs to be who he is from the standpoint of I think over time he's proven just how valuable he is to our team, to our program, from both the offensive side of the basketball to the defensive side of the basketball, and really probably the biggest intangible that he has is just his ability to lead and find ways to win basketball games.
I don't know if he's up to 127, 128 career wins now in the scarlet and gray. And he knows how to win. And for him to -- just in the locker room or at a team meal or in a huddle, when he talks, guys listen.
Q. Along those same lines, did you expect him to take -- like when you've got a high-profile freshman like Jared, obviously, and Aaron, too, for that matter, what were you expecting Dave to be able to do this year with taking those guys under his wing, kind of?
COACH MATTA: Well, the one thing is Dave has been around a lot of high-profile freshmen in his time at Ohio State. It's funny, because I can remember telling the freshmen how confident I was of the leadership that the three seniors and William were going to give them when they got here.
I think anytime you spend as much time with your players, and obviously David now, five years, you build a relationship. You build a trust with a guy. Honestly, if David was sitting next to me, I think he could finish my sentences and I could probably finish his sentences.
And I think that's something that I love about him and just what he brings to the table. He's a tremendous kid. He's just a great person. But he's a winner. And that stuff, when you bring a group of guys in that are accustomed to winning like the freshmen were, I think it just becomes contagious throughout the team.
Q. George Mason might not be a team that your players are as familiar with as some of the other major programs. How much reinforcement -- even though this is the NCAA Tournament, how much reinforcement do you have to make to tell them that this is a challenge for them?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think there's a lot of factors that play into it. But just out of their league, we've got some guys on this team that have teammates that are -- high school teammates that are in that league. So I know they've got an appreciation.
One of the things that I thought was a disadvantage but was maybe an advantage was not knowing until Wednesday night who we were going to play this week.
You know, even as a staff our focus kind of went to George Mason and Villanova, as did -- I think our players were looking saying, heck, we don't know who we're going to play, but if we do win, we'll look ahead.
I think they got to see, I don't know, probably 18 minutes of yesterday's game, just them coming back into the locker room before we met as a team and hearing them talk about George Mason. They get it, they understand, and they know how good they are.
Q. What type of problems from what you as a coaching staff have been able to see on film do they possess? And Jim said that a couple of years ago they stopped by and asked you to practice at your facility. Did you go Bill Belichick on him and videotape that practice?
COACH MATTA: We did, and we made a lot of edits leading into this game from on that. No, I -- you know, the problems, I think they're kind of similar to us, they've got a lot of different guys that can do a lot of different things, from driving the ball to 3-point shooting to post-ups.
They've got a lot of trigger pullers within the course of their offense. They do a good job moving the basketball.
I think that's the big key is we have to -- you have to defend all five guys. And with a one-day prep, you've got to have a great understanding of what all five guys on the floor are capable of doing, because, as I said, they're multi-dimensional players.
Q. Lighty said it was the Florida game where he stopped worrying about the freshmen. Did the young guys prove themselves to you at that point as well, or did you notice something that made you a little more comfortable after that point?
COACH MATTA: Yes, Jared's 26 and 14 made me real comfortable on the flight home that night.
I think when you go on your first road game and you've got that many young guys, and just the magnitude that that game was played at of two top 10 teams, second game of the year, I was probably more engaged in how they were acting or, I don't know, behaving on the plane ride down, getting to the hotel, trying to study them in film, were they paying attention to game-day shoot-around, were they nervous in the locker room as we met before we went on the court. And everybody had a pretty good calm about them, and that was refreshing.
I didn't know how they were going to play as the game went on, and just to see the things that they did out there and the composure and maturity that they had, that was a pretty refreshing thing.
And I think two weeks later, going back to Florida State and watching them do it again, and things in the Florida State game didn't go particularly well for us at times, but we made big plays down the stretch to win the basketball game, and that was good.
Q. When Jim was in here, he mentioned about obviously that practice they had at your place, and he mentioned that he and Barry Collier were good friends who at one time had gone up to pick Dick Bennett's brain about some of his philosophies, and Jim said he was surprised to see Bennett's philosophy on one of the walls of your locker room. I wonder if you could share what part of Bennett's philosophy you maybe have tweaked that you like to have be a part of your own program?
COACH MATTA: Well, it was just the core values of the program. And when I took over -- I was fortunate enough to take over from Barry. We just kind of kept everything in check, and it's sort of moved to everywhere I've gone to.
Q. Could you talk about how your players have responded to the fact that every game there's a bull's eye on their back and that they've been successful even playing against different types of offensive styles, including last night?
COACH MATTA: I think I'm very proud of how they've responded all season long. I really believe -- I don't think we've had a game where as much hype or whatever term you want to use that's been placed on the game. I think our guys have always came ready to play.
And, you know, we've had some moments where maybe we didn't have the consistency that we wanted. But from a mental standpoint, I think that they've handled that very well.
And we talk about it all the time. And I tell guys, you know, you watch a team on tape, you watch them play four previous games, then when the game starts you're like, I haven't seen them play this well, as they're playing against us.
But I think our guys, as I tell them, cherish that, embrace it, and know that you're going to get a team's best shot. And I think they've done a very good job with that, which is, in my mind, a great sign of maturity.
Q. Jared was talking about the Game 5 years ago when you lost to Georgetown in Dayton and said J.J. was crying on the court and told him, you know, if you ever have a chance, if Ohio State offers you, the coaches here have done so much for me -- he wants him to go to Ohio State. And Jared made it sound like that's why he went to Ohio State. I'm curious if you remember that and how much influence you think J.J. had on him going here.
COACH MATTA: I think that J.J., James, as I called him, had a tremendous influence on Jared. And I know this: Jared really looks up to both James and Julius, his older brothers.
I think if you asked him the most influential people in his life, he'd probably say those guys. And I've always said this: The first couple of years there at Ohio State, from Brandon, Tony, Matt, to Matt, Terrance, James, Je'Kel, I'm personally indebted to those guys for what they did to help us build this program.
Watching James develop as a player, and I always go back to the first team meeting I ever had with those guys when I got the job in July, and the morale and the self-esteem was probably as low as I had ever seen in a room.
And building those guys up and getting them to believe, and for James to feel that way after playing for us, I'm extremely grateful to him for telling him that and even more grateful to Jared for listening.
Q. Could you talk about what Lighty means to this team, not just on the court, but his energy every day? A lot of the guys were saying that he's the guy that gets them up every day for practice.
COACH MATTA: I've said for a long time that David Lighty is probably the best practice player I've ever had in 11 years as a head coach. And it starts with his, as they said, energy.
He came running out at shoot-around yesterday at 8:00 -- 9:00 in the morning, whatever time we were here. And I think he was just screaming and yelling, saying, Let's go, let's go. And there were two guys, believe it or not, sitting in the top row and yelled "O-H," and he was standing at center court yelling "I-O" as loud as he could.
That's sort of who Dave is. I say to him every day: If I had 1/10 of your energy, I would be the happiest person in the world. And I only want 1/10 of it.
He's been that way from day one. We've had, in his five years -- we've practiced at damn near every hour of the day. And I don't care if it's 6:00 in the morning or 10:00 at night, he's the same guy.
And I think that the thing that I like is you look at David, and as our players have and all the games he's won and how valuable he's been to the program, you hope that becomes contagious.
And I know this: For me personally, David Lighty will probably be the most talked about player as we continue to build this program. And you get guys into your system and you talk to them about how we do things, David will be a great example every day.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about William Buford the last few days? Can you describe his maturation and what he's had to learn and what has been the biggest transformation?
COACH MATTA: I think with Will, you know, the biggest thing in my mind was just his understanding of the game and the way that he has learned to play with others.
He was one of those guys in high school that could score any conceivable way that was needed to. And I think the other thing is his understanding and appreciation on the defensive end of the floor.
I think that he's really taken to heart the ability to lock down and guard guys. And like I said two days ago, he's coming to the bench asking for the toughest assignment on the floor, and I love that about him.
Q. You as a coach -- we've talked to David how he's grown. Aaron, just from playing yesterday, what that meant to him. What have you learned from that championship game to where you are now? And maybe you said to yourself, all right, if I'm never back with a team that's close to this, I may do something differently. How have you grown since then?
COACH MATTA: I don't know how much time we've got to answer that question, how I've grown. But I think that -- one thing is when you go through a run like we went through, 35-4, you lose in the national championship game, I can still remember walking off that court that night and kind of stopping at the edge and saying, What just happened?
And you win, you're on to the next game. You win, you're on to the next game. You win, you're on to the next game. And you really don't ever appreciate anything.
I think one thing that I've learned is really trying to enjoy the moment with the guys. And this team has made it so easy because they're such great kids.
I think we've probably talked a little bit more about the NCAA Tournament than we did with other teams leading into this. But every day -- it's funny, there's no manual for coaching. A lot of times it's sort of on the fly of what's in your heart or in your gut to do.
Q. Can you talk about the balance you guys have as an offensive team, true point guard, shooters, inside presence, the advantage that has, and then how that was able to kind of manifest itself in the assist total that you guys had yesterday?
COACH MATTA: Yeah, I think that's one of the things I love about this team. And I say it all the time. I'll say it tomorrow right before tip-off, I don't know who is going to lead us in scoring, nor do I care. I like the fact that we've had, I think, seven different guys on this team lead us in scoring in the total of 34 games or 35 games, whatever we've played.
I love the fact that they do play unselfish and know the difference between a good shot and a great shot.
I think yesterday's game with the zone defense sort of dictated that it was going to be a high-assist game. There are some games where teams are going to force you to put it on the floor. We played last week in Indy and maybe had a game with five assists -- three assists and won the game. But that was a different makeup. I had a team a few years ago where we had I think it was 28 out of 29 assisted field goals. It was against Temple. John Chaney was coaching, and it was zone. So we had to move the basketball and make the extra pass.
So I just like the fact that our guys can identify what it's going to take to get the best shot possible.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports