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BIG TEN CONFERENCE MEN'S TOURNAMENT


March 17, 2013


Aaron Craft

Thad Matta

Deshaun Thomas


CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Ohio State テや 50
Wisconsin ‑ 43


THAD MATTA:テつ Well, as I told the team afterwards, I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a basketball team in terms of you look at this tournament and you look at this league, and we've gone 21 straight games, and to be standing atop of it today, last college basketball game of the regular season, incredible.テつ I mean, that was a hard‑fought basketball game.テつ I thought both teams were exhausted.テつ We were challenging our guys every time‑out to tell them you've got one more gear, you've got one more gear, and fortunately for us, we made some big plays and finally knocked a couple shots down.
The defense was as good as it could possibly be, but great, great win for our program, great win for our university, and I'm elated.

Q.テつ When you were down 24‑15 at one point before the half, how much did it help to get that run to just cut it down to one and how much did that help you carrying that into the rest of the game?
AARON CRAFT:テつ Yeah, I can't say a few weeks ago we would have responded the same way that we did tonight.テつ We did a good job of understanding there's a lot of basketball to be played, and we're capable of coming back, and we have before this year.テつ We just tried to stick together, stick to the system, not go solo, and we did a good job of staying to it, and fortunately enough we made some shots, made a run, got it down to one by halftime, and that helps a lot.
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ Yeah, we didn't freak out.テつ I mean, we got in the huddle, we took a deep breath, and we stayed with our system.テつ I know last month we probably would have freaked out and forced a lot of things, but we stayed in it, and we kept our head in it, and we made a nice little run.

Q.テつ Aaron, your role as sort of a floor leader on the court, going into the NCAA Tournament, is that role even more important to make sure guys are focused and concentrate?
AARON CRAFT:テつ I don't think it gets any harder.テつ I think the past month or so we've really looked at it as if we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish, we can't lose again.テつ Everybody kind of leaned on one another, and whether it's me or Deshaun or someone else out there doing that, that's what it takes.テつ As long as we have someone out there keeping us all together and keeping us focused on the bigger picture, that's what it's all about.

Q.テつ Where this team was eight games ago, and I know you guys won this as freshmen, but from where you came from, does it make this one a little sweeter, that tournament title?
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ Yeah, it feels great.テつ It's a great accomplishment.テつ We went through some battles through the season, some ups and downs, but we never gave up on each other, and I think this is so special for us as a team, as a coaching staff, and for the University of Ohio State.
AARON CRAFT:テつ Yeah, just where we came from and what we've been through this year, and having no one else really on our side and no one really believing in us except for the guys on the team and the coaching staff, it really makes you appreciate and really‑‑ what we accomplished, it's a great, great feat, but at the same time hopefully there's still more basketball to be played.
There's a lot of time after the season is over to be very celebratory, but we have to enjoy this, but at the same time hopefully we can find ways to get better by next week.

Q.テつ Aaron, how difficult was it to try to raise the tempo against a team like Wisconsin, and how were you finally able to do it?
AARON CRAFT:テつ It's always tough.テつ They always do a great job of maintaining the ball and things like that, just kind of going through their offense.テつ They don't take too many bad shots, and we tried to push up here and there to try to get them sped up a little bit.テつ But it all starts with getting stops, getting clean rebounds and kind of just running with it.テつ We got a couple easy buckets in transition, and it always helps when you make some shots in the half court, as well.テつ It gets them to speed up a little bit more towards the end, and we kind of took advantage.

Q.テつ You got off to a real slow shooting start.テつ Did you get any encouragement from your team, keep shooting, and about your importance?
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ Yeah, of course.テつ My teammates and also the coaches always keep my head in it.テつ You're going to give me one shot, it's going to go down.テつ But at this stage right now, people know what I can do and the coaches know what I can do.テつ I can score, but right now it's all about winning and taking care of your teammates and taking care of what you do out there.テつ You have to do the other things out there to win ballgames, too.

Q.テつ Considering what you guys lost a year ago with Sully and Will and so on, to be able to match what you guys did a year ago, 13‑5 in the league and actually do better, win a championship, how has this been able to add up?テつ How have you guys been able to add up?
AARON CRAFT:テつ It's been different.テつ Obviously Jared and Will were a big part of our team last year, not only offensively but defensively, and kind of just being leaders around.テつ We've done a great job of kind of adjusting it and growing as the season has gone on.テつ Obviously Deshaun is one of our go‑to guys, but I think other guys have stepped up along the way.テつ They've gotten the experience they needed, and that's what it takes to be a good team and to win big basketball games.

Q.テつ Thoughts about playing down the road in Dayton, and also did you know anything about Iona, and did either of you watch the five‑overtime Notre Dame game with Louisville?
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ Yeah, I know Iona, they're a good team, and they're in the tournament.テつ That's the only thing I know about them.テつ I'm looking forward to it.テつ I watched a little bit of the Louisville game, and they played hard and they got the W.
AARON CRAFT:テつ I mean, they're a great basketball team.テつ There are no bad basketball teams left.テつ If you make the tournament, you know you have to be ready to go.テつ We know they like to get up‑and‑down a little bit, obviously they like to score the ball a lot.テつ Transition and things like that are going to be very important.テつ And playing in Dayton, you can't have anything better.テつ We're going to have‑‑ Buckeye Nation travels very well, especially when it's an hour down the road.

Q.テつ Kind of a low‑scoring defensive battle like today was, what was the difference that allowed you to separate yourselves in the final few minutes there?
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ Well, we draw the line.テつ Coach told us in the huddle, the fatigue got to us, but got to let it all on the table and let it out, and that's what we did.テつ We got our stops and we got guys who came in and hit big shots, and that's what this basketball team is all about.
AARON CRAFT:テつ I think down the stretch we talked to each other and said, hey, shots might not be falling, but our defense is going to win us this game, and whether it was forcing a questionable shot or grabbing a big rebound, that's how you win big basketball games, and that's what we have to tip our hat on, and we were able to do that tonight.

Q.テつ Could you talk about the play by LaQuinton Ross, a huge second half to help extend you guys' lead.
THAD MATTA:テつ Well, I thought Q was tremendous.テつ He did have a couple of timely field goals for us and a couple big rebounds.テつ You know, that's what we need from LaQuinton at that spot.テつ Everything he did, he really battled defensively.テつ We had a choice to make when they put the big fella back in, and we said, let's go with it, we'll stay with it, see what happens for a couple possessions.テつ He was down there battling and really, really did a nice job.

Q.テつ You seem to be getting more and more comfortable and more and more willing to go with a small lineup, not just to counter but to dictate as these games go on.テつ Why was it working or why was it the thing maybe that turned the game your way today?
THAD MATTA:テつ Yeah, you know, I think we talked about it at halftime, and we said there may come a point, because field goals were hard to come.テつ Everybody looked dead‑legged out there, and there wasn't‑‑ look at the three‑point shooting percentages combined for both teams, and we were thinking offense.テつ We were thinking athleticism.テつ We were thinking spacing.
I thought the guys did a very, very good job with that, and it kind of got rolling, and we stuck with it.

Q.テつ Why have you been able to or how have you been able to put the pieces together this year considering what you lost a year ago?
THAD MATTA:テつ Well, first, these guys have made that part of it easy because they're great kids, and I think from the standpoint, we said this early in the season, we didn't know how good we were going to be, but boy, they competed.テつ It's like, God, they like to compete in practice, and that was a good thing.
We knew.テつ I knew, there was going to be ups and downs to the season.テつ There always are.テつ But I honestly think it's a testament to who they are as kids.テつ We talk about it frequently, just in terms of representing the university.テつ This team is extremely close.テつ It's very unique to watch a group of guys come together and what they've done, and I love that about them, and I told them that's probably been the difference in terms of us playing our best basketball right now when we need to.

Q.テつ Does it surprise you how they've been able to come together?
THAD MATTA:テつ Yeah, in this league, yeah.テつ You know, from where we were in the games that we had to win and where we were in those games, surprised but not shocked because they've competed, they've stuck together.テつ I mean, you can always tell a happy locker room after practice or a quiet locker room, and these guys have done that.テつ That's the beauty of coaching, when you see that.

Q.テつ Is there a certain tempo, particularly in the Big Ten, of play that you guys feel a little bit more comfortable playing, especially moving on outside of the Big Ten into the NCAA Tournament?
THAD MATTA:テつ Yeah, I don't know if there's a certain‑‑ I think for us, recognition of when it's time to go and recognition of when it's time to execute and get the shot we want.テつ I think that's more‑‑ say we're going to push the tempo.テつ We wanted to run against Wisconsin today.テつ They're a good transition defense team.テつ You know, we had a couple opportunities to go.テつ We converted, we didn't convert, but by the same token, the message we've been trying to pound to these guys is, okay, if it's not there, let's get a great shot.テつ I think that's kind of the tempo that we'd like to have of the execution.

Q.テつ As good as the Big Ten has been this year during the regular season, what should expectations be in your opinion league‑wide heading into the NCAA Tournament?
THAD MATTA:テつ You know, I'll be honest, I haven't looked at this thing.テつ So much now becomes predicated on match‑ups.テつ I could sit up here and tell you some teams that I wouldn't want to play because of match‑ups.テつ I know what is problematic to us.テつ Every coach knows their own issues.
And sometimes it just happens that way.テつ I remember sitting in this building six years ago, seven years ago, and when the drawing came up and I saw we were playing Xavier in the second round, I was like, oh, no, that's not a good one for us.テつ I knew Xavier.テつ I don't know Notre Dame or Iowa State that well.
So I think as a coach you know, and I haven't looked at it to say‑‑ you know what I mean?テつ But I know this:テつ All teams are battle tested.テつ All teams have been through every conceivable situation.テつ I mean, you look at just the last month, at the last three minutes of basketball games, and some of the things that have happened have been crazy.テつ I mean, today with a minute to go or whatever, I think we're up four or five, whatever it was, and I'm saying to myself, oh, geez, this could be another highlight moment for something, and I think that's what this league does for you.

Q.テつ You see Ross as something of an X factor?テつ He seems to be very confident, and also you don't get to start at the Q this time, but you don't have Carolina and Kentucky in the bracket when they were Carolina and Kentucky.
THAD MATTA:テつ Yeah (laughing).テつ You know, I think with LaQuinton, I love his game.テつ I love his growth.テつ We were just sitting in there talking, and I said, you're so much more engaged in everything right now, from practice to shoot‑around to film to all those things.テつ I think that's kind of been the missing piece of saying, okay, what do I have to do.テつ And now he's starting to really embrace his role on this basketball team, and he's very, very talented and a tremendous athlete.
In terms of going to Dayton, I'm not a big traveler so I love it.テつ We're 1‑2 in the NCAA Tournament and we beat Davidson and lost to Georgetown one year and then Siena got us in double overtime.テつ So we've got to change our luck in that regard, and like I said, we've got to play great basketball.

Q.テつ What happened with Sam?テつ Was it a leg injury or what?テつ And also‑‑ ankle?
THAD MATTA:テつ I don't know if he stepped on somebody, but he said he tweaked his ankle.

Q.テつ After you were able to put him back in, it seemed to make quite a difference on Dekker, who was starting to get off before Sam went back in the game.
THAD MATTA:テつ Yeah, I thought‑‑ number one, Sam has had a great tournament up here.テつ He has been tremendous.テつ He gave Evans a post‑up in the first half a little too easy for my liking, but he's long, he's going to challenge those shots, and he can rebound out of his area.
And the biggest thing when you get Sam involved, he can guard, if we switch or whatever he can guard multiple positions, and I like that.

Q.テつ I was going to ask you, did you have to talk to him or make any adjustment?テつ It seemed like they went after him a little bit because he was giving away 20, 25 pounds on some of their front line.テつ Did that force you to do anything differently?テつ Did you talk to him about that?
THAD MATTA:テつ No, not really.テつ He kind of got caught on those guys, and I just told him at halftime you've got to fight a little bit harder, force them out there, and he's very gifted athletically, and I think from the standpoint of‑‑ I like as he continues to progress, Sam is starting to take great pride in his defense, and that's very exciting to me.

Q.テつ It's such a grind in the Big Ten.テつ I know your team is based on defense, but do you see maybe some more free‑flowing offense out there now that everybody is not going to know everything you want to do and all your sets?
THAD MATTA:テつ You know, I don't know.テつ I think the one thing I've learned in the NCAA Tournament, you've got to score in the half court.テつ The defense is as good as what we've just seen, especially you're set in‑‑ I don't think we play until Friday.テつ Iona is going to have time to get us down, we're going to have time to get them down.テつ It shouldn't be too many secrets, but you know me, I mean, if guys can make plays‑‑ that's what I was begging guys to do today.テつ I said, hey, man, just make a play.テつ Somebody just make a play, and fortunately Q did, and that was big for us.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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