March 11, 2011
COACH MATTA: Well, I think that without a doubt our defense saved us today, and we didn't have a flow. It was funny during the first half, we were talking as coaches and saying we can't make a shot. And I said it's this way every year in the first game. Just got to bear with it, stay in the defense, and I thought our guys did a good job with that.
These two guys (Aaron and Jared) obviously did a good job. Jared was huge down the stretch, a couple mismatches down there, and he did a tremendous job.
Q. Jared, just talk a little bit about, it seemed to be exclusively down the stretch going to you in overtime and converting the free throws. Your mentality down the stretch of that game and in the overtime?
JARED SULLINGER: Towards the end of the game, they kind of went small, especially in overtime, so we decided to -- because they had (John) Shurna guarding me, obviously Shurna has about 60 pounds less than me, so we started going to me from there. Free throws is just a mentality. After practice we always shoot 25, and then after that -- after we break huddle, I shoot 25 more. I've been shooting free throws for the past two weeks after practice, so that really helped me out.
Q. Jared, you haven't had the experience yet, but what do you think it's going to take for this team to really make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament and fulfill its potential?
JARED SULLINGER: We've just got to keep playing defense like we did today. Northwestern played a great basketball game today, and our defense carried us today. We didn't really hit shots, so we obviously can win without hitting shots and just keep playing D.
Q. Jared, on that last play of regulation, could you talk about what maybe your defender did to make you settle for the fadeaway?
JARED SULLINGER: Oh, he kind of pushed me off the block, so I really didn't get deep post position, and it wasn't enough time to make a move. So that was the first thing I could think of was a fadeaway jump shot.
Q. Aaron, the last meeting they kind of played the slowdown game against you guys and again the deliberate grind it out style. Tell me about playing that style versus what other teams throw at you.
AARON CRAFT: It's definitely something we knew they were going to do coming in. It was very successful the first time we played and it was pretty successful again today. It's no different, it just takes about an extra 15 to 20 seconds into the shot clock until you have to start guarding their actions and they're really good at guarding their actions and the different things they do.
But once again, once we got settled in our defense definitely carried us today, and that was good to see.
Q. For either one of you two, just what does it feel like -- do you almost feel like survival to get through this game, the way Northwestern plays, you're missing shots? What does it feel like, a sense of relief, happiness? What do you feel right now?
AARON CRAFT: Well, obviously, I mean, we're happy to move on, and any time you can do that this time of year, that's what it all comes down to. Like Jared said, they played a great game, and our defense came up with stops when we needed to, and Jared came up big down the stretch knocking down those free throws. Any time you can find a way to win this time of year, that's exactly what we want to do.
Q. Aaron, it's been a while since you guys played in a close game like this. I just wondered what it felt like. Did it feel normal or was there a little anxiety?
AARON CRAFT: I don't think there was any anxiety. It feels like the entire season we've played in plenty of games like this, and our upperclassmen have played in many more games like this. There was never any anxiety or nerves. We just had to go out there and make plays when we needed to, and we were fortunate to do that today.
Q. Aaron, coach mentioned the -- playing the second day is maybe a little bit of disadvantage on offense. Was playing against Northwestern on the second day maybe a compound of that impact?
AARON CRAFT: I don't understand the question. Could you repeat it?
Q. Sure. My question was coach mentioned that having a day off, not playing on the first day, may have impacted you on the offensive end. Was playing a team that plays slowly as Northwestern does, did that compound that impact?
AARON CRAFT: I understand now. (Laughter).
I think it does. I mean, you want to come in and try to get up as many shots as you can, but we only have 60 minutes, and playing them you have limited possessions, as well, so you don't get in a flow like you normally do in a regular game. I think that definitely had something to do with it. But once again, our defense played well tonight and carried us.
Q. Jared, they were letting them play early, obviously letting you guys play early, which seems to be to your disadvantage. You were getting the ball low and trying to put it up and getting jostled around and there were no calls. Does that get frustrating to you or are you used to that?
JARED SULLINGER: I mean, if I can go back to high school, it was similar like that. But it's the Big Ten, so this is where you've got to be physical, especially being the Big Ten Tournament, so a lot of coaches are going to swallow their whistles, so you've just got to keep playing and go to the next possession.
Q. Your team seems to have a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament sewn up, and a lot of people think what do you have to gain by giving so much effort? Can you talk about what you want to accomplish here and why you give so much effort here?
JARED SULLINGER: We have a game tomorrow, and that's really where our focus is at, and we'll see who wins this game out of Michigan and Illinois. I mean, really our focus is the next game.
Q. Obviously teams question whether or not freshmen can step up towards the end of the season, but how are you and Jared able to carry this team late?
AARON CRAFT: I don't think we're too much different. I'm speaking for myself. Jared is a heck of a player. But I've definitely benefitted from having the coaching staff we have and the seniors we have. They've always been there no matter if we're up, no matter if we're down, practice or in games, so I think that's definitely a thing people take for granted is the leaders you have on your team and just on and off the court trying to get you ready. This is definitely a bigger portion of the season, so it took a little bit of -- just to set the example for us, and that's been awesome.
Q. Jared, you had 18 rebounds today, the second most in the history of the tournament. Did you have a different mindset going to the boards, or what was going on there?
JARED SULLINGER: I mean, rebounding is something I do. I love to rebound. It's one of the funnest, unselfish stats in the basketball game, so we've just got to rebound. We knew last time we played Northwestern, they out rebounded us, and I took full responsibility for that because I had eight last game, so I wanted to come in and rebound.
Q. How much praise do you give your guys after a game like this, tough shooting day, but they got through it and they survived, and a lot of people think that rest could do you good even if you lost. How do you balance praise with the win today?
COACH MATTA: Well, as I told them, this was a great example of next week, you know, and you're playing a first round game on neutral site, difference being you're going to have the opportunity to go in and practice a couple times before you do that. But my hats off as I told them. We found a way to win the basketball game today, and to their credit, we didn't know until we got here last night, we watched about 30 minutes of film, and they had a ton of questions in the film session, and I thought they went out and really did a nice job of executing what we'd asked them.
Obviously we never got into our flow offensively, and when shots weren't falling, I was fine with that. But hopefully we can shoot the ball a little better tomorrow. That's what we've done all year.
Q. Just your standard second guess on the last play of regulation. Why did you decide to go with the play you did to Jared instead of maybe putting it in the hands of one of your drivers and forcing the official to make a call?
COACH MATTA: Um, I just thought he was, you know, a mismatch. I was fine with the shot. As he told me when I asked him, he didn't tell you this, but he never got it completely in his hands, he said he lost it. And at that point with the score tied, I was fine with it.
Q. Thirty-two games into it probably nothing surprises you anymore, but those two guys as freshmen, what they bring today with 37 points, 25 rebounds, and all the other numbers and lead the team. Can you just talk about what that means to get that from them this time of year?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think this: With these two guys -- and Aaron touched on it, what the upperclassmen have done in terms of kind of teaching them the ropes, they've had some games throughout the course of the season where they've done that. You know, to come in here for their first Big Ten Tournament and play at the level they played at, I looked out there, at times we had three freshmen on the floor, you know, they're pretty -- like you said, 32 games into it they're pretty accustomed to just about anything that we can see.
As I've said, dating back to the first road game we played at Florida, from that point on, it has been just incredible environments, and these guys have had great poise and great composure. You know, both guys won a ton of games throughout their high school career, as well.
Q. Can you talk about the difficulty of playing them? Just every once in a while you'd take a lead and you could never get big separation, a shot wouldn't go in, and it seemed like finally when John (Diebler) hit a three in overtime you had a little bit of breathing room. But how difficult are they to play?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think this: Number one, they've got tremendous players. I mean, I think that you look at that team, and they're so well coached, they're disciplined, they're going to run their stuff, and they're going to wait for somebody to make a mistake. And I thought watching the game today, I thought the guys that they tried to maybe pick on a little bit as they do a great job of -- did a really nice job.
William Buford had a couple plays down the stretch even into overtime defensively. Deshaun Thomas, they tried to go at him, and I thought he did a tremendous job, as well.
But it's hard because it's such a unique style. Out of 32 games, we've probably played a couple teams that do what they do. And coming in an 18 hour prep, it's a little bit more challenging than one might think.
Q. What did that 2007 team have that allowed it to make the kind of run that it did in the NCAA Tournament, and does this team have that?
COACH MATTA: Well, I mean this. We're going to find out. I've been asked that a time or two throughout the course of the season, and I think that that team was so different than the team we have now. The pieces of the puzzle were just different where you had a driver, you've got a shooter, you had a shot blocker, you've got a guy that's a little bit more polished around the basket. There are just so many pieces.
You know, I don't know what it's going to take. I think that that team, like this team, had a togetherness. It was a team full of winners, as this team is.
Q. Just elaborate a little bit more on the fact that you weren't able to have the shoot around. How much of an impact you think it had on your shooting, and have you guys as coaches discussed it at all in the off season? Is there a solution to be able to get the teams that have the first day byes some shoot around time in this tournament?
COACH MATTA: Yeah, we talked about it. You know, honestly it's impossible to do, just because -- we may have had shoot around time, but it may have been like 6:30 this morning, which obviously we weren't going to take. You do get 30 minutes prior, but we're at that stage on March 11th where we're kind of a routine type team. I think we'll have one tomorrow if I'm not mistaken. I don't even know what time we play tomorrow, but I think they're a little bit later, which should give us that.
Q. Was there any time to prepare for Northwestern only having played them once this year and Shurna not playing in that game?
COACH MATTA: You know, I have to say no, because we didn't know who they were playing until we -- we knew on the bus, but until we get here -- we had everything ready, but we got in at 6:30, ate at 7:00, we watched film from 8:30 to 9:00 and it was off to bed because of the early wake up. It's funny, as I told our guys last night, we're not going to go out and do shell drills and all that stuff. We have to go out and play hard. That's probably the thing I'm happiest with today is I thought our guys did that.
Did we know what was coming? Did we have the calls? We didn't, and they defended.
COACH CARMODY: Well, you know, very tough, tough loss for us. You know, I thought as a team we did what we wanted to do going in and executed the way we wanted to at both ends. You know, just weren't able to quite get it done. In the first half they got a lot of offensive rebounds, which hurt us, and I thought our defense was good, but that's part of defense.
In the second half I thought we played well. You know, it's a very good -- we're trying to stop their three point shooting, and I think we did a pretty good job at that. That was our strategy when we played them in Evanston and again tonight.
We just weren't able to do it in the last minute of regulation and then in the overtime. They kept throwing it down to (Jared) Sullinger, and we just weren't able to contain him.
Q. Talk about your emotions right now, pushing the top ranked team to overtime but not being able to pull it out.
MICHAEL THOMPSON: It's a very disappointing loss. Obviously we came down here to win it, not just to play teams close. You know, but we just have to move past it. It's definitely going to be a long bus ride back to Evanston, but just have to move past it and focus on the next postseason.
JOHN SHURNA: Like Mike said, I think we didn't come here to come close. We came here to win. It's just really disappointing.
Q. Michael, where would you rank Aaron Craft among the defenders that you've faced this season?
MICHAEL THOMPSON: I think Aaron Craft is a pretty good defender just like every other guard throughout the country as well as the Big Ten. All the guards in the Big Ten play physical defense, and I think he's just like every other guard.
Q. Juice, take us to that moment where Luka (Mirkovic) picks up the technical foul and it looked like you didn't know what had happened at first and then you approached him and patted him on the chest. What was going on there?
MICHAEL THOMPSON: I wasn't aware of what happened, and then when I found out I just approached him and told him to keep his head and not to lose his cool like that, that we need him in the game. He fouled out after that, so I was just trying to talk to him and support him a little bit.
Q. For both players, obviously you're really hoping for an NIT bid here. What would it mean if you guys are able to make that tournament?
JOHN SHURNA: It would be great for our school, but at the same time I think, especially with Juice as a senior, we were really hoping to do well at this tournament. So it's disappointing we won't be -- probably won't be playing in the NCAA tournament, but hopefully it'll be good for our school and for the program to make the NIT.
MICHAEL THOMPSON: Like John said, just very disappointed that we don't have the chance to make the NCAA tournament, but it would be huge for our program to make it to the NIT. Everyone on the team, we're not giving up, there's still a championship to be won, so we're still going to stay focused, continue to work hard and try to win the NIT championship.
Q. Obviously Luka feeds off emotion. We've talked about it for years. That particular moment, he said he wasn't complaining about the ref, but was it a legitimate technical foul call, do you think?
COACH CARMODY: Yeah, you just can't make that showy kind of maneuver, so the ref is not there to interpret whether you did it because you're upset with yourself or with him. He just sees the action.
Q. Was that just maybe a build up of the frustration of guarding a guy like Sullinger throughout a game?
COACH CARMODY: You know, I'm not too sure to tell you the truth. Just in that moment, build up or no build up, but in that moment he certainly didn't do what he should be doing.
Q. Do you think then that technical just kind of took the wind out of your sails and that was kind of like the final nail in the coffin, or was there something else?
COACH CARMODY: No, he missed both foul shots, didn't he? And that -- I think we had a chance to win it in regulation, and they played real good defense the last couple -- we had one real good shot, an open look for Drew on the left wing, left sort of like elbow, a little further out. Not a three, but really good look uncontested, and I think we were up two at the time and that would have stretched it out a little bit, put a little more pressure on them.
And then in overtime, we scored, but then they just kept getting to the foul line, and we weren't able to keep it out of there.
Q. You were tied with a minute to play in regulation and you guys had the ball. Are you thinking at all a two for one there or work the clock and try to find a decent shot?
COACH CARMODY: Yeah, we weren't looking for two for one there as much as it is a good defensive team, and we were just trying to stay with our game plan basically, use it a little bit, make them guard a lot of different guys, get the ball going from side to side a little bit, and then when the opening is there, if it's a three or a drive, take it. But it wasn't an exchange thing there like that.
Q. You've come within a couple of possessions twice this year of taking down perhaps the best team in the country. I mean, do you leave here with a lot of pride, or is it just disappointment?
COACH CARMODY: Yeah, disappointment. Yeah, just -- I think we have a good team, so you'd like to win those games, and you could see it from the guys. They came here to win and thought they could, and we were right there. I'd say disappointment.
I am proud of the way they played, you know, don't get me wrong, the way we executed, the way we went into it thinking this is the way to beat this team. But we just weren't able to get it done.
Q. Just your thoughts on the chances of going to the NIT again and playing in the NIT.
COACH CARMODY: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, there's a lot of good teams, and right now I'm really not even thinking about that too much. But there are a lot of good teams out there. I think we have a nice resume, and we certainly passed the eye test people talk about. We'll see what happens on Sunday evening.