March 14, 2014
COACH IZZO: Well, I'm just proud of the way we played defensively. I thought Gary [Harris], Zel [Denzel Valentine], and Branden [Dawson] kind of led the charge. So did Keith Appling. It was nice to see him back kind of like the way he was. And I thought B.J. had some tip ins and some loose balls and we got some things because of his activeness. I'd say this is the best he's played in a long, long time. If you looked at what we had him doing defensively, we had him switching, we had him working on [Drew] Crawford, who I just love the guy. He's a good player.
I just thought our overall defense until the last seven minutes was exceptional. We got some breaks, got it out, and considering we did all that without Adreian [Payne]. They did a good job on him, but he was in so much foul trouble. So happy, but it's only one win.
Q. What's the importance of having a feel good game as you guys try to get this stretch going in the postseason?
BRANDEN DAWSON: It's definitely important for us just to get this win, this key win tonight. Just to see us happy again as a team and just playing good as a team. And like Coach said, we've got Keith [Appling] coming back and different guys rotating in, so this win was definitely needed for tonight.
GARY HARRIS: It was just good to be out there having fun. We placed some emphasis on it in practice this week, to improve our defense and our communication, and I feel like we placed a lot of energy on defense and that carried over to the offensive end. We were just playing how we played earlier in the season, which was good for us.
Q. Brandon, you talked about Keith. There's been mention of Keith being back, but tonight did you have a different feeling? I think you've been pretty active since you've been back. Did it feel different at the start?
BRANDEN DAWSON: Yeah, I definitely felt different out there, and like Coach said, when you work on things, you just see results. I felt good out there, and my teammates have been telling me in practice we need more out of you. We just need you running, bringing energy, and just crashing the boards, and that's what I did tonight. I stayed solid and didn't rush anything, and it turned out good.
Q. Gary, talk about coming back to Indianapolis and playing basketball. Any thoughts about going out there in familiar surroundings?
GARY HARRIS: It's fun. Last time I played in this arena, it was for the Indiana All Stars when we beat Kentucky. You know, I've had good memories in this gym, and it's always good when you can come home. I love coming home.
Q. You guys obviously had a clear depth advantage. Was it just a huge initiative to push the ball up the floor and tire them out?
COACH IZZO: Well, it was a huge initiative at the beginning of the week. And in all honesty, conventional wisdom would think you're probably going to play Iowa, so it really doesn't matter who we played, we wanted to do that. And then last night when things changed, we thought that was one of the advantages for us is -- when you play a game, there's an advantage for that team the next game because you shot on the floor. We never did that, all those things. There's an advantage to us, especially when your team doesn't have as much depth.
Chris [Collins] did a heck of a job with that team. When they lost [JerShon] Cobb, he's a great player and it made it harder for [Drew] Crawford to do everything himself. We thought pushing the ball and crashing the boards were two things that we needed to do. We did a decent job until the last five, six minutes, we kind of gave up some shots. But other than that, I thought we played pretty well, and we pushed it pretty well.
Q. Tom, how happy were you to see Branden start to take that mid range shot that's always seemed to be open for him the last two or three years?
COACH IZZO: You know, it's kind of strange, I told him God might have taken his hand away, but he gave him a jump shot. He's actually been shooting the ball so much better since he's come back, it kind of reminds me of my golf game. When you come back and you're just concentrating, you do it real well early. And I think he's concentrating harder on the form of his shot because everything is not perfect, and it's helped him.
Don't kid yourself; the difference in Branden [Dawson] was his energy and his defense. And then he made things happen on the break, and he did hit a couple nice shots. But I think he felt better about himself because he did other things better. He was a big key. I mean, he was switching, talking, he was covering up for people. I think that was one of the best games Branden [Dawson] has played here.
Q. Hope you have another golf analogy for Drew Crawford. You've been full of praise over the years. What did you see from him in the second half?
COACH IZZO: He's one of those kids in the league that it's a joy to go against him because you know he's bringing it every night. And I think when he lost his running mate, it made it a little harder. If you talk to the kid at all, he could have jumped ship last year. A lot of people would have tried to pick him up, and he didn't. It was good for Chris [Collins] and it was good for the Northwestern program. It was good for the Big Ten to have him back, and it kind of shows you what a quality kid he is.
I don't know how a guy could be that good of a kid when his dad is an official. I don't know how that's possible, but he is.
Q. You talked about, before the game, kind of getting this team regenerated again and getting it focused. How do you think they did that tonight?
COACH IZZO: Well, guys, I mean, let's not kid ourselves; we are going to be a work in progress with every game we play. I mean, we still have our moments, and I thought we had a couple of crazy turnovers. I thought -- we're doing a little better job of playing the kind of defense we want because we're back switching some things and doing some things, but it's one game. We played a couple good games now, one average game, and one poor game in the four that we've had everybody back. So, are we making progress? Yeah, we are. But tomorrow will be a good test to see where we are.
Q. Going back to talking about Crawford, you guys embraced for a while at the end of the game there. What did you tell him?
COACH IZZO: Well, I just said, Hey, you've had a hell of a career, and I'm really proud of you. I'm glad you stayed. I told him that. I think that kid could play some basketball beyond college, I really do. Wherever it is, I said, if I can ever be of any help, call me.
Q. We saw two suffocating defenses in the quarterfinals tonight. Tomorrow is it roll the sleeves up and get bloody?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, yeah, it's an old fashioned fist fight. That's what Wisconsin Michigan State has been like. It's kind of strange, though, because we've almost led the league in three point shooting, and they were so good early, and then they fell off. Now [Ben] Brust is hitting threes. They've got more guys hitting threes again.
So it's kind of a strange -- when you look back at this incredible match up that it's been for ten years, really, we've won our share, and then they sure did win their share. It's kind of become where we're both still pretty good defensively, but we both are relying on the three point shot a little bit more. I don't see that happening tomorrow, although I think it's going to be old fashioned game, and it should be fun.
Q. In the four games you've had everyone back healthy, have you seen kind of a steady progress, or has it been kind of like a stock market, kin of an up and down chart kind of thing?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, we've been more of a stock market up and down to be honest with you. I think the biggest key tonight was Keith [Appling]. Your quarterback has got to play well, and I thought he pushed it better. You could still see, though, where he comes in and used to make those moves and just go around a guy and get it up, and he just is -- just hasn't done it in so long that he's not as comfortable. But he did push it. We begged him to push it all the time. He did guard very well. That's the old Keith.
So I think that is the biggest key. Branden [Dawson], yes. A.P. [Adreian Payne], we really didn't get much out of A.P., but he'll be there tomorrow. I'm not worried about A.P.
I think if I had to look at it over the four games, where have I seen a little bit more improvement? The Iowa game, it was Keith [Appling] that went down a little bit and made some turnovers and that in the Ohio State game, and tonight again he did some good things. We're making some progress.
COACH COLLINS: Well, congratulations to Michigan State. I thought they played very well, especially in the first half. I thought their speed and their intensity, them knowing that we played such a hard fought game last night, I thought they did exactly what they needed to do by coming out with amazing energy and defensive intensity, and it got us on our heels a little bit early. I thought they played well.
Certainly, the two facets that they really hurt us with were the points off our turnovers and then their second chance points, which is what they do really well. They do that to a lot of teams.
I'm really proud of my team. We emptied the tank last night in our game against Iowa, got a big time win for us. It was a huge win for our program. Had to come back and play, arguably, the best program in this conference. It's been for a long, long time, incredibly well coached, great talent. We fought till the end. We got down, and I think these guys showed who they were even until the end. We got down 20 plus points, and with a minute and change to go, it was a 13 point game and we had the ball. Where a lot of teams -- when you're real tired like that, a lot of teams, you can just mail it in the last eight minutes or the last 10 minutes and have had enough.
We've never been that way all year long, and this is a -- Drew obviously being here, I think tonight he became the second all time leading scorer in our program's history and will no doubt go down as one of the all time greats in our program. I'm just sad I only had a chance to coach him for one year. He's a special guy.
As we move forward, we're going to constantly talk about what he brought every day as we continue to get better, and as we continue to build our program. He's laid an amazing foundation for the future of this program.
Q. Drew, those moments when Coach took you out for the final time, and you were hugging some of your teammates and walking off the floor. What was the emotion like, in general?
DREW CRAWFORD: Yeah, it's a tough feeling, you know, just because all the love there is in this program. I care about Coach Collins so much, every single one of my teammates, the entire coaching staff, down to the athletic trainers, our sports performance coaches, our managers. Everybody just has showed me love since I've been here, and it's been a fight, and we've done it together.
You know, it's a tough feeling walking off, but I can say that I walked off happy, feeling like I gave my all to this program. There's nowhere I'd rather be for my last year, and looking back, I don't regret that decision at all, and I love being a part of this team this year.
Q. Drew, Izzo talked a little bit about the embrace and what you guys talked about after the game. How much did that mean to you, and what exactly was said?
DREW CRAWFORD: You know, I just told him it's been an honor playing against his teams for five years. Michigan State is an unbelievable program, and it's always been fun playing against such great teams. So you know, it means a lot that he's always kind of respected me as a player, so it was nice to send it off that way.
Q. Alex, if you wouldn't mind looking ahead to the future, what do you guys need as a program to continue to rise in the Big Ten?
ALEX OLAH: We just have to, I guess, look back at this year and see how hard we worked to get where we are right now and take this team and take the leadership from Drew and the seniors. But, yeah, just see how hard we worked and work even harder and get even better and create a great program here at Northwestern.
Q. How much, in general, do you think fatigue was a factor tonight, especially because you guys aren't the deepest of teams and having played a tough game yesterday?
DREW CRAWFORD: Yeah, it's tough, just because we had a late game last night, and we played heavy minutes. But you know, we were prepared, and we were ready to go for this game. We just tried to give all we had, continue to fight down to the last minute. You get a little tired, but that's something that you have to push through because you have to lean on your teammates, and they're going to get you through that.
ALEX OLAH: Yeah, obviously, it was really tough for us, like Drew said. We just played late last night. But we did everything we could to rest up and get treatment and everything to be ready for this game. Even though we were really tired, our legs were real tired, we tried to give it all on the floor and tried to leave it all on the floor -- whatever the result was, leave the floor with our head up.
Q. What have you learned from this year that you can take into next season?
COACH COLLINS: Big Ten is a good league. I've learned a lot. I mean, for me, you can feel ready for something, you can know you're prepared for something, but there's a lot of things you can only learn by going through them and going through your own experiences. I'm really proud of the year we had. It was a fun group of guys. I thought we maximized who we were. I was really down when we lost JerShon Cobb because I thought we were really starting to get on the verge of getting to know the team we had, and guys were playing well, the confidence was there. And then when he went down, it was a big hit.
Then we rallied at the end. We kept rallying, which it showed a lot about the spirit we had and the group of guys. At the end, you always know you've got a good group when the year is over and in the locker room everybody is emotional. Because you're either emotional because you've won and you're at the top of what you've worked for, or you're emotional because it's over and you wanted to keep going on. And everybody in our locker room was emotional because they love playing together. They love Drew and what he brought.
You know, I'm not the most patient guy. I came into this year trying to win every game and preparing our guys and trying to use our personnel the best we could to put ourselves in a position to win. Sure, there's a lot of mistakes I made; nobody is perfect, just like no player can play a perfect game. There's a lot I can improve upon as a coach, and you can only do that through experience.
I thought my staff did a great job this year, and I really can look -- we can look at ourselves and say that we got the most out of our team. And I think, as a coach, that's what you have to ask yourself at the end of the year. And if you can say, yes, then you should be proud of that. Did I want to win more games? Absolutely. But for us to win six games in the regular season, to win one game here in the postseason -- when I believe we weren't favored in any game we played in the Big Ten -- so that means we were predicted to lose every game. So for us to win six in the regular season and one win in the postseason and be playing tonight, I think it shows a lot about the guys we have in our locker room and what we accomplished and how we maximized our personnel.
I'm really proud of that, and we've got to keep moving forward. Every program in this league is trying to build for something special. That's why the Big Ten is the best league. There's not a bad program in our league, and everybody aspires to be at the top. We aspire to be there, too. I feel the foundation that was laid this year with our program, how hard we play, how we compete, I think we earned a lot of people's respect with our effort, with our level of play, and with the way our guys played this year.
I'm very proud of that. We still have a long way to go. Our returning guys, it's going to be a big summer for us to get stronger, to get more athletic, to get more durable. Obviously, we'll be bringing in a lot of young players, and our returning guys are going to have to take over the leadership mantle that Drew was leaving, and it's a big void. He was an outstanding leader, and Drew and I, our arms were locked all year long. And when a best player and a coach get a relationship like that, it forms a really strong unit. And that's what we had, and that's why we played so hard this year.
Q. Along the lines of the future, if you wouldn't mind just talking a little bit about, you've got five guys coming in at least; what are they going to add, and offensively will they be able to add much? Are you looking at Vick as a defensive presence?
COACH COLLINS: I don't want to get too much into every guy right now. I think you guys saw just from a sheer numbers standpoint, we need more players, and I'm not talking about talented. We need more numbers. For us, we only dressed eight scholarship guys tonight. When you're in the Big Ten, you have a game -- we only played six last night and for the most part of tonight. You can't win big. You need more numbers. We have to develop from within, and our young guys -- the thing that I feel good about is all the young guys coming into the program, they're coming into a good culture.
But I feel like we're adding guys that, not only are they talented players, but they fit into what we're trying to build. They want to be in the gym. They play with a chip on their shoulder. They want to be good, and they're winners. I think they can all add to what we've already started this year. We're going to have a core back -- JerShon Cobb, obviously, he'll be back healthy, Alex Olah, Tre Demps -- those three guys being a main core with other veterans coming back, Sobolewski, Taphorn, Lumpkin who played a lot. Those guys will all be back.
We've got a lot of guys who have got experience, and you've got to keep adding and continue to get better, and that's what we plan to do.
Q. You've obviously talked extensively about that bus ride home from that first Iowa game and how you've changed the way you've played, and for lack of a better word, kind of engrained this relentlessness into the program. Is that kind of a blessing for the future because of guys who are going to be here like Tre and Alex which in turn engrain that in the guys who are coming in?
COACH COLLINS: I think it's a big thing. I think in order to get anywhere, you've got to go through tough times, man. You've got to -- nothing ever comes easy. You've got to go through struggle, and you've got to find out what's inside you. I think for each of those guys, when we went through our struggles, when we lost games and people counted us out, we lost seven straight when JerShon went down.
We scored 32 points at home against Penn State, and people just left us for dead. We go up to Purdue, win. We come here, everything I heard was it was a total mismatch, and why would we even show up to play the game. We lost to Iowa by 30 points.
Our guys refused to hear that because we've gone through times like that before during the year. We kept fighting, we kept playing, we kept preparing. And I agree with what you're saying. You find out more about yourself when you have to go through tough times, as a player, as a coach. You find out what you've got inside you, man. Do you want to keep fighting? Do you want to dig out or do you want to step aside?
I think we've found some fighters, and that's what I like. Even to the final buzzer tonight, we were down 20 something points, it could have been so easy -- our guys were dead during the huddles. It was hard for me to talk to them they were gasping for air so much. What we talked about that last eight minutes is, `Look, no matter how tired we are, no matter what the score is, we're going to finish this year the way we've played all year. We're going to finish this year by fighting, and that's not going to change.'
As we add more players and as we continue to move forward and, hopefully, get better as a program and better as a team, that quality will not change. We will be a team that is a group of fighters. I feel strongly that we've earned a lot of people's respect for that, and we need to carry that on going forward.
Q. When you first saw these guys practice at the beginning of the season, offensively and defensively, what were you expecting to see and how did it end up relative to that?
COACH COLLINS: Well, probably from a numbers perspective, I was hoping we would shoot a little better. It was a difficult transition because for them, everything was different, and I give them a lot of credit. And it wasn't bad, the way they did things wasn't bad. And it was very good. There was a lot of wins, and they were very well coached, and they won, and they were successful the way they played. But a transition was made, and we decided to go in a new direction.
The thing that I was happy about, you know, I came into the year, I felt good that we were going to have a veteran perimeter, guys that had played a lot of minutes, even though Cobb was out the whole year and Crawford was out the whole year, they had experience. Dave was coming back as a two year starter. Tre had had a lot of experience.
Alex was a big unknown. I knew he was a big guy. Initially, I saw a lot of promise in him, but I saw a kid that was not very confident in himself when I first got here. But I saw a lot of ability, I saw size, I saw touch, I saw a look in his eye that he really wanted to be a good player. I mean, where Alex Olah is right now to where he was, there's no more improved player in our conference, and he's just a sophomore.
I think Tre Demps is a much improved player. I think JerShon got a lot better as the year went on. I thought we improved in a lot of ways, and I thought our guys kind of adjusted, and I adjusted to them. Some of the things we adapted maybe were a little bit more comfortable to the way they did things in the past, so that everything wasn't just such a stark change and a stark difference. There had to be some give and take.
I had to understand them, they had to understand me, and we kind of found a happy medium. And we figured out and we had a great stretch of games and we won. And then JerShon got hurt, and we had to kind of reinvent ourselves again, and we finished strong.
There's a lot to build on. We've improved in a lot of ways. We still have a long ways to go. I know that. But I also am not going to lose sight -- I'm not going to lose sight of a lot of the good that came out of this year and a lot of the progress that was made. Sometimes you might look at a record and it says 14 19. I'm looking at all the small wins we got along the way, the practice habits we gained, the way we approached our preparation, the leadership that was built, the improvement that was made in the players, the culture that was built.
In order to do something really special, you've got to lay that foundation, and it might not manifest itself right away into 20 wins, 25 wins, but we still won. We still won, and we still did a lot of good things with this group, and for that I'm really proud.
Q. Can you talk a little bit more about the way you've seen Tre Demps improve throughout the season?
COACH COLLINS: Well, I think Tre went from a guy -- we created a great role for him, being that sixth man. I think Tre is a scorer, and sometimes he might get a bad rap for the fact that he looks for his -- I like the fact that he's aggressive and he's hungry. It all comes from a good place.
Tre is probably the guy in our program who's in the gym the most. He's in there at night. He comes in before class, after class. He wants to get better. He's hungry to improve. I thought he got a lot better with his decision making. He became a better rebounder. He got seven rebounds tonight. I think he had six last night, five assists. He got better with the ball, making plays for other guys.
And Tre won us a lot of games, guys. Tre was our closer this year. We got down to the end of games, he won the Illinois game for us at home, he won the game at Indiana, he hit the big shot at Minnesota. You go down the line, and our big wins, at the end of games, that kid has got guts. I love the fact he's on our team. I think he's going to have two really good years. JerShon going down kind of affected him because it put the ball in his hands a little bit more as a point guard, and that's not really what he is. He's a combo guard who can score and attack, and he was at his best kind of in that role we had him in. But he finished the year strong doing a little bit different things, and I think having to be a point guard for us at the end will really help him for his development for next year as he continues to build.
A lot of good things. I'm sad that the season is over. I wanted to keep playing. Our guys wanted to keep playing. It just wasn't in it for us tonight. Michigan State is really good, and as you guys know, our gas tank was on E, and we tried to do what we could, it just wasn't there.
I appreciate you guys. I know we're done. Appreciate you guys covering us this year, and look forward to a really bright future for our program. Thank you.