First round of March Madness underway in Hartford – WFSB

First round of March Madness underway in Hartford - WFSB

Talking in Hartford: FSU and UVM preview NCAA Tournament

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Edit Slot to 247Sports Home Slot to Florida State Seminoles Newsletter Slot to Florida State Links HARTFORD — No. 4 seed Florida State will face No. 13 seed Vermont on Thursday at 2 p.m. in the 2019 NCAA Tournament First Round from the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

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On Wednesday, both teams spoke with the media to preview their game against one another as well as speak on participating in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton, along with veteran guards Terance Mann and Trent Forrest, as well as veteran forward Phil Cofer, all spoke.

For Vermont, head coach John Becker spoke along with redshirt senior guard Ernie Duncan, junior forward Anthony Lamb and sophomore guard Stef Smith.

Once we got into the season, we started off 1-4. That was another challenge that I thought that was unexpected. But it was challenging, and I thought through those challenges that weve had to overcome, our team has grown stronger, theyve become more of a unit, trying to adjust to the different challenges that we had. And I think that we hit a point there during the season where I thought that we were growing in confidence, togetherness, and unity. And that allowed us to sometimes win close games, overcome deficits in games. And I think weve grown to be a team that played with a lot of confidence.

The best thing about our team, I still feel that we have not played our best basketball, and I think that as we — Im hopeful, that once we get into the NCAA Tournament, we can hid a stride similar to where we were last year, and hopefully that will give us the confidence to be extremely competitive in the tournament.

Q. Coach, its been a little while, but you have some familiarity around here. Youve coached in the building, coached against UConn, any favorite memories? Nice to be back a little bit?

COACH LEONARD HAMILTON: I can remember Ray Allen hitting six threes from that deep left corner in transition, and I got introduced to the league. I thought we were playing really, really well. And each time we would score, Ray Allen would streak down the left side of the court and seemed like theyd throw the ball from out of bounds and hed hit a three. I looked at my assistant coach and said, you didnt tell me that was part of the challenge that we had to overcome.

But no, we enjoyed — the people in Connecticut really are basketball fans, extremely knowledgeable, very supportive of the local teams. We always — you always knew when you came to Connecticut, youre going to be in a tremendous atmosphere. I loved playing down at Gampel. We got invited to Gampel once. We got a little more competitive. UConn would always bring the teams they knew they were going to beat easily to Hartford. And once we got more competitive, it was a compliment that we had an opportunity to play on campus.

COACH LEONARD HAMILTON: Ive watched Vermont play and Im extremely impressed with how well they execute. They seem to always be in control. They play to their strengths. They have great spacing, they move the ball well, they shoot the ball well from perimeter. They have a go-to guy that they keep the ball in his hands as much as possible. One of the radio announcers interviewed me and asked me what we thought would be the keys to the game.

And as I look at them, I think they execute very well. I think the team thats going to be successful will be the team that come closest to playing up to who they are. We have a system offensively and defensively. They have a system offensively and defensively. The team thats going to be successful is the team who executes who they are the best.

I think both teams are extremely competitive and been very successful. If you look back over the years, Vermont has a risk tradition. They are in the party of the country opposite from Florida. They are at the top of the USA, and we are at the bottom, so we probably dont know that much about each other. But I have a tremendous amount of respect for the tradition that they have been establishing. Im not surprised at all. Theyve been one of the winningest programs in college basketball that nobody really knows a whole lot about.

But we have a tremendous amount of respect for them in the tournament. Hopefully our players response will be a direct reflection of how much respect we have for their program.

Q. What do you think this game, especially up in Hartford means to Terance Mann? Hes a New England kid and gets to come home for a few games.

COACH LEONARD HAMILTON: I think philosophically, this means a lot to him, being in an area where people are familiar with you. Once they throw the ball up, Terance wont be thinking about anything other than competing. Hes extremely competitive. He has a high basketball IQ, hes a team player. Hes a leader of our team in the locker room, on the basketball court. I think it will mean an awful lot to him to have an opportunity to go and play in advance. And I think thats what hes going to be talking about.

He has the ability — hes a mature guy. He wont allow himself to be distracted, Im sure. Hell probably have a few more people asking him for tickets. Other than that, I think hell be old Terance and thats who weve grown to love.

Q. Theres been a lot of comparisons with the ACC this year to the old Big East, three number one seeds and all of that. Can you compare what its like to have leagues that strong and how did that prepare you guys? How does it prepare a team for this tournament to be from a league thats that strong?

COACH LEONARD HAMILTON: Well, theres no doubt that the competitiveness of our league is extremely challenging. Every night out in the ACC, if youre not at your best, you can have — something bad can happen. If youre on the road, they can give you a hat and show you the door real quick.

This is a league that, it doesnt seem to matter whether youre ranked number one or youre at 15. Youre in a competitive game. You have to end up respecting the name on the front of your jersey and not worry about who youre playing. Because if you allow yourself to be affected by the name on your opponents jersey, you have too many highs and lows. If you are very focused about representing who you are, and you have to be in that frame of mind. Because it doesnt seem to matter who youre playing.

You turn the TV on and you — the number one and two ranked team in the league can be playing a team thats 13 or 14 in our league and its a three or four point game. 70 percent of all of the games in the ACC are decided by four points or less. That means that this league is competitive. And so I think once we get into a tournament like this, because of the competitive nature of our league and the challenges weve had all year long, I think well be well-prepared.

TRENT FORREST: They kind of play different from what were used to. They kind of just play a slower type of pace. I mean, they have the Lamb kid whos pretty good. They play a lot of ball through him. So we just have to stop him and try to pick up their pace a little bit to what we like to play at.

Q. My question is for Terance. Youre a Lowell, Mass. kid. What does it mean to come back to New England to play in the NCAA Tournament?

TERANCE MANN: It definitely means a lot for me because its my last year and I get to come back and play in front of friends and family for one last time. So its a good feeling.

Q. Terance, kind of going off that last question, you prepped at the Tilton School. What can you say about how playing at Tilton helped develop you and the type of competition you played in the Prep League?

TERANCE MANN: It helped develop me a lot. I played a lot of competition in the NEPSAC, a lot of D1 players on every team we played, night in, night out. It definitely helped out a lot maturing me for my freshman year.

Q. Phil, coming out of the ACC tournament, you guys were in some pretty crazy games there. I mean, how much does having that just so recently under your belt help you against a team that youre very unfamiliar with?

PHIL COFER: I think the main thing, basically all those three games were dog fights. We are putting that in the past and looking forward to this game because its our next game. I think the main thing is to learn from our mistakes from what we did and just moving on.

Q. You guys had a great run last year in the NCAAs. Im wondering what you take from a run like that that you can bring to the next tournament?

TERANCE MANN: I think definitely we learned a lot from last year. We learned how to take it one game at a time and not worry about future games ahead. I think last year we did a good job of that, we stuck to — every game plan was kind of different for us last year and we did a good job of taking one game at a time. I think well carry that over with us this year especially since weve got a lot of returners on the team from last years run.

TERANCE MANN: Yeah, I would kind of say what Terance said, just taking it one game at a time. I feel like the whole experience last year, it helped us throughout the season with winning games. Thats just going to help us be even better with this years tournament.

PHIL COFER: The main thing is kind of not looking in the future, just looking at what we got ahead. Thats what made us have a good run, looking at what team we had and just mainly just focusing on them. Thats what really helped us have a run last year.

Q. Coach, playing against Louisville and Kansas, what did that do, that experience, especially the success a couple of your guys really had in those games. What does that do going into a game like this?

JOHN BECKER: I think its going to help us out tremendously. We put together a really challenging nonconference schedule that included at Louisville and at Kansas. So, hopefully, that will pay benefits tomorrow. I think this will be the most athletic and longest team we play all year. I think it will be an adjustment getting used to the size and athleticism. Hopefully once the game starts and we get a feel for that, well settle of in.

Q. Coach, youve obviously been back here plenty of times at least in the area. When is the last time you played in this building or coached in this building? Is it nice to be back and see some friendly tastes?

JOHN BECKER: Its really exciting for me and my family to have this opportunity. Last time I was in this building, I think I took my daughter to see the Eagles here a couple years ago. But the last time for a basketball game was their National Championship year Kemba Walker and those guys, and it was pretty neat, Ryen Russillo gave the pregame talk. Mike Lonergan was a head coach, I was assistant and we were up three at the half, and things changed in the second half unfortunately.

But they went on to win the National Championship. Napier was a freshman and Kemba, pretty good back court they had there. Yeah, it will be really, really neat tomorrow to be able to coach out here and be the head coach in a NCAA Tournament game in my home state.

Q. Coach, when you look at Florida State, you put together your game plan, is it three thing, five things? What do you focus on going into a game against them?

JOHN BECKER: Yeah, I mean, its a pretty simple game plan and offensively, were going to have to make a lot of shots, shoot a lot of threes just because of their size in and around the basket. And offensively, rebound is important. Were a really good defensive team, but we havent played the likes of this size before. So were going to have to really clean up the glass and box out and get rebounds.

If we can do that, we can get out and play in transition and hopefully attack them early before they can get their defense set. So, you know, theres a lot of similarities to our recent games, as far as the game plan goes, and, well see.

Q. Two quick ones for you, first one, what can you say about Anthonys maturation this season and how much will the team rely on him today — I mean, tomorrow and how can the team continue to stay as dialed in as they were in the conference tournament?

JOHN BECKER: Yeah. Anthonys been amazing this year. You know, his growth as a player, hes really — his perimeter skills have really improved in three-point shot, it really made him a hard cover. But most importantly, as a leader, hes been tremendous, and hes become — along with Ernie Duncan, become the leader of this team. Hes been there every day for us and every night. He shoots 35 percent of our shots which is very different than how most Vermont teams play, where its much more balanced scoring. Weve really relied on Anthony, night in and night out. And hes delivered.

And the other piece of him offensively, has really become a complete player and really passed the ball when he double- and triple-teamed, was an all-defensive player this year, which Im really proud of. Hes become a two-way player. So, thats — hes going to be important for us, obviously, again, tomorrow.

COACH BECKER: Yeah, weve been really, really focused. For a young team, thats been really important for us, and weve gotten better as the year has gone on. And I thought our conference tournament was the best weve done all year of executing our system and executing the game plan, and, you know, for a full 40 minutes. Our guys did a really good job with that, and, you know, there will be excitement early in the game around being in a NCAA Tournament, but hopefully we can calm down early in the game and settle in, get a feel for their athleticism and go out there and play to win.

Q. John, Im wondering, your experience coaching at Gallaudet, how that shaped your career, unique experience, has it made you become a different coach in some ways?

JOHN BECKER: Yeah. I learned a lot from that experience as a young coach. The first and probably most important is the value of communication and where I had to teach myself sign language to communicate with my players and other coaches. And I took that really seriously, and, you know, really proud that, was able to communicate there. And, we take for granted the communication piece. And I never have since then, and we overcommunicate in our program here, and understand the importance of that and the value of that and how easy it is for us. And the friendships I made there, and just to be part of that culture and part of that community, gave me a great appreciation for a lot of things that I have and that we have. You know, I stay hopefully a little bit a part of that community I bring forward with me, and its made me a better coach for your.

Q. What UMBC did last year, was that relevant at all for the conference? I know this isnt a 160 match-up.

COACH BECKER: Yeah, were really proud as a conference member, were really proud what UMBC was able to conference this year. So, I think as a conference, we have confidence and we want to be competitive and we want to win games in the tournament. We can see what that does for us, and they helped give us confidence. Weve won some NCAA tournament games, obviously Syracuse game and Lamar in the First Four in 2012. So as a conference, we really pride ourselves as being a little underappreciated and undervalued.

So this is our opportunity to show the country just how good of a conference we are. So were here representing our conference and we expect to — we expect to advance.

Q. John, can you talk a little about the preparation to play Florida State with your reserves, because theyre not quite the same length and same athleticism. How did you prepare and how did those guys prepare for their role in getting your starters ready?

JOHN BECKER: Yeah. I think our — our bench is going to have to play well tomorrow. I mean, just with how hard Florida State plays. They play 11 guys, and, you know, to play the full 40 minutes, were going to have to trust the bench. Theyre going it have to be productive. Were going to have to keep rotating guys so that we can play the whole game, so to speak, and so, our bench has been inconsistent all year, has been much better. You know, we — I tinkered with the starting lineup more than we ever had this year as recently as the conference playoffs. Our bench is constantly evolving. I like where our starters and who we have coming off the bench and how they complement each other. We will need them to play well.

ANTHONY LAMB: Yeah, so this year mostly for me, trying to get healthy and trying to get back to myself and the level of play I expect from myself. I was trying to become a leader on this team knowing I had to step into a bigger role as upperclassman. Really trying to do what the coaches tell me and get back to 100 percent is my goal. I think Ive done that to the best of my ability this year.

Q. Ernie, can you — Id like you to kind of talk about Coach Becker a little bit, what he brings to the program and what was it about him and the tone he sets for the program that encouraged all three, both your brothers to come as well.

ERNIE DUNCAN: The winning culture is the reason why I came and the chance to get to this stage is why myself and Everett came to Vermont. Coach Becker is a competitor, a great person to relate to off the court. He did a good job bouncing the life off court and on the court.

Q. For Anthony and Stef, you played in an ACC school earlier this year and had big games, can you talk about that experience and what you prepare to do at Florida State?

STEF SMITH: Yeah, it was a great experience, stadium, atmosphere, its just — that level of basketball is a little different, athletic wise, physical wise. I think its good we got to play that game, to prepare us for this game coming up on Thursday.

ANTHONY LAMB: Its a lot of fun when you get to play against better competition, so I think were going to take advantage of that experience and try to bring it into this NCAA Tournament game.

Q. For Anthony, then Ernie, you got here two years ago, lost to Purdue, what do you take away from that experience and how much does it help you prepare for the game you have tomorrow?

ERNIE DUNCAN: Yeah, were definitely hungry with Anthony, having a taste of the big stage. I know him and myself are hungry for a chance to compete against a major team. Overall win, were definitely excited for tomorrow.

ANTHONY LAMB: It was a great game two years ago. We were able to step up on the big stage and now we know what it takes in the game like that, playing against higher competition and how it feels to play in front of that many people in front of such a great crowd.

Q. Really for any of you guys, getting to play somewhat close to home, what do you guys expect in terms of fan support, students and family coming to the games?

ERNIE DUNCAN: We feel like its a home game for us in a way. Its really exciting well have fans coming from Vermont and into the area and coming down to support us.

STEF SMITH: Its amazing. Fan support has been really great the whole year. Thats going to be great to have that support. Its like a home game, like you said.

ANTHONY LAMB: Just grateful that my mom can make the trip. Its not too far for her. Anything that makes it easy for my mom is good for me.

Q. For any of guys, but maybe Anthony. Florida States length and height is uncommon even for other ACC teams. How do sort of make up for that disadvantage?

ANTHONY LAMB: I think its our job to understand that, and going into the game, being prepared for that. We havent faced a team as long or athletic as him. We got close playing Kansas and Louisville. So, its really understanding where we can get to on the court and how we can best exploit our advantages versus their strengths.

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