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March 20, 2011
Ohio State – 98
George Mason - 66
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Ohio State head coach Thad Matta and student-athletes David Lighty, Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft. We'll start with an opening statement from Coach Matta.
COACH MATTA: Well, obviously very proud of the way we played. I think that getting down the way we did to start the game, you know, we sort of snapped out of it, started defending, got some stops, and offensively we were making shots. We were moving the ball very well, and I thought we had a great pace to what we were trying to do.
For Dave, 7 for 7, you know, in Cleveland, this city's been great to us here this past weekend, and we're very excited to be moving on.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Aaron, can you explain, some of the guys were talking about your commitment to defense. Will was even talking about how you guys play in open gym and you were d-ing him up. Can you explain how you came to that? It's not common for a freshman to be so committed to guarding like that.
AARON CRAFT: I don't have a quick answer for you. I've always just enjoyed doing it, even in AAU, I always had to guard, quote/unquote, the team's best player. It's something I've enjoyed doing. It's something I've grown into.
It's been my role on just about every team I've played and that's how I can contribute to the team the best. And so I think that's one of the reasons why I look to it so much. I haven't taken that position from Dave yet, I don't think. But I'm learning from him and I'm enjoying the process.
Q. David, can you describe your exit there? Looked like a pretty emotional exit like you were hugging your mother and grandmother and everybody else in the crowd. Can you just describe what was going on there and who you all saw as you left the court?
DAVID LIGHTY: Just my family and friends. And, I mean, just being here in Cleveland, playing in front of them, it being graduation day, and you never know, I might not be able to come back and play in front of them.
So just for them to experience this moment with me is something that's always going to be close to my heart. And I just pretty much tried to console them and tell them how thankful I am of them.
Q. David, you've been around this program for a long time. I wondered if you've ever -- 15 assists, 16 3s, you've seen a lot of explosions. Have you ever seen one like this?
DAVID LIGHTY: I've seen a lot of them, especially last year. We have 24-point runs. 22-point runs. But, I mean, every time I looked up everybody was hitting a jumper or a 3 or something. Like Coach said, just our speed and pace and us sharing the ball, especially with Craft having 15 assists, it's unbelievable.
Q. Jared and Dave, a performance like this, Jared, do you think the rest of the tournament the teams left are taking note of how you guys played today?
JARED SULLINGER: I'm pretty sure they are. I mean, it's kind of hard to guard this basketball team with so many weapons we have. I don't know what you do to take notes on how to guard us with so many weapons. So that's on them.
DAVID LIGHTY: I would say so. Kind of what Jared said, just so many weapons on our team. And everyone was clicking on high cylinders tonight. And when that's happening, it's pretty hard to beat us.
But I think Will stepped up last game and kind of got us going, and I kind of took over that role this game. So it's never one person that you can really key on to try to stop.
Q. David and Jared, you're down 11-2, Aaron comes in and you outscore him I think 50 to 15. The energy that he brings, can you just talk about how that affects you guys, whether you're down, there's a lull, or you guys are playing well, but what he brings in?
DAVID LIGHTY: I mean, just him having his mindset that he has a freshman, to be committed to defense is something that's rare, like you guys said. It's kind of the mindset I had coming in. So I kind of know what he's going through.
But him just putting pressure on the ball and disrupting the team's offensive flow just picks us all up that much more on the defensive end. I think when our defense is clicking, our offense kind of goes with it and that's pretty much what happened today.
Q. The two assists you threw out at 15 -- I hope you remember these two -- the one you threw cross-court to Jared from the double-team and the one on your butt, can you explain how you were able to manufacture those two plays?
AARON CRAFT: The first one to Sully. He can catch the ball, so I just had to put it in an area where he could grab it. The guy guarding Dave was in between. So I took a chance and threw it to Sully, and he was able to catch it and finish it for me.
The second one, I was upset I lost the ball in the first place. So I happened to see Jon's guy come off and try to get it, and I happened to get it to him. And just like most of the assists today, I mean, they knocked down 3s for me and that's basically how it happened.
Q. You mentioned graduation day and what that meant. You guys had a little thing out on the court when the arena was still empty. Can you tell us a little bit about that and just the emotions of -- can you imagine a better day than you had today?
DAVID LIGHTY: Not at all. Coach always would tell us, you know, once you get that diploma, it's no greater feeling than having it in your hand. And you listen to him and hear him and like, okay, but when it actually happens, I mean, you find out that he was right.
Going through the whole five years of me being here and actually graduating is something that no one can ever take away from you, and then to allow us to have our little graduation ceremony here in Cleveland on the court was special, since we couldn't be down in Columbus.
Q. David, Dallas said that a lot of fans were talking to you guys when you came out, Do you remember this at Solon? Do you remember this at VASJ? For you was it football, basketball? Was it at Ohio State or high school or AAU or what?
DAVID LIGHTY: A little bit of everything, pretty much. I think just being back here and seeing old faces, family and friends, just kind of got you back in the high school mode, I guess.
And I was a scorer in high school, so it kind of came up today. And I think it was a good thing for us just to be back here in front of our friends.
Q. You were also making everything. Does that always --
DAVID LIGHTY: Well, Coach told me earlier this morning to save a couple for the game. And I guess I took hold of that and just did it.
Q. Had you played in this building in high school a bunch of times, a couple of times? And can you talk about whether you felt like they were leaving you open or not paying as much attention to you because maybe they wanted to double Jared or why you found the room you found?
DAVID LIGHTY: I might have played in here once or twice, I believe. That's probably about it. I've came to games a lot of times.
But as far as being open, my teammates did a good job of finding me. Like Jared said earlier, we have so many weapons, the defense pretty much has to pick their poison. And they did kind of play off sometimes and they did spot me and gave me room to knock down shots. I think I did a good job of getting my feet set and following through and making the shot.
Q. Aaron, you were on the bench when the team got off to a sluggish start. What were you thinking? Did it make you more determined to make an impact when you got in?
AARON CRAFT: It didn't really change how the other games have gone for me coming into the game when I do. Anytime I get in, I try to give us any lift I can, whether it's playing defense or finding the open guy.
I think our run was more predicated on Dave. He started knocking down shots for us and we started playing, getting back to our game plan.
So it wasn't any different than any other game; I was just excited to get in and play my role.
Q. David or Jared, the first few minutes of the game was played at probably a faster pace than you guys have seen in a few months. Did it take a few minutes to get adjusted to that?
JARED SULLINGER: Not really. We kind of do that in practice a lot. So our second team really pushes the pace in practice. So we're kind of used to that. But it did kind of throw us on our heels, though. So it was a good game plan by George Mason.
Q. Jared, at 11 to 2 I heard you say to Pearson it's over. Was it something that he said to you or was it how physical they were being inside?
JARED SULLINGER: That was -- it was a heated battle. And I say a lot of things that I can't recall what I said. So, I mean, it was going into the heat of battle, and they was talking and we was talking. So, I mean, it was a good basketball game. So it was very physical.
It was a game that most players would love to play in because of the way how everything was reacting.
Q. David, for you, how does this year's team feel different heading into the Sweet 16 as opposed to last year's team?
DAVID LIGHTY: Maybe just our confidence that we have and our mindset. I think each year from the seniors, I think we've grown from Dallas's and Jon's freshman year going to NIT and winning it to the next year, going to the first round, to the next year going to the Sweet 16, I think we've learned from those things that we've accomplished and how to overcome them.
So just our mindset and us focusing on passing where we did last year.
Q. I know you guys played Cleveland State here. Would the other games have been like a regional or something in high school?
DAVID LIGHTY: Yeah, pretty much.
Q. Is there anything about the arena that seemed like you guys loved shooting here?
DAVID LIGHTY: It feels like home. It feels just like the Schott, pretty much. The look of it. The feel of it. It's just pretty much like the Schott. Maybe it's a little more darker, I think that's probably the only thing. But they got us on the big stage and it's Cleveland, so want to do good at home.
Q. Jared, you guys have the big win at home against Purdue this year. Big game at home against Wisconsin. Have you had games where you left the game thinking that's the best we've played this year? And, if so, where does a game like today fit into that? Does this feel like this is one of the best games you've played in terms of everything clicking?
JARED SULLINGER: Kind of, but we can play better. We got another game on Friday with Kentucky, so we're focused on that. So we're trying to take this momentum from this game and carry it on to the next.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Congratulations. Questions for Coach.
Q. Yesterday Jared was talking about seeing the Villanova guys leave just dejected and really disappointed and David talked about playing in front of family and friends for the last time. How do those feelings kind of manifest themselves in this team, in I guess the sense of urgency and just the way they play?
COACH MATTA: Well, there's so many factors, I think, that go into it. You know, I think these guys have a heightened awareness, obviously, if you don't play well and you lose, the season's over.
I think that's one of the things that we have talked with them about. Just from the standpoint, as we started this tournament, you know you're sitting at 34 and 2. Things have gone really, really well. And, as I've said, I feel like with this team it's October 15th.
I mean, it's just how much we enjoy being around each other. So part of me in the back of my mind I want them thinking about, you know, there is a heightened awareness.
I don't want them to ever play scared. And that was the message the first time out of we didn't come up here to play like this.
And I think that's the thing that this team has done. If you spent a day with us, I think you'd have a real appreciation for just how close they are and how much it means, the success of this team means to everybody.
Q. You've talked about how much you admire Dave and everything. Can you just talk about him having a day like this, graduating, in Cleveland, 7 for 7 from 3. It's got to be pretty special and fitting for a kid like that.
COACH MATTA: It is. And, like I said, it's hard to explain if you don't know the program. But seven years here, and Dave being with us for five of them, you know, just everything that he's been through, that he's seen, to come home to Cleveland, that's obviously a bonus.
I'm just excited to see him play. You go back to his freshman year, I remember he made a 3 at North Carolina, then he went like three months without making one. And for me to see the progression that he's made as a player, and I'm just excited for him, the fact that he's earned his degree. He's a college graduate now. I said -- they were asking for their per diem because we're on spring break next week, and I told them, Look, now that you're graduates you give money back to the university (laughter). So we'll see how that goes over this week.
Q. Kind of piggybacking off the first question, we saw some guys joking around in the locker room yesterday and juggling, playing tic-tac-toe, things like that. What does that do as you deal with the stresses of playing in a tournament? Do you like having a team that loose and do you ever worry it's too loose?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think it all depends on who it is, if I see somebody that hasn't been doing it all year or whatever. But one of the things we've talked about with our guys, and it's funny because when you're in this tournament, you know, you can't help but you can become consumed with it.
And as I told them today, this morning at shoot-around, we don't have to be better than Kentucky today, we don't have to be better than Kansas today, we don't have to be better than Duke today; we've got to be better than George Mason.
And I think one thing I've learned over time is there's so much hype, there's so much pressure, it's like you can have a tendency to forget what got you here.
And I want our guys focused on who they are as people. And if juggling is one of the things, I mean, there's a couple of guys we want them doing it, trying to get their hand-eye coordination a little bit better, so we were excited to see them doing it. As you noticed, those oranges were going all over the floor, so we've got work to do.
Q. The two teams that are already in Newark,
Carolina, Kentucky, you guys and a Big East team out there, have you thought about it's a quality Final Four lineup? Have you thought about the test that's going to provide for you guys over the next week or so?
COACH MATTA: To be honest with you, I haven't. One thing I always want our guys to do, because I like to do it myself, because after a game I want to enjoy it because they're hard to come by.
As we told them, we know we play Kentucky next, and obviously with either Marquette or Syracuse and North Carolina, the way they're playing right now, that's going to be a very, very challenging region. We'll get home tonight and get ourselves prepared for Friday's game.
But for the time being, we're going to enjoy the ride down 71 and then we'll pick up when we get there.
Q. Same question I put to Dave. Not only maybe in your seven years here but your 11 years as a head coach, I know you had 18 3s at LSU your first year, but I think you had to go two overtimes for that. Have you ever seen anything like this from a team you've coached?
COACH MATTA: Yeah. Diebler at Penn State. That game, the Wisconsin game where he made 14 in a row. For Dave specifically -- I remember telling you last year I told Dave, I said, If you shoot 40 percent from 3, we've got a chance to have a hell of a basketball team.
To his credit, he worked on it. I'll still say as crazy as it sounds, one of the best things that helped David's shot this year was when he broke his foot again this summer. He'd sit in a chair and shoot. And I think that took some of his -- remember, we used to have to schedule teams that had a high ceiling when he first got to Ohio State because the ball went so high.
But to see him play like that, you know, that goes down -- and I think just the whole in Cleveland, graduation, you know, as close as David and I are, I couldn't be happier or proud of him.
Q. 11 to 2, you're down. Jared had the charge on him. Were you channelling your inner Aaron Craft running up and down the sidelines yelling at the officials to try and get your team fired up, and then did you think, wait, let me just put Aaron in the game, and they went on a 50 to 15 run?
COACH MATTA: I was contemplating taking a timeout, and I honestly was saying I'm going to let us play our way out of this. I knew we needed to get Aaron in just by the way that they got the baskets. But also I thought it was going to help our offense because they were coming off of Dallas there at the beginning.
But my thought was I had confidence that we were going to get rolling at some point. I was hoping it was sooner than later. But that's why I love bringing in Aaron. I said this all year: I love bringing him in off the bench. He gives us a spark. It's like a different dimension of how we're playing at that point.
Q. Can you talk about Eddie at the end of the game getting his bucket, what that means when the guy on the end of the bench that the crowd loves and the team loves at practice, what that means for him to get that point, and especially here at home?
COACH MATTA: I'm so happy for Eddie and what he's meant to this team. And I think Doug wrote an article about Eddie and just kind of told his story. It's really one of the most amazing stories, because he came in and tried out in '07 and we were keeping him on the team, he was good enough.
And, you know, he had a heart condition and we wanted him to get that squared away. Well, he came back he practiced with the women's team for two years, tried back out, and obviously we took him.
And it was funny, I told Eddie, I don't want to ever hear you say a word; you just blend in, be one of the guys. And he took me to heart. He never said a word on defense. So finally one day I'm like, Eddie, you've got to talk on defense. You've got to call a screen. Coach, you told me never to say a word. I said, Okay. It tells you, quite honestly, the type of kid he is.
And to be here in Cleveland, to get his first college point, I'm just -- I'm elated for him.
Q. I assume -- were you there this morning at the graduation thing?
COACH MATTA: Yes. Yes.
Q. Was it emotional, or if there was any little moment that you'll always remember?
COACH MATTA: Well, I wouldn't say it was emotional. But it was a proud moment, if you will. And as Ms. Willis was giving them their degrees, you know, you just sort of stand back and look at them and you really -- it's probably like your own kids when you see them, you think back to moving them into the dorm their freshman year and how they've grown.
And one thing that we've always said about coming to Ohio State, if earning your degree is not important to you and you don't love the game of basketball, do not come; you'll be miserable.
And to see those guys do that, and really just where our program has gone on the academic side, I'm very proud of that.
Q. They obviously rolled the red carpet out for you here in Cleveland. Masses descend upon the Q here, but next week it has the potential to be very different. Could be even hostile territory if Syracuse gets out there, along with the traveling fanaticism of the other teams out there. How will it impact preparation and mindset and all that stuff? Because it will be very different next week.
COACH MATTA: I think preparation is what we've done in going to Florida, going to Florida State and then nine games on the road in the Big Ten.
You know, I've seen this year some of the most hostile environments, and I think our guys have handled it well. If Syracuse makes it -- we played Syracuse a few years ago in the Garden and it was a very pro-Syracuse crowd. But it is what it is. I know we'll have our fans. We've got a great base out there. But we've got to do our job on the court, that's for sure.
Q. Jim Larranaga spoke about how your defense was able to pressure them out of the shots that they would like to have taken. I wondered, in the first ten minutes of the game when you guys were pretty much trading baskets, and I think you were only up four points, was that the reason that they were able to score so much inside because you were trying to take them out of the stuff on the perimeter?
COACH MATTA: Yeah. You know, we saw them go to some things that we hadn't seen a lot of. They execute in everything that we had seen. And it's funny, late last night we put the Old Dominion tape in at Old Dominion, it was the last game they lost, but it didn't make me sleep very well after watching it, because, as I said yesterday, they've got a lot of different guys. I think Hancock not playing was something that probably hurt their offense a little bit.
But we wanted to extend out. We wanted to make them put it on the floor and challenge shots. But I thought they did a good job, especially early getting it inside and scoring on us.
Q. You've probably said everything you can possibly say about Aaron Craft's season, but today what he did, the 15 assists, especially those two passes you alluded to earlier, are you amazed sometimes what he does, especially at his age?
COACH MATTA: Yeah, and no. Yeah, I think as you really get to know Aaron, you get to spend time with him, you watch him develop, it's amazing.
And he's had -- he's been so steady throughout the course of the year. And I'm excited for him to get 15 assists, because he's a goal-oriented guy. And I know before his time's over he's going to beat that record.
And it's who he is. He's that competitive. And obviously it means a great deal to our program.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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