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March 19, 2014

Aaron Craft

Thad Matta

Lenzelle Smith, Jr.


THE MODERATOR:テつ We are joined by Ohio State student‑athletes.テつ Next to me is Aaron Craft.テつ Next to him is Lenzelle Smith,Jr.テつ Welcome to Buffalo.
We'll open it up for questions at this point.

Q.テつ Aaron, can you talk about what you gained in terms of maturity and growth in playing the entire four years at Ohio State.テつ What do you think it means to be a senior in this tournament?
AARON CRAFT:テつ I think it helps a lot, just knowing what the routine is, being able to know when you have to concentrate and get things done.テつ Lenzelle and I have been here for four years now.テつ Just because we've had a little bit of success before doesn't necessarily mean we'll have success now, but I think it helps us prepare ourselves mentally for what the NCAA Tournament means and what it's about.
It's very easy to get caught up in everything that's different with the media going on right now and open practice and things like that, but I think we've gone through it enough that we know and can help lead our team to be ready to play come tomorrow.
LENZELLE SMITH, JR.:テつ Can you repeat the question?

Q.テつ Just talk about what you gained by playing the entire four years in college and staying the fourth year and the experience and what that means now to you.
LENZELLE SMITH, JR.:テつ I think it's just helped me grow as a player, matured a lot.テつ I've seen everything.テつ I've been in a lot of situations.テつ I've been on both sides of the spectrum from winning tough games to losing tough games.テつ I just think it helps me mentally prepare better and know what to expect, especially when you get into the tournament.
Obviously, each game means a lot more.テつ It's different situations, and the name of the game is being prepared and knowing how to make changes.テつ I think the experience of that will help us a lot in the tournament.

Q.テつ For Aaron, I didn't hear the context in which you said it after the game against Michigan, but you said something about this team playing better when its back is against the wall.テつ I wanted to ask you about why you think that is and maybe in what context were you talking about that last week, if you can remember.
AARON CRAFT:テつ Context is pretty easy.テつ The last two games we played in the Big Ten Tournament, we got ourselves down by double figures in both games, and we found a way to fight back.テつ So I don't know.テつ We just start playing with a sense of urgency, and that changes the way we play.テつ We're not playing perfect, but I think we're playing harder and we know possessions mean a little more.

Q.テつ Aaron or Lenzelle, just the talk of this big brother/little brother rivalry and, you know, the talk of this being the battle of Ohio.テつ How much does that resonate with you guys being the big dog in state?
AARON CRAFT:テつ I mean, we haven't heard anything about big brother/little brother.テつ Right now, everyone's even.テつ It doesn't matter what league you play in, how well you did in that league.テつ Right now it's about finding a way to win tomorrow.
Dayton is a great team that's won and played against great competition all year, just like we have.テつ Just because we're Ohio State and they're Dayton doesn't mean anything to us.テつ It comes down to being a basketball game.テつ If you don't execute and play great basketball, you're going to go home.テつ It doesn't matter where you're from.

Q.テつ And to Lenzelle, what about facing a former coach and a former player in Sibert?
LENZELLE SMITH, JR.:テつ With both of them, just over the years the relationship that I was able to build with them, I still have it.テつ I mean, I don't talk to them as much, but those guys are still family in my eyes.
Off the court, we'll show love, but on the court, I've got a job to do, and I'm going to do whatever I can for my team to help us get the win.

Q.テつ Aaron, back to the question that Bob asked you about playing with your backs to the wall, have you guys talked about the sort of danger that that kind of mentality has, especially in this situation when it's one and you go home?
AARON CRAFT:テつ We haven't talked about it explicitly, but I think one of our biggest focuses coming into this tournament is valuing every possession.テつ Since Lenzelle and I have been in college, the margin of defeat for us in the NCAA Tournament has been very, very little, and it comes down to one or two possessions a game.テつ Understanding that that one or two possessions doesn't necessarily mean the last two in the game, it could be the first two in the game.テつ Those are things that we're trying to focus on and hone in on because those are the little things that add up to big things by the end of the game.

Q.テつ For Lenzelle and Aaron, can you guys sort of explain your philosophy on how you guys defend the inbounds pass along the baseline?テつ I guess, how much time do you work on that during the off‑season, during the regular season, and how much is it a part of what you guys do?
THE MODERATOR:テつ Go ahead, Lenzelle.テつ Why don't you start.
LENZELLE SMITH, JR.:テつ You say how we defend the pass along the baseline?テつ Well, for our defense, we match up pretty well.テつ We got the guards on the outside to take care of the wings, if need be.テつ Our bigs, obviously, on the inside to protect for lobs.
We can switch it up.テつ Sometimes we trap in the corners.テつ Sometimes we don't.テつ I think, with our type of defense, you know, we got guys that can pressure the ball.テつ We usually have a big that's on the ball, and we pretty well match up after that.テつ We can switch.
We have to have great communication to talk to each other to know what position we need to be in, and it just goes from there.テつ The tougher it is for them to get the ball in, the easier it is for us to guard.
AARON CRAFT:テつ We just kind of throw it up and kind of do whatever we need to do.テつ We don't talk about it a ton.テつ We just kind of go out there and have guys run around, and hopefully, we're talking, communicating well enough to keep them from getting an easy bucket.

Q.テつ Just what do you guys see from Jordan this year for Dayton?テつ What do you see as his strengths?テつ What is he doing well?テつ What is the challenge he presents to you?
AARON CRAFT:テつ Obviously, he's done a phenomenal job of scoring the basketball.テつ He's one of their leading scorers on the team.テつ The way he's shooting the ball, he's done a good job of not being one dimensional.テつ Obviously, he can shoot it and put it in from the three‑point line, but he can pull up and get to the rim when he needs to, too, and that always makes it difficult.
We've seen him in the spring and the summer, and we've been through the battles with him.テつ So it's not a huge surprise to us to see him being so successful.

Q.テつ Aaron, what does it mean to have the amount of tournament‑tested experience that you and Lenzelle have?テつ Is it significant?テつ And how important might that be that you've been here before?
AARON CRAFT:テつ I think the biggest thing it helps us with is the mindset you go into games with.テつ Dealing with everything that's different from a normal game to a game in the NCAA Tournament, from media to open locker rooms to open practices.テつ You know, those things that are just different from the regular season.
The experience isn't going to put the ball in the basket for us this year.テつ It's also a balance of understanding it's a new year and it's a new team, and it's a new experience that you've got to try to make the most of.

Q.テつ Just they've been very hot from three‑point range.テつ If it becomes a scoring game, your defense is so good, but if the game just turns into a scoring game at any point in this tournament, do you guys feel comfortable, feel confident you've got enough to stay with teams that are hot?
LENZELLE SMITH, JR.:テつ I mean, I think so.テつ Specifically for this game, I don't think they've seen anybody that's guarded as well as we do. テつSo if it turns into a scoring game, they have to face a defense that they've never seen.
As for us, I think, you know, just as well as any game, we've obviously got to find a way to put the ball in the bucket.テつ I'm confident in our team.テつ We have multiple weapons.テつ You never know who's going to show up each game.
You've got guys that can break out at any point, and I think that's going to be big for us in the tournament.
THE MODERATOR:テつ Guys, good luck.テつ Good luck in Buffalo.
We are joined now by Thad Matta, head coach at Ohio State.
Welcome to Buffalo, Coach.テつ We'll go ahead and have you maybe start with an opening statement and then take questions unless you just like to take questions.
COACH MATTA:テつ We'll go with questions.
THE MODERATOR:テつ Very good.テつ We'll start in the back.

Q.テつ Thad, I was just wondering what your reaction was when you saw Archie was opposite you?
COACH MATTA:テつ You know, it's funny.テつ The first thing, I was elated for Archie.テつ I've known Archie ever since he was in seventh grade, I think, when Sean and I were at Miami.テつ To see him take his team and get them into the NCAA Tournament, I couldn't be happier.
Now, the fact that we're playing each other, I think that's kind of the irony of coaching.テつ But as I've said I think the longer you do this, A, you work with a lot of different people, and then, B, paths are going to cross.テつ I wish we weren't playing, but it is who we're playing, and we've got to be ready to go.

Q.テつ What enables your guys to do what they do in defending the baseline inbounds pass?テつ I mean, is it a combination of the players you have?テつ The scheme you run?テつ Just sort of how does that all work together?
COACH MATTA:テつ You know, I'm not sure.テつ It just sort of happens.テつ There's a little bit of a method to it.テつ I think the bottom line is something we take great pride in.テつ I don't think it's anything out of the ordinary.テつ We spend a lot of time preparing for it in terms of practice time.テつ Like I said, it's something that the teams we've coached here, we've tried to sort of hang our hat on that if at all possible.

Q.テつ Thad, Archie called you a good guy, and then he said, but you know when you work for Thad, you know how it is.テつ He'll walk around with a smile on his face, but he's going to try to stomp your head in the first chance he gets.テつ How difficult might it be to do that facing Archie?テつ And I ask that politely.
COACH MATTA:テつ No, no question.テつ I appreciate the compliment from Archie.
I think this:テつ For you guys, it probably means a lot more in terms that he and I worked together and we've known each other for 20‑plus years.テつ And not speaking for Archie.テつ I honestly won't even know he's down there.テつ It's the game.テつ It's what's going on there.
Before the game, you shake hands.テつ After the game, you shake hands.テつ But in between there, I don't know what he's doing or anything like that.
So it's not so much a personal, between he and I.テつ It's more of the guys on the floor, and that's how I've always viewed it.

Q.テつ And just as a followup, is it too much to overstate this whole talk of big brother/little brother, the battle of Ohio?
COACH MATTA:テつ I think it is.テつ From my perspective, because you're in the NCAA Tournament, I think people want to put tags on situations.テつ But for us, and for Dayton, you win or you go home.テつ There's not a whole lot more than that.
I'll swear to you, when the game starts, I don't know what's across the opposing team's jersey.テつ It's more of how do I get my guys to play their best basketball?テつ I've always been that way.テつ I mean, I'm not going to be thinking, Gosh, this is Dayton.テつ We're Ohio State.テつ You're just more focused in on what do we have to do to achieve our goal.

Q.テつ Do you have any feeling that maybe playing some of these schools such as Xavier or Dayton or Cincinnati would be a better preparation for Big Ten play, not that the schedule you did play?
COACH MATTA:テつ No.テつ You know from the perspective of what we've just been through, playing 21 straight Big Ten basketball games, there's rivalries.テつ There's national televised games.テつ We've gotten guys that our opponents are recruiting.テつ They've gotten guys that we were recruiting.テつ There's so many side notes that goes into 21 straight games that from the perspective, I think our guys are able to put that behind.
I think in terms of nonconference scheduling, as a coach, you can't win.テつ I mean, you play one team, and people complain about it.テつ Then you play this team, and then they complain that you don't play this team.テつ To us, we've got a heck of a method in terms of what we try to do in regards to our schedule, and I like what it is.
I like to get out of the Midwest and play some teams.テつ That was one of the things that I was opposed to in terms of the Big Ten going to 18 games because that took away our opportunities to schedule a Big East team, an ACC team, an SEC team.テつ You pick up two games, and it happens to be Wisconsin and Michigan State.テつ That's what the 18 games had for you.

Q.テつ Coach, can you speak the advantage of having seniors on your team and important roles in the tournament.テつ And also, to the benefit that those players get from playing their third and fourth year in college.
COACH MATTA:テつ I've always said this.テつ I can't create a drill in practice to give guys experience.テつ You have to go through the rigors of a college basketball season.テつ The fact that you got guys in Aaron and Lenzelle that have been through now four years, you look at what they've done in terms of last Saturday was their 12th Big Ten Tournament game.テつ They've been to the Sweet 16.テつ They've been to the Final Four.テつ They've been to the Elite Eight, and here they are now coming in.
This stuff, sitting up here, may be new to some guys.テつ For those guys, they get it.テつ They understand the preparation.テつ They understand the importance of being ready to go.テつ You know, when you have those type of guys, it does make a big difference.

Q.テつ There was no school that did not play instate anymore rigorously than Kentucky, which plays Louisville, and it's a basketball school doing it.テつ Do you think it would not benefit your program to do that?テつ Although fans would like to see it.
COACH MATTA:テつ I think in Kentucky it's mandated by the state, right?

Q.テつ I think it is now.
COACH MATTA:テつ Yeah, I mean, that would be his choice, I guess, or it may not be his choice, you know what I'm saying, if it is mandated by the state.
I don't know.テつ I think that people don't understand, in terms of what goes on in a college basketball season, in terms of the off‑season, all the things that you're trying to do, just the length of it.
Our schedule, in terms of what I would like to do with it, and the Big Ten‑ACC challenge, those types of things, it's just, in our minds, not as conducive.テつ I think we've played probably close to 15 Ohio schools in my ten years at Ohio State, and I think I'm the first guy that's done that.テつ I don't think anybody else did that very often.

Q.テつ You're a former A‑10 guy.テつ Does it surprise you that this league got six bids?テつ Could you have ever seen a day like this when you were with Xavier?
COACH MATTA:テつ Yeah, I could because I think my last year at Xavier, we and Saint Joe's, I think, were in the Elite Eight, playing to go to the Final Four.テつ It's been a long time ago, ten years, and in coaching dog years, that's like 40.
But I think it's been a great league throughout.テつ I know they've had some departures.テつ I'm trying to think.テつ Temple's out.テつ Butler had a cup of coffee in there.テつ Charlotte's now out.テつ But it doesn't surprise me.
I think from the standpoint of you look at basketball, especially in this region, there's great basketball in the region of where the A‑10 is located.

Q.テつ Thad, just a question about what you see out of Jordan and how he's playing for Dayton and what may have changed or what he might be doing well for that team.
COACH MATTA:テつ It looks like he's playing at a very, very high level.テつ I think the biggest thing with Jordan is he's getting the opportunity that he wanted.テつ Not saying it wouldn't have happened at Ohio State, but he wanted minutes.テつ He wanted that sort of thing.
So I'm excited for him.テつ I think it's such a hard profession, and I always root for the guys that I know or have a relationship with, and I'm happy for him.テつ He's doing a heck of a job for them.

Q.テつ Just to follow up and talk about the seniors, specifically.テつ What do they get out of it, the experience of those things, the third and fourth year?テつ Besides the experience of playing the NCAA, just life experience?
COACH MATTA:テつ Well, I think this:テつ All the early departures we've had, all the guys have come back and said, Hey, the NBA is great, but, man, I miss college.
I remember Jared Sullinger telling me last year, Probably the thing I miss the most is just going to class and being around college kids.
They say you can always go back and get your degree, but in essence, you really can't go back to college.
I think for those guys, just the daily grind, learning to budget your money, learning to make sure you get training meal so you don't have to pay for your food and those kinds of things, and just the value of education.テつ That's something where Aaron and Lenzelle are going to graduate here in a month, and that's a tremendous feat in itself.
THE MODERATOR:テつ Coach, thanks for your time.テつ Best of luck.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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