March 17, 2013
Thad Matta: 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. I mean, that was a hard-fought basketball game. I thought both teams were exhausted. We were challenging our guys every timeout 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. 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: Yeah, I can't say a few weeks ago we would have responded the same way that we did tonight. 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. 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: Yeah, we didn't freak out. I mean, we got in the huddle, we took a deep breath, and we stayed with our system. 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. 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: I don't think it gets any harder. 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. 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. 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. 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: Yeah, it feels great. It's a great accomplishment. 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 Ohio State University.
Aaron Craft: 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. 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: It's always tough. They always do a great job of maintaining the ball and things like that, just kind of going through their offense. 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. But it all starts with getting stops, getting clean rebounds and kind of just running with it. We got a couple easy buckets in transition, and it always helps when you make some shots in the half court, as well. It gets them to speed up a little bit more towards the end, and we kind of took advantage.
Q. You got off to a real slow shooting start. Did you get any encouragement from your team, keep shooting, and about your importance?
Deshaun Thomas: Yeah, of course. My teammates and also the coaches always keep my head in it. You're going to give me one shot, it's going to go down. But at this stage right now, people know what I can do and the coaches know what I can do. 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. You have to do the other things out there to win ballgames, too.
Q. Considering what you guys lost a year ago with Sully [Jared Sullinger] and Will [Buford] 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? How have you guys been able to add up?
Aaron Craft: It's been different. 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. We've done a great job of kind of adjusting it and growing as the season has gone on. Obviously Deshaun is one of our go-to guys, but I think other guys have stepped up along the way. 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. 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: Yeah, I know Iona, they're a good team, and they're in the tournament. That's the only thing I know about them. I'm looking forward to it. I watched a little bit of the Louisville game, and they played hard and they got the W.
Aaron Craft: I mean, they're a great basketball team. There are no bad basketball teams left. If you make the tournament, you know you have to be ready to go. We know they like to get up-and-down a little bit, obviously they like to score the ball a lot. Transition and things like that are going to be very important. And playing in Dayton, you can't have anything better. We're going to have -- Buckeye Nation travels very well, especially when it's an hour down the road.
Q. 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: Well, we draw the line. 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. 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: 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. Could you talk about the play by LaQuinton Ross, a huge second half to help extend you guys' lead.
Thad Matta: Well, I thought Q was tremendous. He did have a couple of timely field goals for us and a couple big rebounds. You know, that's what we need from LaQuinton at that spot. Everything he did, he really battled defensively. 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. He was down there battling and really, really did a nice job.
Q. 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. Why was it working or why was it the thing maybe that turned the game your way today?
Thad Matta: 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. 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. We were thinking athleticism. 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. 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: 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. It's like, God, they like to compete in practice, and that was a good thing.
We knew. I knew, there was going to be ups and downs to the season. There always are. But I honestly think it's a testament to who they are as kids. We talk about it frequently, just in terms of representing the university. This team is extremely close. 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. Does it surprise you how they've been able to come together?
Thad Matta: Yeah, in this league, yeah. 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. I mean, you can always tell a happy locker room after practice or a quiet locker room, and these guys have done that. That's the beauty of coaching, when you see that.
Q. 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: 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. I think that's more -- say we're going to push the tempo. We wanted to run against Wisconsin today. They're a good transition defense team. You know, we had a couple opportunities to go. 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. I think that's kind of the tempo that we'd like to have of the execution.
Q. 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: You know, I'll be honest, I haven't looked at this thing. So much now becomes predicated on match-ups. I could sit up here and tell you some teams that I wouldn't want to play because of match-ups. I know what is problematic to us. Every coach knows their own issues.
And sometimes it just happens that way. 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. I knew Xavier. 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? But I know this: All teams are battle tested. All teams have been through every conceivable situation. 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. 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. You see Ross as something of an X factor? 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: Yeah (laughing). You know, I think with LaQuinton, I love his game. I love his growth. We were just sitting in there talking, and I said, you're so much more engaged in everything right now, from practice to shootaround to film to all those things. I think that's kind of been the missing piece of saying, okay, what do I have to do. 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. 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. So we've got to change our luck in that regard, and like I said, we've got to play great basketball.
Q. What happened with Sam [Thompson]? Was it a leg injury or what? And also -- ankle?
Thad Matta: I don't know if he stepped on somebody, but he said he tweaked his ankle.
Q. 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: Yeah, I thought -- number one, Sam has had a great tournament up here. He has been tremendous. 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. I was going to ask you, did you have to talk to him or make any adjustment? It seemed like they went after him a little bit because he was giving away 20, 25 pounds on some of their front line. Did that force you to do anything differently? Did you talk to him about that?
Thad Matta: No, not really. 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. It's such a grind in the Big Ten. 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: You know, I don't know. I think the one thing I've learned in the NCAA Tournament, you've got to score in the half court. The defense is as good as what we've just seen, especially you're set in -- I don't think we play until Friday. Iona is going to have time to get us down, we're going to have time to get them down. 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. I said, hey, man, just make a play. Somebody just make a play, and fortunately Q did, and that was big for us.
An Interview With: COACH BO RYAN, MIKE BRUESEWITZ, RYAN EVANS and TRAEVON JACKSON
BO RYAN: Well, I thought we had a chance to run the gauntlet, but just didn't have quite enough in us. I know our guys got them to take some pretty tough shots for the most part. You look at a stat, and you say a team goes 1 for 16, and you go, wow, you've really got a great chance. So you know, we tried to get them to take contested shots. Didn't get the rebounds off of some of them. We got beat physically inside a little bit, so I think that told a lot on the offensive glass. But I really liked the way we got after it. We paid for the miscues, and we still have to make shots, man.
Q. I know today's game didn't know how you wanted it to, but overall impressions of the weekend. Do you feel pretty good about where you guys stand as you get ready for the NCAA Tournament?
MIKE BRUESEWITZ: Yeah, I mean, we played well. You know, things didn't go our way today. We've got some good momentum going into the tournament, and just got to put this one behind us, kind of have amnesia and get back to work on Monday. Go back home and get right back to it because now we've got the big dance and we've got to take care of business there, too.
TRAEVON JACKSON: Yeah, I mean, Mike just said it best. We didn't make enough plays personally. I didn't make enough plays down the stretch. I didn't put our team in the right position to score, and we only scored six points combined for the end of both halves, and that falls on the point guard. Just got to learn from it and move on.
Q. I know you're going to have a quick turnaround to get ready, but I know this championship, a chance to win it, meant something for you guys. How disappointing is it to not be able to get this one in the books?
RYAN EVANS: It's a disappointment. We definitely wanted to leave here with some hardware, but moving forward, we've got the NCAA Tournament. It's a bigger thing. And I'm looking forward to that.
MIKE BRUESEWITZ: Yeah, you play every game to win. Just disappointing.
Q. Ryan, like coach said, you guys played some great defense, forced some tough looks. How much of an emphasis did that put on rebounding and the few offensive rebounds that they got that really extended some key possessions?
RYAN EVANS: I mean, every possession counts, we know that, whether it's a turnover or offensive rebound. So there's always emphasis on those areas in the game.
Like I said, every one counts. They were able to get their hands on a couple loose balls, and that could have been the difference in the game.
Q. Ryan and Traevon, the last seven minutes you guys went without a field goal. Just wondering, did you notice something change or some of them rattled in and out, but what was the biggest difference in those last seven minutes where they kind of took control?
TRAEVON JACKSON: Well, I think we got some of the looks we wanted. Personally for me I got some of the looks I wanted, I just kind of rushed them a little bit. The shots that I did have, they were at the top of the key, towards the top of the key, they were going in, they were going comfortable. But some of the shots that I had at the end of the game weren't good shots. So like I said, that falls on me. But other than that, I mean, a couple balls just rattled in and out, and sometimes the ball goes in, sometimes it doesn't.
RYAN EVANS: Looking back, when shots don't fall, you just try to go inside or get to the free-throw line, drive a little bit and maybe get something going. Looking back, we probably didn't do that enough. But shots fell in the other games, so just one of those things.
Q. This question goes to the seniors. I know every year is different, but can you remember this year's tournament being the most physically demanding on your guys from the standpoint of fatigue?
MIKE BRUESEWITZ: I mean, for us personally, yeah. This is as far as we've been in the tournament in our careers. More minutes you play, obviously the more physically demanding it is.
RYAN EVANS: Yeah, like Mike said, this is the farthest we've been since we've been here, and it was definitely physical. We took down the Michigan team and the Indiana team, so we know we can beat anyone in the country moving forward. So like we said, we're looking forward to the selection show, see what our seed is.
Q. Ryan, following up on that, people might look at your record and say there's 11 losses there. What do you see in this team that makes you think that it can make a long run in the NCAA Tournament?
RYAN EVANS: Well, just looking at what we've done. We normally get up for the bigger games. We've got guys that are ready to play in the bigger games. We took down top seeds all year, so it's a lot to look forward to.
Q. Ryan and Trae, Ohio State didn't end the game shooting particularly well when you look at the final numbers, but how would you rate your overall defensive performance as a team today?
TRAEVON JACKSON: I thought we played well defensively. We switched and a lot of things. I think the turning point in the game was when LaQuinton Ross, he got that offensive rebound, and that was on me, and I think he really stepped up for them. That was just -- they just got the extra second hustle points and second chance points. We played good defense, they just got the hustle points on us.
RYAN EVANS: Yeah, I think we played good defense, as well. They might have played a little bit better defense. In a game like this, only 50 points being scored by the winner, it's a defensive game. Shots aren't falling. So they had the edge on a couple easy possessions there on a couple loose balls, and that's what got them the win.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about how physical this tournament was. Is it a benefit getting this far in the Big Ten Tournament? Does it help going in or not?
BO RYAN: Well, unless I missed something growing up, I always wanted to play. So play. Our guys like to play. You should see some of our practices.
Yeah, I'm talking about practice. (Laughter).
Yeah, we've come in and lost the first game and kind of humbly went home and got ready for the next, and fortunately we get the third season. We got pretty far here in the second season and not far enough, but I'd rather be playing. Playing is good. Depends on how fast our turnaround is, where you go, that type of thing.
Q. What did you think of Frank's [Kaminsky] performance throughout the weekend? He was pretty efficient all around?
BO RYAN: Yeah, his numbers, some things defensively he'd like to have back, so you guys see those numbers, I see the other. So he's getting closer. He's still going to need better defense from him, but his numbers shooting wise and rebounding -- coaches are never totally happy. I'm not trading him, though.
Q. [Ohio State head coach] Thad [Matta] has been using his small lineup more and more the last part of the season. I wonder if you could talk generally about how that affects the game and also the effect that LaQuinton Ross had in the last few minutes of the game today?
BO RYAN: Well, he hit the three earlier.
That wasn't in the last through minutes. But Trae was honest. He missed the block-out assignment there. He had him. So they made us pay, so that's an opportunity basket there that he took advantage of, but it wasn't because -- because of the way we were exchanging, size for them didn't matter to us because there are times where George [Marshall] was blocking out [Evan] Ravenel if you remember, especially in the first half. So that didn't affect us. We went small, too, for a while. You know, Ben's [Brust] three off the curl and catch, and Mike's [Bruesewitz] three, they were two pretty good shots when it was a four-point game. I thought Mike's was in. That ball was halfway down and out. You get one of those to go, who knows.
But I thought we matched that pretty well. I mean, you can't force a team that shoots threes the way they do into one for whatever without working. I mean, you have to work to make teams take tough threes, to shoot that number. But look how much better we were than them; I mean, we were 3-for-18.
Q. Going into the NCAA Tournament, what do you feel most confident about your team and what perhaps concerns you the most about your team going into that tournament
BO RYAN: Well, you know, at times inconsistency, but as I look at tapes on everybody else, every team goes through the offensive droughts, the X number of minutes without a field goal, the X number -- and every time you have an extended one, it usually -- you usually have to pay for that. So we've caused those on other teams, other teams have done that to us. But I feel good that our guys defensively will at least work. Going into the tournament they picked up for one another a lot better. They've done some really good things. I think in order to have teammates believing in them on defense, you've got to believe in one another to be a good defensive team. So then on offense we've got to execute a little bit better, get some shots to go down. We proved in this tournament that we can make some shots against some pretty good teams. Last time I looked, Michigan and Indiana were pretty good: So we're going into the tournament, different opponents, different area probably, whatever. This is when you start practice, you kind of think conference and you think conference tournament, then you hope you're in the NCAA based on what you do during the year. Our guys earned a trip. Let's see what we can do with it.
Q. How many Big Ten teams do you think have a chance of winning the national championship?
BO RYAN: Any of them that go in it. I don't know how you can say they wouldn't -- how can you say a team doesn't have a chance? Every team that goes into it has a chance to advance to the second, to the third, to the fourth, to the fifth, to the sixth game. So we just root for each other until we play each other.