March 9, 2017
Box Score |
COACH BEILEIN: It's been an incredible 24 hours. At this time 24 hours ago, we were board aborting a takeoff at a couple hundred miles an hour. What these guys have been through the last 24 hours has been incredible. It's been bonding. It's been emotional for many of them.
It's made them so resilient. They played connected today like they were connected yesterday when we got a hundred-some people off an airplane it seemed like in two minutes.
We just feel really blessed today to be in this situation, not only play, but win against a good Illinois team. Illinois has been playing as good of basketball as anybody in the country.
For us to come out like that, they made their run, continue to hammer away, was a great response by all of our teams.
These three were absolutely sensational today. D.J., and Mo and our bench, Mark, X, Duncan, a tremendous performance by these guys. I couldn't be more proud.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the three students.
Q. Derrick, was it a relief once you finally got on the court? Take us through the emotion of everything.
DERRICK WALTON: To be completely honest, it was just a relief once we got from the airplane to the bus. For me, after that, I kind of let my shoulders hang back. Kind of focused on what we had to do today.
Like I said before, once we got on the court, we just back to doing what we do every day. We just wanted to give it all, have fun with it.
ZAK IRVIN: Like Derrick said, I think the hardest part for all of us was getting back on the plane. Once we landed, everybody was fine. We were excited to get back on the court, get everything back to normal.
Q. Zak, you're waiting for the couch, shouting 210. Talk about what coach means to you.
ZAK IRVIN: We all waited for Coach B to get back in the locker room. Had a later water, threw it on him. It was fun.
He's done so much for this program. He's developed players from the time they've been here. You can use me as an example.
But he's a great guy, definitely with the X's and O's. He's taken our team to the next level.
THE MODERATOR: We'll let you guys go back to the locker room.
Questions for Coach Beilein.
Q. Coach, Wagner had a lot of energy out there on the court. He plays with a lot of emotion. What does that do for you guys as a team?
COACH BEILEIN: We have a team here of really great kids. You don't see their personality when they play. You see Mo's personality when he plays. He brings us an energy to it. Kids just don't show it. Their body language is a little bit different.
Mo wants to win. He's very young. He's 19 years old. His parents came from Germany to watch him today. He is just a pleasure to coach.
I don't know if I've seen a more beloved teammate over the time. We've had a lot of great players that are all beloved. He's as good as any of them as far as the way his teammates feel about him.
Q. I know there's been a tremendous amount of logistical challenges over the past 24 hours. Couldn't help but notice is your team played well in the practice jerseys. Are you planning to wear them again tomorrow or...
COACH BEILEIN: I don't know if we have a choice. All the baggage is in the baggage area of the plane. The plane is damaged. They're doing the investigation.
I don't know whether we'll be able to get them here logistically. We have washers and dryers here in D.C. Our equipment manager, Bob Bland, through this whole thing, was incredible. If it was a one-game series, we would have had other uniforms to wear. But we got all three sets on that plane.
Some other things you're not going to see, any more suits by me. I got one of my suits here. The rest of them are under that plane. You couldn't repack. I might have to make a visit to the drugstore, get some toothpaste, the whole thing. We're here, bare bones.
Q. Coach, unchartered territory the last 24 hours. Were you surprised with the energy, how they came out? You had no idea what to expect.
COACH BEILEIN: Last night, we got a hotel in Ann Arbor. We did our pregame walk-through and film. I walked in there, said, We aren't doing this. We have to let time take care of this a little bit.
We had a couple of counselors at school come visit them. We're not talking basketball till tomorrow. Even in the locker room today, until they came in, I think after the anthem, they came back in, I could tell we were going to be ready.
But it was very quiet everywhere. I wasn't going to shout at them, What's wrong with you guys? It's a big game. It wasn't a big game anymore. It was an important game, but being safe...
They're out there hugging their families hopefully pretty soon. It's going to be good.
Q. You talked about all the emotion with the players. At the height of what was going on yesterday, how scary was that for you and them?
COACH BEILEIN: I think I've been trying to put it back together. Kathleen was reminding me who chose not to fly with us today, by the way.
When I thought about that today, it was like a game. You know, when I watch other people coach, my son included, great friends, I get so nervous. I want them to win.
When I'm in the game, you're at work. I felt we were at work yesterday. It wasn't about it being emotional. What's happening? It's going to be, How can we get everybody off this plane?
The engine is still running. There's gas fumes coming in on everybody. When the engine finally shut down, there was this big pop. I said, Oh, my goodness.
But everybody was away from the plane. We were good.
I don't think there was anything other than, All right, like a game situation, what everybody does in their workday every day, they're in a crisis. They don't cry, sob, get emotional. They try to find the answer, the solution to this issue that we're involved in.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much.
COACH BEILEIN: Thank you.
COACH GROCE: Obviously I thought they played really, really well, shot it well. I thought a big difference in the game was the turnover differential. We had the majority of ours in the first half, had nine, five in the second half. The points off turnovers was 12 to 5. Give them credit. They've been playing well, especially offensively. I thought defensively they were good today also.
Made shots, spread us out. They had guys make plays.
We had our chances. Obviously we get down 20, then you fight back. A big part of that was the guy sitting here to my right. His disposition, his fight in huddles, the fight he gives our team. All of a sudden, we cut it down to seven. We have a three-point shot in the left corner that was a good look that could have taken it from seven to four. Instead we miss. They get a jailbreak opportunity, or a runout, and now it's nine.
I thought even at halftime going in, we had weathered a storm. Thought we played with a little bit of toughness and grit. Come out the second half, cut it to eight a couple times. They responded with a layup. A couple times we didn't absorb a couple screens. They get a couple layups. They make a couple threes.
I thought that Walton was terrific. Certainly the other guys play well. But he's certainly used the phrase 'head of the snake.' He has been playing well for them the last 10 games. Gives them a great disposition at both ends of the floor.
I was proud of our fight to come back, especially when we got off to such a slow start. Obviously really proud of this guy. I thought he really kept our team connected and kept fighting through some adversity there throughout the first half and the second half.
Questions for Trace.
Q. Tracy, you've had a long career at Illinois. I am sure this isn't the way you wanted to go out. Share your emotions going off the court.
TRACY ABRAMS: I just wanted to leave -- personally, I didn't have any personal agenda, nothing like that. I just wanted to do what I can do to make sure guys is ready. I was just trying to lead a lot, whether that's making guys better, talking, whatever that covers. I just wanted to leave it all out there.
Q. Tracy, you've been through a lot here. What have these last couple months been like as the team tried to battle back?
TRACY ABRAMS: It's been great, honestly. We've been through a lot, obviously, ups and downs. I thought our guys, we was great the last month, the last couple weeks or so. Our whole disposition, our will to fight. We didn't back down, no matter what nobody said.
We was in practice, helping each other out, doing the little things that matter. That's what it's all about. Fighting back when your back is against the wall. I can honestly say we got a group of guys that was real selfless and bought into what we need to do to be the best team we can be.
Q. What do you think about the future of this program as it goes forward? What do you think you left behind?
TRACY ABRAMS: The future's always bright for the Illini. Great program. Going to continue to be a great program. Obviously I made a connection with the younger guys. I gave those guys everything I got in terms of experience. They watched me go through adversity and things allow that, watched my response.
The sky's the limit for our program. It's going to continue to be the limit. We never going to settle, regardless of what it is.
Q. What did you feel like was the reason you weren't able to compete at the start of the game?
TRACY ABRAMS: Our guys was ready to compete. Like coach said, I think that's the No. 1 team offensively in the Big Ten. When you play guys like that, little things matter. Every play, every possession matters.
Obviously, we could have been better. As guys and players, we definitely take full responsibility for the start. But, you know, they made some nice plays at the end of the day. Give them credit.
Q. You were talking in the huddles. What were you saying while you were trying to fight back?
TRACY ABRAMS: It's not a quitting program. It's never been that way throughout my six years here. For me as a leader, that's all I'm going to preach.
I don't care the score. I feel like the score take care of itself. At the end of the day, I want guys to continue to compete no matter how the last play went for anybody. You got to keep moving forward. That's what makes good teams. That's all I was trying to do, is keep guys motivated, give their all.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Tracy.
We'll continue with questions for Coach Groce.
Q. Can you talk about the way Malcolm struggled or what they did to keep him?
COACH GROCE: I thought they defended him well. Zak Irvin was the primary defender on him. I thought he did a great job of making him work for everything. It really required him to be very detailed in everything he did, setting up cuts, screening well, coming off of screens tight, working hard to get open. They just made him really work.
Give Michigan credit.
Q. He appeared to be limping in that game. What was he battling?
COACH GROCE: I don't think that was a factor.
Q. Obviously you had that run toward the end of the regular season. Overall, look at the whole season. Why do you think it didn't come together more?
COACH GROCE: Well, I thought it did at the end. Obviously today we got beat by a really good Michigan team that played really well.
I agree with Tracy. I think our guys learned what it meant to fight. I thought we have had and have a very connected team that cares about one another. I thought our practices improved. I thought defensively we got better. I thought offensively we got better.
I think the biggest thing is what Trace said, that transference from him and the other seniors, but he did a great job of transferring to those, guys what it means to defend, how hard you have to play, how we prepare for practice.
Those guys have learned a lot. I think it's a big reason why we certainly played our best over the last month. I give our seniors a lot of credit, in particular Tracy.
Q. You mentioned Tracy. The game he had today, how does it wrap-up the commitment he's made to this program?
COACH GROCE: He's been unbelievably committed. He's been through a lot. It took him a lot over the last month to six weeks to get back to what I thought he was starting to play like he had even prior to that stuff.
That's a lot, what he went through. He and I have had a lot of conversations. He's a special kid. I mean, he really is. Today I thought you saw him with a lot of fight and a lot of care for his teammates, a lot of leadership today. I was really proud of him.
Q. A lot of fans are frustrated with where this program is at. What is your sell to them about the future, where this thing's going?
COACH GROCE: As I said the other day, what's interesting last week we beat Michigan State at home. I got one or two questions after the game how everything has changed. I told you not to get too far ahead of yourself.
At the same time, I'm not going to let a missed layup and a 25-foot three by a guy that's made 5-All years, four, five days later, make me feel any different. That's not how I'm wired.
I feel the same way that I did. Tracy echoed it as a player. That's more important to me than what anyone else thinks. In terms of what they have learned, who is returning, how they've been practicing, how they've been playing, what we have coming in with our class, we're excited.
I told numerous people about what we've done culturally over the last month, six weeks, how we have kind of turned that corner than any time I've been at Illinois.
Also, we realize at this point we still have to take information in. By no means am I saying this particular season's completely over yet either. I don't know that at this juncture. We owe it to those guys to continue to not necessarily think all the time about future, future, future. We owe it to them to try to finish this thing the right way.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thanks very much.
COACH GROCE: Thank you.