HE WILL CONFRONT the emotions of Senior Night. He will confront No. 10 Ohio State. He will confront the challenge of leading the charge to keep his team's NCAA Tournament hopes alive. 'Cat forward John Shurna will face all of that at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday night, but late Tuesday afternoon his mood could best be described as buoyant. He joked with inquiring minds. He peppered his answers with laughs and giggles. He betrayed, quite simply, no signs of nerves. "We have two games left and we're right in the hunt here. So it's got to be a fun time," he would say in explanation. "You've got to have fun with it. If you get stressful, I don't think it would be good for the team.". . .
BILL CARMODY, his coach, was neither surprised nor disappointed when told of his star's relaxed attitude. "That's the way he plays," he said instead. "He has a refreshing personality. I don't think he felt pressure when he made those foul shots the other day (to beat Penn State). He just has this boyishness to him. He's different from a lot of guys who seem really serious about it, like coaches for instance. He just has a certain, not naive, but.". . .
HE PAUSED HERE, searching for the right word, and as he thought someone suggested it might be optimistic. "Yeah," he then said. "I hate that word, but.". . .
BUT CAN THAT attitude be contagious, he was asked. . .
"YEAH, I THINK SO," Carmody answered. "When he's feeling good and smiling out there, I always tell him to do that. I tell him, 'Even if you're not feeling good, do it to help the other guys.' But most of the time, he does it anyway. That's just the way he is.". . .
THE WAY IT HAS BEEN for the 'Cats this last month is surely familiar to all who follow them. They have won some crucial games and have lost some that tore at their bellies, and always, always they have been surrounded by chatter centered on their NCAA tourney hopes. They are the bracketolgists' favorite pet, the thoroughbred looking to break its maiden, the debutante hoping to finally find her way into the ball, and now the buzz around them is as insistent as that around a wasps' nest. But, guard Reggie Hearn would say on Tuesday, "We've only got a couple more weeks to hear about it, especially if we take care of business against Ohio State and Iowa (on Saturday) and at the Big Ten Tournament. In the next week or so, we can squelch that. We're definitely embracing (that situation) as a team. We know we have a chance to make history. For each of us to be part of that would be really special. So we're looking forward to making that happen.". . .
WE NOW ASKED HEARN, with a smile on our face, how it feels to have the whole world watching the 'Cats. "I don't think the whole world is watching us," he demurred. "I think we're just a very small part of what's going on with March Madness. We're just one story amidst many. So, like I said, knowing that, we know there is some pressure on us and we embrace it. But as long as you go about things the way you always have, then things will kind of fall into place and it will be just like another game.". . .
THIS STANCE BY HEARN was another attitude Carmody embraced on Tuesday. "That's a good way to put it, embracing it," he said in explanation. "If you just go about it, you're not nervous about it, you know what you have to do, they've been doing this all their lives, playing ball. So I'd say embracing it is a positive way to put it. . .(and) I think it's great they're involved (in the moment). We haven't been in this situation too often and now we are, and I don't know if it necessarily adds more pressure. All these other teams that go (to the tournament) every year, they listen to SportsCenter too and they seem to do OK.". . .
THE 'CATS, of course, did less than OK when they met Ohio State in Columbus, where they fell by 33 way back in late December in their Big Ten opener. But that result, just like the momentousness of their imminent rematch, is just one more reality that left Hearn unfazed. "I think we're a completely different team than we were at the start of Big Ten play," he would say in explanation. "I think me and Sobo (point Dave Sobolewski) were still trying to get used to our roles with the team. I think we've really grown offensively. I think our offense is flowing better now. The last half of the Big Ten season our offense has been flowing really well. So we're a much changed team, and we're going to use that loss as fuel to go out and win this game.". . .
WITH THAT GAME NOW IMMINENT, we wondered what Carmody liked best about his team. "I think we can put five guys out there and I think they can all put the ball in the basket," he replied. "I think that they're playing at a decent level, to tell you the truth. They're sharing the ball nicely. Looking at that Penn State tape, offensively, the ball looked great. It was moving around so nicely at different times. Defensively, we need some work and I don't know how much correcting we can do. But on offense, I like the way the guys share the ball.". . .
THEN, CONVERSELY, we wondered what worried him most about the Buckeyes. "They're all good. They're just all good," he said with a rueful chuckle. "It's a real nice team, they're well-coached, they've been there before, they're a very good defensive team. It's hard to get good shots against those guys. They don't give you too many good looks.". . .
BUT LAST YEAR, when Ohio State was ranked No. 1, the 'Cats lost to them by a point at home and in overtime at the Big Ten Tournament. So, here, we finally wondered if he might dust off those old games plans for Wednesday night. "I think we controlled both games last year, we really did, and I think that's what we have to do, control the game with our offense," he said. "Now, that isn't easy to do. Then last year, in both games we played, we made a lot of shots in the last seven seconds of the shot clock. That's what we have to do. That's how we can beat Ohio State, if we're sort of in control with our tempo.". . .
HE WILL CONFRONT the emotions roiling through his players on Senior Night. He will confront the harsh reality of No. 10 Ohio State. He will confront the challenge of coaching a team striving to keep his team's NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Bill Carmody will face all of that at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday night, but late Tuesday afternoon his mood could best be described as unruffled and realistic. "I don't even think about it. I don't really think about it," he would finally say in explanation. "I think everyone knows what the situation is. We're going to have to win a few games here, and we have a good opportunity against a very good team tomorrow night. So it's a good chance for us."