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March 22, 2014

Antonio Barton

Cuonzo Martin

Jeronne Maymon

Jordan McRae

Josh Richardson

Jarnell Stokes


MODERATOR:  At this time, we're ready to begin the student‑athlete portion of the Tennessee press conference.

Q.  Let's go with Jordan, if you would answer this.  Mercer played you last year in Knoxville in the NIT and won there, when you guys don't lose at home very often.  And it wasn't as close as they would have suspected.  What do you remember from that game and is there‑‑ do you have a little payback involved beyond the NCAA tournament?
JORDAN McRAE:  We're just looking forward to the game tomorrow.  What I remember from that game last time was they outplayed us last time.  We didn't really have good energy that last game.
Tomorrow, we're just looking to play our game.

Q.  For Jordan or Jarnell, from being in the game last year, do you think you're automatically immune to the trap where you're going to think they're a little school that you can overlook?  Do you think that's out the window now?
JARNELL STOKES:  Yes, you're exactly right.  I feel like from playing them last year, we understand that they're a very good team and that they're playing with a chip on their shoulder.  And we're also playing with a chip on our shoulder.
So it's the NCAA tournament.  As you can see, anything can happen.

Q.  For any of you guys that want to answer this, how is the team's mindset different today than it was the day before you played Mercer last year?
JOSH RICHARDSON:  I'd say, I mean, honestly, I mean, I think it's a difference in the tournament, especially last year.  We were hoping to get in the NCAA tournament and we didn't really get our wish.
But this year, we're playing for so much higher stakes.  I mean, it's to get to the Sweet 16, and this is the biggest stage in America in college basketball.  So I think everybody's just going to give everything they have tomorrow.

Q.  For Antonio, Coach yesterday said when you guys played defense the way you have, this is the result, the way you played yesterday.  How do you think you guys are performing defensively right now?  Two games in the tournament and you've held teams significantly below their averages.
ANTONIO BARTON:  I think we're playing our best defense of the year right now.  We're just keying in on our assignments and we're helping each other out a lot.  We're just relying on each other and trusting each other.  That's what we tell each other before every game.  We're going to go out there and die for each other.

Q.  Jarnell, you had a good game rebounding‑wise against these guys last year.  When you look at a team that has, I guess, maybe thinner, skinnier guys in the post, do you look at that as a chance for you to kind of impose your physicalness on a team and look at that as a strength you can exploit?
JARNELL STOKES:  Well, I feel like any game I play against is my chance to impose my will, definitely on the rebounding end.  They have a very good big man and that will be a great matchup for me.  He's tall and I think he won Defensive Player of the Year in their conference.  So it will definitely be a great matchup for me.

Q.  For Jeronne, you guys were at one point 7‑7 in the SEC and had won 7 of 8, so it was almost like a switch flipped for you guys.  Why do you think it took so long to play at this level you've shown you're capable of playing?
JERONNE MAYMON:  Can't exactly put a finger on it.  I think we started trusting each other more, showing a lot more care for each other, so to speak, care about the game and everything like that.  I just think we turned it up another notch.  I wouldn't be able to put an exact finger on it, though.
MODERATOR:  Any other questions?  Gentlemen, thank you very much and good luck tomorrow.
We are now ready to begin the second half of the Tennessee press conference with Head Coach Cuonzo Martin.  Coach, would you like to make an opening statement?
COACH MARTIN:  Excite for the opportunity to play against a very talented Mercer team, a team that plays well, one of the better offensive teams in all of college basketball, regardless of the league they play in.  A great, talented team with seniors that understand how to play, a well coached team.  Great balance.  Looking forward to it.

Q.  Coach, if there's any team that would not overlook a team like Mercer or underestimate a team, it would seem to be yours, having played them in the NIT last year.  Can you talk about the respect that your players have for their team?
COACH MARTIN:  I like to think, first and foremost, our guys respect any opponent whenever we play them.  We talk about taking one game at a time, don't take anybody for granted.
Playing these guys last year in the NIT, we didn't play well.  Some like to think you don't have the passion and energy when you're playing in the NIT, but I like to think they beat us.  They won the basketball team.
A very talented team, again, a lot of guys who can play well.  They play a lot of bodies.  They execute their offense.  Everybody understands their role.
And for us, the great thing about it, we came into this game before the game, we got here, trying to beat a UMass team.  We were blessed to do that.  Now, at that point, it was whoever won against Duke and Mercer.  It wasn't a case, okay, we got a chance to play against Duke.  It was whoever won the ball game.  Our guys understood that this is a very talented team.  I think playing them last year really helps our guys.
We didn't overlook them.  We didn't take them for granted either.  Our guys watch a lot of basketball.  They know good basketball when they see it.

Q.  Cuonzo, yesterday's game pretty much decided by your size and really bulk around the basket.  Your players really effectively used that defensive wall and how does that translate against a team like Mercer, that is smaller, quicker and really would prefer to pull you away from the basket as much as possible?
COACH MARTIN:  I think for us, at this point, you are who you are.  I don't think there's a lot of change in what you do.  You might try to tweak a last second play or make an adjustment after a timeout.
At this point, we are who we are.  We'll play the way we play and they'll the way they play.  Our big guys will continue to the pound the ball inside, whether they get the shot blocked or get it off.  We'll continue to pound inside.  We'll continue to crash offensive glass.  We'll continue to be physical and use our length on the perimeter with our guards.  Just play the way we play.
This time of year, it's a great time of year because anything can happen.  Whoever is playing the best, who is making plays, making free throws, who can control the tempo, who can control the game at their pace, we've been blessed to do that the previous two games.

Q.  Coach, you took over the program three years ago and had rebuilding to do.  Is the way your team is playing now, especially on the defensive end, kind of what you had in mind for your program here in year three?
COACH MARTIN:  Yes.  And we did it‑‑ you look at the numbers, it probably didn't look as well as it looks now, but if you look at the numbers in the previous two years, they were good numbers.  I don't think it was as consistent as it needed to be across the board.  I thought we might have had two or three guys that could defend or two or three guys that defended well that night.
I think we have five guys that are defending, taking pride in defending.  More importantly, understanding if you defend at this level, these are the results behind it.  And I think that's the thing they embrace more than anything.

Q.  Cuonzo, given all the ups and downs of this season, what do you think it would mean to you as a coach and to this program to get to the Sweet 16?
COACH MARTIN:  I'm already happy.  For me, and I understand your question, Patrick, but I never look at it as ups and downs.  You go through things in life.  You build.  For me, it's always a teaching point for our guys.  Not always our freshmen.  Things happen in life.  Something happened and you're married.  Something happen to one of your children as you raise them.  Something happen for your parents.  You go through things.  Do you give up?  Do you fold or do you keep pushing?  For me, these are the teaching points because if you put the work in, eventually the results will follow.  That's how I look at it.  If you're consistent in your approach and doing it the right way, you get the results.  For me, it's always a blessing to be able to teach these things for our guys and become better men.
If you look at our teams, every year down the stretch, we become a better basketball team because of the things we teach and.
However it presents itself in he beginning, I'm fine.  I just ask that God give me the necessary equipment and tools to make these guys understand the importance of what they're going through right now, so they don't fold, so they don't give up.  With most young guys, they want it right away.  You have to keep pushing.  I'm happy where our guys are right now.

Q.  Coach, the Virginia team is here and a lot of those guys have pointed to their game with you as their sort of turning point where they refocused, that sort of thing.  Did your team have any kind of down‑‑ letdown after that game or anything like that?  And how to get back to this point?
COACH MARTIN:  I think we didn't have the consistency throughout games.  I think down the stretch in games, not having enough time or reps together as a team down the stretch of games to win ball games, all those things.  Not necessarily any player.  I take total responsibility for every game we lose.  I take total responsibility.  For the wins, the guys can have those.
I've said it over and over.  I never ‑‑ hate to use excuses and hopefully it doesn't come off as an excuse.  But when you have new guys, you have three returning starters, McRae, Josh Richardson, Jarnell Stokes.  You lose your point guard in Trae Golden, who was a guy who was your first or second best scorer for two years, best assist guy, 90 percent free throw shooter.  You bring in two new point guards.  Though talented, they're new.
Then Jeronne Maymon, 15 months removed from playing basketball, now he's back in the fold.  You're trying to strengthen your bench with new guys, new parts.  Robert Hubbs is a five star guy, which I don't get caught up in the number of stars like that, has a shoulder injury and wasn't 100 percent at the beginning of the season.  When you have that going on, you're trying to gel a team, it's not easy.
I think in the Virginia game, it was a showcase of what we could be if we were consistent, play well together on both ends of the floor.  I mean, they're a very talented team and it really showed us what we could be.  I think it helped those guys get to where they are, because they were talented and well coached team.  It was just that game kind of got them over the hump.

Q.  Coach, obviously, just piggybacking on that question with Virginia, what advice would you give to Memphis as they face them tomorrow, given that they've had so much success this season in the ACC?
COACH MARTIN:  First and foremost, I think Josh got to figure it out as far as how he'll approach those guys.  The thing about Virginia, when you run the motion offense, it's hard to say this is what you do to stop them, because it's always moving.  You have five guys moving.  You got a big guy on the blocks.  You got a guard on the blocks.  You got spacing, dribble handoffs, you've got flare screens.
One of the toughest offenses to defend is the motion offense.  They do it as well as anybody in the country.  On the other end, when they defend you, you're still fighting.  So you're fighting with those guys on both ends of the floor.  If you're not mentally tough enough, it will take a toll on you.

Q.  Cuonzo, the last three weeks, you guys have been on a great roll, only loss was Florida in the SEC final.  Besides consistency, is there an area or a player that has made significant difference in that run for you?
COACH MARTIN:  I think guys have stepped up.  The things we do too, we spend a lot of time this time of year on the skill development.  Guys continue to get better.
Two guys, Josh Richardson, who is becoming an elite defender in my opinion, and Antonio Barton, those are probably the two guys.  Everybody else played well.  They do what they normally do.  But I think Antonio Barton really embraced and accepts that leadership role.  When your point guard is defending at a high level, running your team, even when he's not making the shots, he runs the team.  He's a vocal guy that guys respect him.  That speaks volumes.  And then Josh Richardson is a guy that's really defending very well for us.  Those are probably the two guys, I would say.

Q.  Cuonzo, after the Texas A&M loss, the second one, you were 7‑7.  I guess at that point in the season with everything going on, it would have been easy for you guys to get down on themselves, and I don't want to say fold but not turn the direction they've done.  How much credit do they deserve and how much credit do you give yourself that the team kept it together and started playing its best basketball after that loss?
COACH MARTIN:  For me, there's no give‑up.  My mom didn't raise me like that.  We don't have that kind of time and energy to give up.  You've got to continue to fight in everything you're doing.
I like to think I present that to our guys on a day‑to‑day basis.  Not something you necessarily talk about.  It's just how you approach life and how you go about your daily business.
Our guys just continue to fight.  We continue to get better as a team.  We don't talk about a lot of things.  We continue to work, come in and get extra shots earlier.
Like Antonio Barton, every morning at 10:00 a.m., getting his shots in.  Jordan McRae at 7:00 a.m.  Jarnell Stokes.  Guys are getting their work.  This is what we do.
It goes back to, again, when you hit tough times, you got to refocus, regroup, and continue pushing forward.  You got to continue to fight and that's all we talk about.  We got to continue to battle.
As a staff, we're not looking for any excuses.  We don't want to hear it.  Let's continue to work hard.

Q.  Yesterday, Mercer was able to hold Duke to just ten points in the paint while they had 26 points in the paint.  Coach Krzyzewski said their bigs were just better than Duke's bigs yesterday.  What takeaways do you have from yesterday's game, specifically?
COACH MARTIN:  Well, for us, we're going inside with the basketball as well as with the post, off the dribble, offensive rebounding.
But in watching the film, Duke shoots a lot of threes.  I'm not sure the number they shoot in a particular game, but that's what they do, they shoot 3‑point shots.  I'm not sure how much production they get on the blocks where they go to a guy every time down.  I know Jabari posts up some, but he faces up and makes plays.
We like to pound the ball inside.  Again, we'll do the post off the dribble, off the offensive rebound.

Q.  Coach, I was wondering when was the first time that you played the one shining moment video for the guys this season and kind of what was behind that?
COACH MARTIN:  Well, I think it might have been after we lost at Texas A&M.  I think the reason we did it was just really to show the guys it's not over.  It's a long season.  We're right there.  Also, we showed them Joe Lunardi, which I don't put a lot of stock in, but the name.  Just show our guys, we're right there, continue to fight, to not give up.  Because those young guys, you can't get discouraged.  I told them to keep battling, keep fighting.
I think after the A&M game, just the vibe, the music, Luther Vandross singing, I thought it was great for your guys, just to feel for it, because, you know, they probably don't listen to it as much.  They probably just look at the highlights of the game.
Then we showed it, we actually had the music without the graphics.  So just the music.  And just let them feel it and I thought it was great for our guys.
MODERATOR:  Coach, thank you very much.  Good luck, tomorrow.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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