March 10, 2011
COACH CARMODY: Well, you go into the game and you just think, we split with them during the year. You know, it's a big, strong, physical team, and so we just didn't want to get killed off the back boards, one; and then two, didn't want to let Hoffarber get too many open looks.
I just look at the stats here, it says 41 35 in rebounds. I just felt like we weren't getting killed off the back boards. As long as we stay within ten, I usually feel pretty good.
And then I think we did a pretty nice job on Blake, and that's not an easy thing to do. You know, we're down a couple guys, so I was just real happy with the performance in the second half especially. You know, some guys who didn't play that well in the first half came through and played well in the second half.
Mike had a special game, which is great, but I just thought like Drew and -- there was a point there with Drew and Luka (Mirkovic), throwing it down and just sort of old fashioned give and go things, that was real important. And then Alex had another very good game for us. He just seemed to be all around.
So it's a good win for us, and we get an opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country, which I think is a challenge certainly, but that's why you're playing at this level, so you can play against good guys.
Q. Question for Juice Thompson. 35 points, I'm not sure if you're aware but it's a single game record in the Big Ten Tournament. Talk about if that means anything to you, and it seemed like a couple times you just were on fire.
MICHAEL THOMPSON: That doesn't mean anything. I'm just happy my team came out and we were able to get a win. I think as a team, we did a good job of moving the ball around and just finding the right guys, and everyone stepped up and made shots.
Q. Juice, a couple times there you hit big shots and the tongue came out. Is that after you hit a big one, is that just your little personal celebration?
MICHAEL THOMPSON: It just happens out of instincts, I guess. I'm not sure exactly when it happens, it just happens.
You know, my team played well and we had a lot of energy going from the players on the court as well as our people on the bench.
Q. Drew, can you talk a little bit about Juice's game and your thoughts when he really started getting it going?
DREW CRAWFORD: Yeah, well, say this all the time. Juice is our leader out there and he does an unbelievable job leading the team, whether it's passing the ball, scoring it, or just running the team. He had an unbelievable game, and him getting going really helps us get going as a team, too, and we came out and played great all together.
Q. Just going against Ohio State now after having come so close, whichever players want to address, what do you think about this chance?
ALEX MARCOTULLIO: I think this time around we're going to go about our business the same way and just control the game and try to take them out of what they do best. You know, as a team we have to come together and win three more games to get through this tournament. I think today was a great step, and we've just got to continue on.
DREW CRAWFORD: Yeah, well, we had a tough one against Ohio State earlier in the year. So we know we can play with these guys, and we're going to be real excited for tomorrow.
Q. Juice, I just wanted to ask you, also, what do you remember about that last game against Ohio State? Obviously you guys were trying to -- you were in a position to win the game late before the steal.
MICHAEL THOMPSON: The thing that we remember the most, we were competing with them and we were right there with them the entire game. We just had some mental lapses toward the end, and down the stretch we just didn't make plays. We're going to go into the game with our same approach and the same game plan.
Q. Kind of along the same lines with the tongue coming out, you seemed like you were a little bit more emotional throughout the game. Is that just a result of this being your last go around?
MICHAEL THOMPSON: I think that's just the result of just playing and feeding off the energy of the crowd as well as my teammates who are on the court as well as on the bench.
Q. For whichever players want to talk about Nick Fruendt's contributions.
ALEX MARCOTULLIO: You know, Nick was huge today. Coach Carmody gave him a little chance and he told us in the locker room if Nick wasn't going to produce in the first half, he probably wasn't going to go back. But Nick stepped up huge in the first half, made some big plays. And then the second half, he started us off by hitting that huge three. So I think he carried us with his energy and he made a few plays on the defensive end, as well, so I think Nick stepped in and did a great job for us.
Q. Coach, just talk about the short turnaround. Playing a noon start tomorrow, you're not really used to that and such a short turnaround against a good team. What's the game planning like?
COACH CARMODY: Yeah, well, it's the second time, and these guys know all the players on every team in the Big Ten, and guys at Ohio State know our guys. You know, they're pretty straightforward. They're good guys, they're well coached, they're playing man to man most of the time. So there aren't too many things that are going to trick you.
The turnaround, they're 20 years old, you know what I mean? We practiced in the fall at 9:00 in the morning. I'll just remind them that there are no excuses.
Q. Can you put this performance by Thompson in perspective in terms of great scoring performances you've seen at Northwestern and just where does it rank, and can you put it in perspective?
COACH CARMODY: Yeah, well, you know, it's the beginning of the tournament, so you get a chance, like I said, to play the No. 1 team in the country. Mike has been playing at an extremely high level, not just the last couple games but like seven or eight games. He's playing so hard.
We had a talk about maybe it's three and a half weeks ago, something like that, and just said, it doesn't look good unless we win the tournament for the NCAAs, but you've got to play -- you're a senior and you play the way you know how and the way you've been taught and the way you've been brought up, and let that show on the court.
As the captain and leader, you have to bring your team along. You know, and I think he's done a terrific job, remarkable job in his own game and the way he's played in just bringing some of these other guys along. Marcotullio, backcourt partner now that JerShon (Cobb) is down has played some good games, (Davide) Curletti has given us some real good minutes. So it's just really good to see the way he's performed and helped the team.
Q. Early thoughts on Ohio State tomorrow, anything you might have learned from playing them right down to the last minute?
COACH CARMODY: Give everything away? What do you want from me? No, I thought we controlled the tempo of the game pretty much in that game, and we made some very, very tough shots, you know, in the last, say, seven seconds of the clock. So I suspect that they'll try to up the tempo a little bit and try to take us out of our routines and stuff.
My thoughts on playing them, I saw the Wisconsin game, you know, a few days ago, so it's a little scary because they have so many different weapons. They don't all have to perform well on a given day. Certain guys can have just average games and they can win big. So I mean, it's a big challenge for us. But that's why we're here.
Q. Not to make you give away all the secrets, but how does having (John) Shurna as opposed to JerShon change the match ups with Ohio State?
COACH CARMODY: How they're going to play us, do you mean?
COACH CARMODY: Yeah, we actually went -- because John didn't play in the last game, we decided to change the tempo of the game and to try to slow it down a little bit. What was the score in that game? It was like high 50s, I think, 58 57? Yeah, and we kept it down a little bit. I think somewhere in between. I think we still have to get out when we can and throw it up the side and try to knock down some shots, get some early offense. But then after that against a team like this, you have to make them guard you.
Q. Any change JerShon or Capocci can play for you tomorrow? And did Alex have that right about what you said at halftime about Fruendt?
COACH CARMODY: No, I didn't say that at halftime, I said it at the end of the game. I just said it to him ten minutes ago. I said, you know, when you have a lot of guys in there like Shurna know when he's not playing too well, he's not going to play. Drew knows that, a lot of guys know that, but I told Nick it was a terrific performance because he knew it and everyone knew it. If he didn't play well in the first half, he probably wasn't going to go back in there, try someone else or do something differently. So that's added pressure, and he was cool out there and he did everything he should do. I just thought it was a terrific performance on his part for a guy who hasn't played that much.
Q. And Capocci?
COACH CARMODY: Yeah, JerShon is out, not going to play. And Capocci it's day to day, so I haven't talked to the trainer today about him.
Q. You talked about the defense against Blake Hoffarber. Can you talk about what your team was able to do effectively to prevent him from getting those open shots?
COACH CARMODY: You know, we just were more aware of him. Mike has been playing -- they've been going against each other, so we just said don't go under screens against him, just try your best. You know, he has to do a lot more than just make shots for that team now that he's lost his point guard, so it's a difficult thing for him because he's trying to help some of those big guys, he's expected to do a lot. I'm not saying we wiped him out or anything, I'm just saying the guys played hard and made it tough on him, and I think that was important towards us winning this game.
COACH SMITH: Well, it's just been a tough stretch here, and I thought today we were ready to play. I thought our kids played hard. We're just having a tough time scoring. That's been our problem most of the latter part of the season. And we just -- there was a stretch where we took the lead with about 13 minutes to go, and we just couldn't seem to -- a good team, veteran team like Northwestern made shots, and this is the result, a loss.
Q. Can you just talk about defensively just some of the struggles the team had? They tried a lot of different schemes and just some of the challenges there.
BLAKE HOFFARBER: Yeah, we tried a little bit of different things, but we weren't getting the stops. They scored in a variety of different ways, and Thompson definitely got his fair share of points there. I don't know, we've just got to get back to start working harder and hopefully have another couple games.
Q. Trevor, seemed like early they were hacking you. Were they getting in your head at all because you were attacking but just to not much avail?
TREVOR MBAKWE: No, they weren't getting in my head. That's just how it goes sometimes. Sometimes it gets called; sometimes it don't. I kept attacking the rim like I've been doing my whole career. I finally was able to get some calls in the second half, but I just had a tough stretch. Starting the game off, I thought I was being physical enough, but I guess I wasn't getting enough contact. Just got to play through it and just keep playing hard.
Q. Blake, can you talk about what Juice Thompson did and how good he was and it obviously affected the game?
BLAKE HOFFARBER: Yeah, he did a little bit of everything. He hit some threes, got to the free throw line. He can give him that tonight. We definitely needed to stop him, and I think we did a good job on (John) Shurna. But yeah, when a player goes off like that, it's tough to get the win.
Q. What was the difference between this team and the last couple teams that were able to make these late runs down at the end of the season?
BLAKE HOFFARBER: I don't really know. I thought we had the confidence and thought we had a good game plan, we had a good week of practice, and I don't know, it's just been tough the last couple weeks definitely, the last month. Hopefully we have -- like I said, hopefully we can have some more games after this and show people that we're a better team than what we've been displaying.
Q. Could you sense -- Rodney had a tip dunk late in the game, and that may or may not have sparked you guys, but did you feel like there was a chance to maybe come back at that point?
TREVOR MBAKWE: Yeah, definitely. We knew that we had another run in us. That definitely started us off. And when we get Rodney playing with that type of energy, we kind of feed off of it. Northwestern did a great job keeping the momentum in their favor, and they just -- they ran the offense comfortably. We didn't put enough pressure on them and we weren't able to change the game after Rodney's dunk.
Q. Defensively was there some point after Al (Nolen) left that this team kind of changed its identity a little bit defensively?
BLAKE HOFFARBER: When you lose a player like Al, who's a good defensive stopper, I think just -- I don't think that's one of the main reasons, but maybe it could lead to that. But I think just we weren't concentrating enough. Everyone has got to realize they've got to stop their man, it's not just your man scoring, it's the whole team's.
Q. Last year's team came in and I think you were 6 of your last 14 games. Can you compare the confidence level of that year's team entering the tournament compared to this year's squad?
BLAKE HOFFARBER: Even though we haven't been playing well and we've gone on losing streaks and stuff like that, we had confidence and we felt like we could win. Just they played a better game than we played today, hit some shots, hit some big shots, and went on a couple more runs than we did.
Q. Trevor, I know you guys might still have the NIT, but when you look ahead to next season, what do you think this team needs to do to retool physically, mentally to prevent this kind of thing from happening?
TREVOR MBAKWE: I think the NIT could definitely help us out. We finish strong and kind of carry it on to next season. We have a lot of work to do. It's going to be an important off season for a lot of us. We just have to work on our games a lot. We weren't able to make shots this year and that kind of hurt us down the stretch. We just all have to get in the gym and be better players, and we're going to be confident coming back next year. We have a lot of guys who play a lot of minutes, a lot of freshmen, so we're going to have the experience and we're going to need everyone just to step up their game and have a good season next year.
Q. Tubby, you've obviously always preached defense, and this team has had some struggles, especially during this losing skid. What have been some of the greatest challenges in terms of game planning defensively over the last month?
COACH SMITH: Well, we have a young, inexperienced backcourt. Let's face it, our guards are pretty -- we had a number of open shots today. Maverick (Ahanmisi), Austin (Hollins), you know, they're talented players, but it's a little bit -- they were not -- they were sort of recruited to be backups this year, freshmen, but we've had to throw them into the fire. And I think they've -- we've been in just about every game. We defended well. We just had those moments where we have breakdowns where veteran experienced teams will take advantage of a back door. It's not really happening to our freshmen, it's happening to our whole group where guys are not in the right spot.
Blake hit it there, team defense, and we just have some fundamental breakdowns that are really -- either it's fatigue or mental lapses or whatever that causes -- and then we can't score.
We finished first in the league in defensive field goal percentage, second in three point defense, first in rebounding. If you told me that at the beginning of the year, I would have said, boy, we're going to have a great season. But you've got to have leadership and you've got to have guards that can help you get in the offense or bring the ball back out when you have to, get it set up, and we just haven't had that.
Q. At the same time that you preached defense, last year's team had a really great time scoring in the first three games, I think averaged 70 plus points a game. Offensively there are a lot of areas where -- like your freshmen, for example, they have a longer way to go?
COACH SMITH: You mean as far as -- well, they've got to get stronger. They make shots and everything, but I think we might have two guys shoot over 50 percent.
Last year we probably had four or five guys. We have, I think, one or two guys shooting over 20 percent from threes. You're just not going to -- they've got to knock down open shots.
Just today, with so many opportunities that we had to -- we just couldn't get the ball to drop. And that's probably as big a -- that's been our biggest challenge this year. The only thing we've got to do is get in the weight room, get stronger, get someone to either change their shot completely, and if they do what we tell them to do, we'll be fine and we will improve. So that's what we expect.
Q. It seemed like at times Trevor, Blake, Austin, Chip (Gerald Armelin) were trying to take over the games by themselves. How much does that sort of hurt a team like this that needs to play five strong at the same time?
COACH SMITH: Well, I thought we -- Chip had some open looks. He's still learning and he's trying hard. We kind of -- he's looking down saying, well, coach needs me to score, and Trevor, right at the basket, all he had to do was make -- I mean, Blake, we get some good looks now. And then when we don't go, the pressure mounts. Now you try to -- I thought teamwork wise, we had, what, 15 assists, 13 assists, only eight turnovers. I thought our guys -- we do share the ball. We share the ball, and I thought today if they make those shots, if Chip's shot goes -- he had about three or four open shots from the perimeter, I think Maverick turned down a bunch of them, Austin had some good looks, and that's what good team do. They back up and say, OK, we're going to take the inside away from you and make you beat us from the outside, and we don't have guys that can make those shots other than Blake.
Q. Why do you think that's the case? You have a huge size advantage over Northwestern. Why can't you pound it inside?
COACH SMITH: Well, we did, and we didn't score. I don't know how many times Trevor got the ball slapped out of his hands. He missed an easy basket right inside. But a good team they're going to double you and triple you just like they did, that's just basketball. He might be able to score over one guy or two guys, but he can't score -- they are 6'10", 6'8", 6'7" inside. And if we throw back out to an open guy and they don't make the shot, it makes for a long day.
Q. You're up 44 42 and then they lost that 8 0 run and you talked about having a young team. Did that kind of shock these guys in this setting?
COACH SMITH: Well, I don't know that it shocked us. Just when you have a player like Juice Thompson who can control the floor as well as veteran guys that can knock down the shot like (John) Shurna, even though he struggled shooting the ball today, they had other players that stepped up and played well.
Again, I look at that stretch where we scored one point in about four minutes or maybe three or four, and they -- at that time I think they went up, was it, 10 or 12? So again, you've got to score. We had a number of shots, I don't know how many guys missed shots at that juncture where they -- and I don't think they were quick shots. I think they were just shots we missed.
What we have to do is get the second and third shot, but that's why we're a good rebounding team. We do -- there are a lot of shots that can be retrieved because we miss a lot of shots. What we've got to do is we've got to get some shooters.
Q. You said from last year you've gone down in consistent shooters. Do you see that you have someone on the roster who can pick that up next year or is that something you're still looking for?
COACH SMITH: Well, we have players that I think are -- we have some players in our program already, certainly (Oto) Osenieks is an outstanding shooter. He's probably our second best shooter behind Blake. But he's ineligible. We have Mo Walker, who probably one of the best shooters -- he's probably our best shooting post player as far as his touch from at the free throw line and that type of thing. Elliott Eliason is a high percentage shooter, knows how to play around the basket, and then we sign a couple kids that will help us as far as scoring is concerned. And then the guys that we have, Maverick and Austin, they will improve. They will get better.
Q. If someone had told you you were going to lose 10 of 11 games to close the season, why do you think that would have been, and why do you think that
COACH SMITH: Because I'd think they were crazy. I would say they were crazy. That's it. But what I think it is now, I can see now, we've lost close games, we've blown leads, we haven't made the plays, the stops. It's pretty obvious is what has happened. We don't have someone that's orchestrating our offense or our defense, we just don't.
Q. Obviously the University is working with you on a contract extension, and even though the season has been disappointing, for them to have the confidence in you to further your contract into the future, what does that say about the direction of the program?
COACH SMITH: What do you mean?
Q. What does it say about the direction of the program that you're going to be around for a lot longer than your contract remaining right now?
COACH SMITH: Well, I have a few years left right now, but it means that, yeah, I'll be happy that -- it certainly makes me feel good that the University believes in me and believes in what we're doing and believes in the type of people that we're getting in the program, that they are doing the right things, graduating.
Certainly I'm excited about the future. If you asked me what were some of the things of why we would be better next year or what are some of the improvements that are needed -- the areas that needed improvement, we did. We said let's go out and get some rebounders and we became the number one rebounding team in the league, but no one expected the turnovers.
We didn't expect Al Nolen to break his foot, Devoe Joseph to leave, Maurice Walker to tear his knee up. You can't plan for that. Now, we planned for it by having players here. We could have brought a kid like Elliott Eliason out of red-shirt, but we had made that commitment to him. So there were a lot of different things that could have happened differently.
Even a guy like Oto Osenieks, we could probably could have petitioned the NCAA again, but we thought, hey, we've got a lot of players, we're going to be fine. Those things happen in life. You bite the bullet now and say, 'hey, let's get better in the offseason, improve.' I'm looking forward to being at the 'U' for some time, and hopefully this season or this stretch of bad -- of losses doesn't cause them to pull anything off the table.