THE MODERATOR: Coach, if you could start with an opening statement.
COACH PIKIELL: Thank you for coming and staying late tonight. Just real proud day. These guys kept fighting. I'm real happy for Rutgers Nation. Happy for these two guys. All of our seniors. Two stepped up, made big plays. We kind of just hung around and we toughed it out. It was an exciting game. Rutgers Nation got excited, made it loud and proud.
A great day today for us, and we get 40 more. So we're excited about that.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. What was the -- was there a moment that turned it around, a play, a sequence? What started the charge for you guys in the first half?
COREY SANDERS: I think it was De's steal. I think he had a turn around steal. Might have missed a layup but I just got things going. From that point on the defense buckled down from that timeout that we had. And our offense caught up -- like Coach always said, let our defense come and offense catch up. And we were able to go on a run.
Q. Deshawn, when you were doing your ESPN interview, I saw fans cheering your name. One Rutgers fan said, they said Rutgers didn't belong in the Big Ten. How does that make you feel? And do you feel like you made a statement by winning these two games that you guys really do belong in this league?
DESHAWN FREEMAN: I'm sorry, I didn't hear that at all, so no comment. (Laughter).
Q. Both of you had amazing an game tonight. You played with so much tenacity and excitement that even the crowd was even behind you. Do you feel that that was a motivating factor for you guys to win tonight?
DESHAWN FREEMAN: Yeah, gotta give credit to the Rutgers fan section. That was amazing tonight. I gotta give a lot of credit to them.
COREY SANDERS: It was great playing at home, especially for the seniors. They get to come, the parents get to come and stuff and see them play. We had a lot of people come from different places. Deshawn's family came, my family came.
Just to have people that support you like that, especially in the New York area, we've got a lot of alumni. Just to have the fans come out there and be behind us, just a great feeling, and it helps us get more amped up for the game and try to win.
Q. How does the culture of Rutgers University changed -- it's been like a number of coaching changes -- this right here is a local guy, comes in, puts the staple in the Rutgers program. How is the culture down in Piscataway changed since Coach Pikiell has taken over?
COREY SANDERS: It's just a different type of motto, different type of team, different type of chemistry than we had before. When Coach comes in he's always working hard, just makes you want to work hard. You always want to match his energy.
If you see Coach in practice you'll be, like, wow, like, wow, this man really cares. That's one thing that stuck with me for the first day he brought me in. A lot of things have changed about this program. We're still rebuilding, we're going to keep trying to become one of those programs, try to get to the top.
Q. Deshawn, just in terms of the last few games of the regular season you faced some adversity, started coming off the bench. How have you persevered and tonight when the team really needed someone to step up, you really carried them down, like the start of the game and got them going? What has been your mindset in just keeping moving forward?
DESHAWN FREEMAN: I didn't let that affect me at all. Eugene came -- Eugene started. He did a really good job. So after Eugene, Coach kind of put me in the game, just got me going.
Q. What was that feeling like leaving the court? You have all the Rutgers fans there. You're the 14th seed, now getting a chance to play Friday night quarterfinals at the Garden against the eighth-ranked team in the country. What did it feel like tonight walking off the court?
DESHAWN FREEMAN: It felt good. Last year, yesterday, we've been there before. Tonight we haven't been there. So it felt amazing. Felt amazing.
COREY SANDERS: Unfinished business.
Q. For either of you, the first time you played Purdue they won pretty easily. The second time, though, you guys gave them all they could handle in New Jersey. So did that give you any more confidence that second time around that this is the team that you can compete against?
COREY SANDERS: Yeah, kind of got a little strategy for them. Coaches drew up a great game plan. I'm sure we're going to get back to that tomorrow. So the game you see at Rutgers, trying to make that same game at the Garden, make it very interesting and see if we can come out with the W.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.
Q. For people who just tuned in to Rutgers basketball tonight around the country, what do they say about your team?
COACH PIKIELL: I hope the last two years you saw a team that fights and competes. And you certainly saw that tonight against a program that I have tremendous respect for, and Coach Miller does an unbelievable job. And they have very good players and tradition and all that.
But they stayed the course, and it's tough when you're building a program, but like I said last night, I'm very confident in what we're doing here. We're doing it with great kids. These two guys had great chemistry today and great leadership. And we did something special I knew we could do. And it was nice to do it here at Madison Square Garden.
Q. The Big Ten purists per se were not happy that the tournament was moved to the Garden. Do you feel like playing on your home court you guys are sending a message to the conference?
COACH PIKIELL: I don't worry about what other people think. It's a great venue here, maybe the best venue in the world. People love New York. It's great to spread the great word of what a great league it is with great coaches to the biggest media market in the world.
So this is great for the league. And I think a lot of people are learning how good and exciting basketball is played in this league and how many good, quality teams there are from 1 to 14. So I'm hoping they're getting a great feel for that.
Q. Down 24-8, kind of seemed like deja vu from last year in the second round. Was there anything that you said to the team in the huddle or was there a moment where you felt like things just clicked and that's when the turnaround started?
COACH PIKIELL: We brought our subs in, and I thought De really gave us terrific energy. Geo Baker, coming off the flu, had great minutes, too. I told the guys I believe in what we do, I believe in our defense, I believe in our players. We just have to stay the course.
These games are not easy. Any of them you're going to be up sometimes and down sometimes, go through scoring droughts, defensive droughts, just gotta continue to stay the course. They did tonight. I'm really proud. Once we got the lead we did a really good job of keeping it. And made our free throws down the stretch.
And Corey was terrific again. I think he has something to prove here. And he's a good, really good player, and I think this is a great venue for him to showcase that.
Q. What do you think the significance for your program is of these last two games?
COACH PIKIELL: Well, I mean, just steps in the building process. We have a lot of tremendous things going on at Rutgers, we really do. We just got a $15 million donation by the Rodkins to build a student academic center. We're building a new practice facility. It's a great university with great people and great leadership.
There's a lot of good things happening at Rutgers. And I'm proud to be the coach and proud to play a little role in it. But the players are what make it special. Like, they could have left two years ago. They stayed the course. They believed in what we're doing, and they're getting rewarded for that now.
And they've gotten better. Freshmen -- Issa has gotten better. Eugene Omoruyi has gotten better. The things that I told them we're going to here we're doing, and it's going to be better and better days ahead for Rutgers University.
Q. Coach, every game your team won this year before yesterday was at home. How similar has this environment, the preparation for this been in comparison to playing at home? And why do your players thrive in that scenario?
COACH PIKIELL: I will tell you we played the toughest schedule in the Big Ten. So we played every good team in this league twice. Played a lot of good teams once. We've been through the wars and these guys have battled through it, on the road, home, neutral site.
I think this is exciting to us because these are our fans and Rutgers Nation right down the road, but this is the world's most famous arena, too.
So we got off to that good start yesterday. Got it rolling a little bit today, and hopefully we're going to play a great Purdue team -- tremendous respect, senior-laden, really good coach -- tomorrow. I'm excited we'll get a chance to play again.
Q. You were probably the biggest underdog of all the Big Ten teams and probably the favorite now, favorite underdog.
COACH PIKIELL: Favorite. Just leave it at that. (Laughter.)
Q. And you probably have the state of New Jersey and perhaps the city of New York behind you. What do you like your chances against Purdue and perhaps the tournament?
COACH PIKIELL: I'll tell you, never get caught up in the numbers. I told our guys this is a new season a couple days ago. And there's no number. Everyone's the same. Just gotta keep winning. And been able to do that.
And I hope we get all of New Jersey and all of New York really helping us out because I know our guys love playing in front of a lot of people. But those numbers next to your name don't mean anything.
I used to be in a one-bid league where you could win 20 games in a row during the regular season, nobody cares. You've got to win the tournament. It's a lot like what I'm used to for my whole career. You have to have a great weekend and we've had a couple of good days. So hopefully we can make it a great weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with an opening statement from Coach.
COACH MILLER: Congratulations to Rutgers. They fought their way out of a really deep hole early. And I thought our team was really doing a nice job. But they continued to fight it through. And got away from us a little bit in terms of composure on both ends.
And halftime felt a little bit different. And the confidence that they continued to play with throughout the rest of the game, you know, really was the difference. They were more forceful in a lot of areas. They took things away from us. And we really just at the end of the day didn't have an answer for guarding the ball and just doing some things that we were doing really well for a long time.
So you've got to give them credit. On this stage you're playing for a lot. And I thought they played with a lot of confidence. For our guys, I'm really disappointed. Wish we could have done a better job. They gave everything they had all season long through a lot of ups and downs. Saw a lot of guys grow throughout the course of the year and do some things that a lot of people probably didn't anticipate. From that standpoint I'm proud of them.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Robert, you guys were doing so well in the first 10, 12 minutes. Did you guys relax a little bit at 24-8 or what do you think really started the downfall tonight?
ROBERT JOHNSON: I think we didn't do a good enough job of keeping our foot on the gas once we had them down in that type of situation, and they responded and we never did.
Q. Juwan, you guys came out in the second half and you eventually got it back and tied it. They came down and hit a big shot after that. Was it just one of those things where you couldn't make enough shots?
JUWAN MORGAN: I think it just comes down to us not getting enough stops, not so much shooting because if we were getting stops we would have got out and our offense would have been flourishing, but we didn't get those.
Q. Maybe you talked about it a little bit there, but you've been really good in close games this season in terms of executing in key moments. But maybe what wasn't getting you guys over the line in some key positions there in the second half, do you think?
ROBERT JOHNSON: I just think we weren't as sharp as we needed to be down the stretch. And we never really got over that hump where we strung stops together and buckets with those.
Q. Rob, what was it about Sanders that made him so tough to defend?
ROBERT JOHNSON: You know, he was really good at getting to his right hand, and that's something we talked about. And when we allowed him to do that, he really hurt us. And I don't think us guards did a good enough job of taking that away from him.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. I know you just lost, but I'm wondering if you had any thoughts on what occurred with your brother today?
COACH MILLER: No thoughts at all, no thoughts at all about what's going on out there. He is my brother, and that's big. It's my family. And anything that's discussed with them about us is about family and stays within that. But no thoughts on what's going on in terms of other than thinking about them.
Q. After you had that stretch of the second half, I think 10 or 11 minutes you were only able to make one field goal. Was it guys just not taking good shots, not communicating? What do you think was going on with the offense in the second half?
COACH MILLER: I thought they did a great job of establishing that they weren't going to let Juwan catch the ball. And usually we can play through him. This team really relies on being able to play through him.
And if you look at how difficult they made him catch the ball, how hard it was for him to play in space, it just became a lot harder for our team to not be able to play through him. That's one. And then I thought early in the first half when we had things going in a good direction, we had some shot-selection issues that didn't help us.
And the shot selection in the first half sort of took its toll on us when you could have extended the lead or at least given yourself a chance to play comfortably.
But late in the game, and as we tried to play and we needed to run offense, they eliminated what I thought was our ability to run through Juwan. And after that, our guards -- and we needed to be able to make some plays for others and that wasn't happening. And give them credit. I thought they were in the now. I thought they used great quickness. They played extremely hard. They made things challenged.
But when you're not able to play inside out and we're not able to establish our best player, that's when it comes back on me. We have to figure out a better way to do it because he didn't have the impact in the game, even with 15 and nine that he usually has in the game.
Q. They shot 68 percent in the second half. That included only four attempts from 3-point range. Did it feel as though you were almost swimming against the current a little bit there? And how would you assess your level of satisfaction with your team's defense in the final 20 minutes?
COACH MILLER: Well, I mean, you can start with probably the first 12 and say that's who we've been. We had a great connection on the floor. And then I thought our offense sort of gave them some easy ones on the break -- turnovers, run-outs. They started to get a little bit of confidence. The lead shrunk.
And in the second half we were not able to stop the ball. We just couldn't. Whether it was Sanders at the basket. I thought Deshawn Freeman really hurt us throughout the game with his ability to play off the lane and drive.
They were able to do some things one-on-one that we just didn't have an answer for for the first time in a long time. We just couldn't answer the bell. 68 percent from the floor in the second half, allowing them to shoot 58 for the game and in all reality still be in kind of in the game for the most part was just disappointing.
I thought just the tougher team won tonight. And at this time of year you don't expect to have that happen. But we just didn't get the job done in enough areas and we didn't respond like we have been responding when we needed to.
But I give them credit. If you look at Corey Sanders' game tonight, they took away the help. They let him play one-on-one, and I thought he did a great job of getting down hill, also hit some tough ones but that's back-to-back games he's done that. He's a tough guy to stop one-on-one and he got going.
Q. Do you feel like this is the end of the year, or do you feel like this is still a team that could get an NIT berth?
COACH MILLER: I would be surprised. I would be surprised if there's postseason on the horizon for us, even with a sixth-place finish in the Big Ten, I would be surprised. If something came along the line we would be really excited because I think this team likes to play with one another and they're a group that's worked hard to improve, and as improved as any team I've been around to be honest with you in terms of where we started and finished. I'd be surprised and if they threw one our way, I'm sure we'd be ready but I would be surprised.
Q. To follow up on that, is there any thought beyond the NIT or --
COACH MILLER: No.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.