Wichita St. kept it close early, but the hot-shooting Notre Dame Fighting Irish overwhelmed the Shockers in the second half to secure a 81-70 win and advance to the Great 8 in the NCAA tournament. Coach Gregg Marshall, and players Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet talked about the game and the season in the post-game press conference.
COACH MARSHALL: First of all, I would like to congratulate Notre Dame. Tremendous, tremendous team. The best offensive team we’ve seen all year, hands down, and they played a heck of a game and I’m happy for them as they get the chance to move on, especially Coach Brey with what he’s been through this week, tremendous guy. And then we’ll get into it, but I appreciate the warrior spirit that these guys, after we took the one point lead they came out with a barrage of 3s, it’s very quick the way they built that lead, but these guys never quit, they fought to the bitter end, and it was a great year for us, so really proud of them.
Q. Fred, when you got that lead, did you feel like you guys had gotten over a hump given how big a deficit you overcame, and what did you think about Notre Dame just taking off from there?
FRED VanVLEET: Yeah, we felt good, obviously battling back. We started off the first half terrible with being down 18 to 5 or whatever it was. So battling all the way back, we wanted to open up the second half in a good way and we did that. So we opened up the right way, and then like Coach said, they made some 3s, but I think we gave them too many easy looks inside and we can live with the 3s but they just shot layup after layup, it seemed like, and we just for whatever reason couldn’t stop them. So we just wanted to battle, try to keep battling throughout the game, just keep running them off but they were pretty hot, knocking down shots, so give them all the credit.
Q. For Ron and Fred, what makes them so difficult to guard, is it the fact that they can shoot 3s and also pound it inside?
RON BAKER: Any time you can stretch the floor with four basically guards that can shoot it like they can, it’s tough to defend the screen and roll. Their five man was doing a good job of screening and rolling quickly to the rim, and we were doing our best to pinch the floor and they were doing a good job of either passing to the roller or skipping across court and knocking down shots. They just shot the ball, shot the cover off of it in reality. Never seen a team shoot it like they have today.
FRED VanVLEET: Yeah, I mean, they stretched the floor with guys that could shoot it, I mean in a similar way that we did, we made the shots against Kansas. Tonight we didn’t. They did. Any time you’ve got four guys out there that are knocking down 3s with a five man that’s going to roll and work hard and get points in the paint, it puts pressure on the defense. We got a lot of open looks ourselves and we just didn’t knock them down. So, like I say, I give them credit for making theirs.
Q. Fred, after you were down 18-5, then you kind of shut them down a little bit and recovered, what were you doing right at that point in the first half?
FRED VanVLEET: We just got off our heels. We got some deflections, got a steal or two, or were able to just get a stop, you know, I think we came out on our heels a little bit, just eager to try to anticipate what they were going to do. But after that, after they made their first run and we started getting back to the way we usually play defense, they missed some open looks as well, so that helps, and we were able to get out in transition and get some buckets.
Q. Fred, after you took that lead in the second half Demetrius Jackson really got going. I think you scored one layup after Wichita State made a shot. How do you describe how he kind of turned the game around?
FRED VanVLEET: Well, he shot the ball really well and our game plan going in was trying to — he’s so quick off the dribble, just pick him up at the 3-point line and if he makes four or five of them, that was our game plan going into the game. I mean, he made, what did he make, he made four of them. So that was — I think that was a guy that we would let take that shot and he knocked them in, similar to the way they played Evan last week, he knocked them in. So give him all the credit.
Q. Does Pat Connaughton surprise you for being a 6’4 guy who rebounds so well and I know he’s known for his 3-pointers but tonight he drove the ball?
RON BAKER: I’m sorry, who? Pat? Oh, 24, right, right. Yeah, he’s one of those kids that’s kind of in between a 3-4 but he handles it like a 3, but he can bruise with you down low. Obviously he can shoot really well, like I said earlier, he was doing a good job of spacing the floor on the weak side and he was giving Jackson and Grant the opportunity to come off the ball screen and either hit the roller or pass it to him for the shot. So deadly weapon obviously, that can stay in the corner or even post up occasionally.
FRED VanVLEET: To answer your question, no, he doesn’t surprise us. We watched film and we re-respect him as a player. He’s a heck of an athlete and probably their best shooter and he just competes, so he had a pretty good game.
For both of you, I know it’s fresh but could you just describe how you’re feeling now, this run, just there’s been a lot of emotion, there’s been a lot of — just how this has been for you and how you’re feeling?
RON BAKER: Deep down, I’m pretty upset. I feel for our seniors Tekele and Darius, two guys who obviously deserve to move on and play Saturday. I wish individually I could have done more to help my team win and just one of those games. You’ve got to get through and we were unable no execute on the offensive end and defensive end in the second half.
FRED VanVLEET: It’s been a heck of a ride, man. It’s been a great year for us, lot of ups and downs, lot of fighting, got a bunch of new guys just bringing them along but it’s been fun, it’s been a great ride for us. Obviously right now disappointed, hurt, tired, you know, exhausted. Like Ron said, just feel sorry for those seniors, you never want to end on a loss but it happens. They had great careers and I’m just happy to be able to play with those guys and make some of these experiences so — just overall disappointed, it hurt but at the same time just recognizing that we had a great year and just want to celebrate with these seniors.
Q. For Ron and Fred, describe this season in one word?
RON BAKER: I’m not an English major, that’s pretty tough for me, but I don’t know, any word that describes new people, a lot of new people come together and finishing the season like we have today. No one expected us to be where we are right now. When you’ve got eight, nine new faces coming into your program, a lot of people probably didn’t expect us to make it this far.
FRED VanVLEET: I would just say, I mean, Shockers, that just defines us, who we are as men and people. We fight, we haven’t been perfect all year, we don’t shoot the ball well all the time, but we fight, we compete, just kept fighting, rallying back, having fun throughout the process and it’s just been a lot of fun to play with these guys.
Q. They were so good at the outset of the game and then for a long stretch of time your defense kicked in, held them down and then suddenly another flash fire. What was it like trying to prepare for these guys, and then in the course of the game, what did you see happen in those sudden changes?
COACH MARSHALL: Bob, just from studying the film of them you could tell what a dynamic offensive team they were. There’s nobody you can cheat off of. Each one of those five guys, and they play a lot of minutes, are dangerous. Demetrius Jackson is so good off the bounce, and we were able to keep him out of the paint and away from the rim for the most part, but then he knocks down four 3s. At the beginning of the game, it started with him, he made two of the first three 3s to begin the game. We were on our heels a little bit 18-5, wasn’t happy in that first media timeout. And we just charted to play, and started to chip away and chip away, and got it to 3 at the half and took the lead. And then the same thing, the same guy really, he makes two 3s, he gets to the rim, as Paul mentioned. And there were other guys, I’m not just saying those, but Demetrius Jackson, I think, was the catalyst today in knocking down those shots. He did it at the beginning and then he did it after we took the 1 point lead. So I’ve never seen a 1 point lead get out of hand so quickly, and it did tonight because of their fire power.
Q. Along those same lines, when you climb back from that kind of deficit and you get ahead, does that usually go one of two ways? Does a team sometimes buckle when you do that, and were you surprised they were able to kind of do that right away back at you guys?
COACH MARSHALL: Really, it can go one of two ways or it can be a see-saw affair. you’ve seen enough college basketball. We could have pushed it out to 10, and maybe it’s a different game like we were able to do against Kansas, or they can do what they did, which is go on an incredible run. Or it could then be a see-saw affair where the lead changes multiple times. That’s just college basketball. Tonight it was their night and they shot it much better than we did. We had some good looks now, we had some good looks. Ron and Fred and Tekele had some really good looks, we just didn’t make them. They made theirs and they shot it great, especially in the second half and the beginning of the first half.
Q. You had a real emotional weekend, emotional game Sunday and a quick turnaround. Did that take anything out of this team, the circumstances?
COACH MARSHALL: I don’t know, Paul. I don’t particularly like the fact that we had a less days to prepare than Notre Dame. That’s not an excuse, I just don’t like the pod system or whatever they call it where you play Sunday night, you get back late and then you’re back on the road on Tuesday when the other team has an extra day, plus less travel. Then on top of that, our plane was late to pick us up on Tuesday, so we’re sitting around, sitting around. We finally practiced about 8:30 for an hour and fed the guys about 10:00. I don’t like that, it’s not good, but that has nothing to do with the game. The better team won tonight. As I mentioned, Mike Brey’s one of the great guys in the business, and if you’ve got to lose in the NCAA Tournament, it might as well be to a guy like him.
Q. Gregg, can you kind of just put an overall feeling on this season? These guys kind of acted as if maybe they overachieved just a little bit, but I don’t know how you feel?
COACH MARSHALL: Well, think, Kevin, when you can go through a season like we did with five veterans, that’s it, five guys that have played Division I basketball, the rest of the eight scholarship guys are new. You can be ranked all year long, you can win your regular season title 17-1, you can beat Kansas to go to the Sweet 16. I mean, it’s one of the top teams in the country. So there’s no way you can be disappointed in this year. We lost to a better team tonight that was playing really well. I just watched five or six games of them, and the last game I watched today was Duke in I think the semi-finals of the ACC tournament, and they were up 15, 20 points against Duke and Duke cut it down and had a chance to make a game of it, but it ended up being 10 or 12 or whatever. Steve’s playing really well. When you win the ACC tournament in Greensboro and beat Duke in North Carolina back to back, you’re playing well. And they’re hot and got a great system. Again, I tip my hat to them and — but I’m going to go back with my head held high, too. I love these kids, wonderful human beings, great students, great people, and they represent our fine university in a first-class way.
Q. Gregg, earlier you had indicated Ron has a decision to make about what he’s going to do, if he’s going to come back next year. How’s that process work and what’s your role in helping him with that?
COACH MARSHALL: Well, we have to gather information for him. There’s an NBA — and Fred has the same decision to make. Anybody with the credentials that those kids have can put their name in the hat and then you ask the NBA folks to give you an advisory sample of where certain teams may see you and then they come back to you and then you have to just make a decision. Ron did that last year. So I anticipate them both doing that. I don’t know when that happens but it can start now, I think, but I don’t know how quickly that you turn that around. I like what Ron said up here when I heard him say that he felt bad for the seniors. He didn’t act like it was his last game, he felt bad for the seniors. That was at least a little positive that I took from that, I don’t know if you guys caught that, but I did. So we just — we help them, we advise them. If either one of them are lottery picks, you probably have to consider it very strongly. If you’re midway through the second round, chances are about 50/50 you never play a second in the NBA. So there’s only X amount of slots. You’re a big NBA guy, you know that. They have to make some really tough choices. Ron will have his degree because he’s red shirted, he’s already finished. Fred will have some more schooling to do but they’re both great players, and regardless and here’s the point I’m going to make to them, regardless if they go to the NBA or Europe, today, tomorrow, next year, they’re going to be successful. And they don’t really understand that right now because they’re thinking, man, I can be a lottery pick, I can make millions of dollars, and that’s probably at the forefront, but it doesn’t matter whether either one of them plays a second in the NBA, they’re going to be successful.