Video available here.
(Opening statement) ”I really felt like it was going to be a tough game. Simply because that’s the identity the Panthers play with. Jeff [Capel] has done an amazing job of getting his kids to just run through a wall and play hard. They came in winning five in a row. I thought their energy the first three, four, five minutes in the second half, allowed them to get right back in the game. They pushed us around to the basket. They pressured the ball. They play with a swagger, they play with a toughness. They’re going to win more games than they did a year ago. We knew that coming in. When you go against [Trey] McGowens and Xavier Johnson, they just play downhill. Xavier had a couple pull ups that, I don’t want to say we give them, but we just didn’t want them getting to the rim. For them to only shoot six free throws, we did our job. So we move on and happy that we started ACC play this early in the season at 2-0.”
(In the first half, you guys were 9-of-17 from three only had eight points in the paint. In the second half it kind of switched a little bit, 16 points in the paint and nine three point attempts. What led to that?) “Really if you look at some of the three’s that we made in the first half. We were running offense, those were open shots. We weren’t taking ill-advised shots. I thought the ball touched the paint, or at least got close to the lane on several of those three point attempts and that’s when the defense will converge. A few times they went zone, we executed what we wanted to run. We got the looks that we wanted so I don’t know if we wore them down or just found the sweet spot in the second half. We always want to be a team that tries to live in the lane, tries to get paint touches and then whatever shot presents itself from there we’ll take.”
(Coach statistically Malik (Williams) had his best game of the year, tonight. Did you feel like there was anything different his play compared to other games and if so what would that be?) “He was out for two months. So to expect him to come in the first game or two and be what you saw tonight. I think that’s asking probably too much, but I thought he did what we’ve come to expect. His voice on the defensive end, his ability to help his guard teammates contain the basketball in ball screen situations, effect shots at the rim without fouling. I think there were six, seven minutes, maybe even less in the second half where we had three team fouls against a very aggressive offensive team. I think that talks a lot about just being disciplined positional defense, and a guy like Malik certainly embodies that.
(Fresh [Kimble] and Darius [Perry] had some questionable turnovers, what did you think of their overall play?)”They didn’t play great offensively, but I thought Fresh didn’t let it affect him on the defensive end. He was terrific. He still ran his team. The pressure bothered him and it bothered Darius for a little bit. They have to be better and they will be. They need to be for us to continue to get better. Night’s like tonight are going to help us get over those types of situations and deal with it.”
(What was your first reaction when Jordan went down? What were you thinking, that he might be out for to foreseeable future?) “Sheer panic. I sort of saw his expression. That’s the first thing that I look for when a guy goes down. Sometimes they just want rest. But when you see a little bit of fear, or a little bit of panic, which I saw that in Jordan for a second. I think he thought, he said ‘it almost came out’. I said ‘did it come out?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, almost doesn’t count.’ But no, as you know, you don’t want to lose your best player.”
(How did you keep the team focused during that timeout?) “Well, it was an extended period of time. I think we had made a few really good energy plays. I don’t want to say completely swung the momentum, but didn’t continue to allow the slide that was sort of happening at the beginning of the half. We had made a couple big time plays. Even on that one, I think we scored a bucket. So we had a little bit of momentum in our favor. When our guys huddled up, I didn’t have to say a whole lot. I know they had, just like I did, concern for J (Jordan Nwora). But, we do have some older guys. Some guys that have been in the locker room for a long time. Some fifth year seniors and it was sort of business as usual as they went back out on the floor, not knowing if Jordan was going to return or not.”
(How’d you feel about the way that your team ended this ballgame?) “I think it’s two games in a row, where we got stops. We didn’t allow second shots. We ran the clock on offense. We got great looks. We got layups, and that’s a killer. Defensively, you take a few more chances when you’re the team that’s behind and you’re desperate to get back in it. And for us to be able to get the ball reversed, set the screens that we wanted, get layups, that’s just backbreaking. And then again, defensively, I thought we were, outside of the first five or six minutes, very tough to get in the lane on and tough to get second shots against. That was the separator.”
(Chris in the first half, you had eight different guys get a three. Can you just talk about the fact that this team, I mean you don’t have any, Ryan’s obviously your shooter, but you can spread that around and Malik hit one, Steven hit one, just a little bit of everybody.) “Yeah, I think we have an extremely good shooting team. I think we’ve got an elite shooting team at times. We’re just learning when it’s a good shot, and when it’s not. This team, shouldn’t say this team, but the team last year didn’t understand that, at times, if you struggle with three or four straight possessions, you don’t take a one past three or transition three, no matter who you are. I think our team has really learned that. Jordan has let the game come to him. Ryan is a completely different player from a year ago. Darius, although he didn’t play his best tonight, has really matured. My older guys have gotten smarter, despite me, with the game of basketball.”
(What’d you think of Sam tonight? He got some more play than he has in the past couple games.) “Yeah, I mean I put him in because I think his energy level last game was great. You want to reward guys for doing their thing. I thought Dwayne wore down a year ago. So we’re sort of cognizant of him playing 38, 39 minutes. Sam’s getting better and better and better, and so I want him to get out on the floor and I trust him in situations. He’s learning. The end of the half, and this is probably not Sam’s fault so much as his four teammates. We didn’t echo the play call. So we have four guys running a play that I think would have resulted in the same layup that Malik got deep in the second half. We reversed the ball to the wrong side because Sam didn’t know the action. You can only teach so much without giving those guys opportunity to play. So, it’s always good when your young guys get a chance to do it on the floor in games.”
(Pitt pressed you guys tonight and you were all able to break that press. How much have you worked on that given last year it was something you really struggled with?) “A lot more. We knew they would go 2-2-1. We also knew that if it came down to a five-point, six-point lead with a minute or two left that they were going to change their pressure into full court man-to-man run-and-jump where it’s a bit more random. Zone pressure it a little bit more, you’ve got to get guys in certain spots, pass fake, and get the ball to open areas. Man pressure with guys running and jumping, it’s a little more random, but we’ve worked on both. We’ve worked on ball security and being ball strong, pass-faking, recognizing when teammates are getting chased down. We’re not perfect, but we’re much better than we were a year ago, especially this early in December.”
(I know you’re still trying to digest this one, but can you talk about the opportunity ahead to play in Madison Square Garden and play against a team like Texas Tech?)”I’ve talked to our guys a little bit about it in the locker room just after the game. It’s a great experience. I’ve been very fortunate because I was in the BIG EAST for a while, coached a lot of games in MSG. The stage-lighting, the history of the building. When you walk in the bowels of the building and they have posters of Michael Jackson autographed by him, the Rolling Stones, not to mention the basketball that has been played there. It was [Michael] Jordan’s favorite arena in the NBA. It’s a cool experience. We’re very fortunate to play number one, in that venue, and then to be able to play a national name that we have a lot of respect for. A year ago they were in the National Championship game. [Chris] Beard texted me today out of the blue and said he likes watching our team so he’s trying to butter me up already, but I’m not having it. You don’t do what he’s done, and what their program has done, if you’re not an incredibly well-coached program. We have a lot of respect. We know they’ve lost three in a row, but they’re going to defend better than any team we’ve played thus far and we’re going to have to be ready.”
(Speaking of texting, did Scott Satterfield text you or did he take out a protection order?) “No, Coach Satt did not text me. We received a text about 11:30-midnight saying if we knew our garage door was open. Christi went out to the door that leads out to the garage and there was about 40 pounds of toilet paper on our step. They were smart to get it out of the trees and off gutters and out of the pine trees before the morning because it rained. I shouldn’t have spoiled the secret, made life harder for him, but that’s alright.”