Steve Alford Opening Statement
It was a great, great win for us. I've got to give Northern Illinois an awful lot of credit. They did a lot of good things. They got us stagnant. And on a night when not a lot of things were going well, we really had some guys step up. Jared Reiner and Brody Boyd were two incredible seniors for us tonight. Seven steals (by Boyd) has to be a record in this challenge. (It was a record) He's not going to get any notice. He was terrific. Jared, in a two-game span, I don't think there was a player that had more of a presence if you ask all the coaches that were here. These are two seniors that I couldn't be more proud of.
We battled like crazy. The last 10 minutes, we were as good defensively as we've been all year. That's got to be a staple, an identity of what we are. I told the team that we're never going to be about individual awards. And there is nothing against Marcus Smallwood. He's a terrific player. But I've never been in a classic before where the host school that wins it doesn't get the MVP Award. To me, that is extremely baffling. Our kids did a lot of good things. Did they miss free throws? Yeah. But did they guard and defend the way that in my mind is every bit as pretty as a free throw? They did what they had to do to get a win. I couldn't be prouder of what our group of young men did tonight.
You guys were down, 40-27. What did you do?
Maybe it's three games in five days. Maybe it's the travel that we had. I'm against three-game home stands, and I'm against three-game road trips for that reason. You can get stagnant. Tonight, we were stagnant. I'm not taking anything away from Northern Illinois. Their kids fought like crazy. They had us on the ropes. We were lucky that we didn't get their knockout punch. We took a very good blow from them. Things didn't look very good. Through six games, we've had to handle a lot of things - press, zone, athletic play. But we hadn't had to deal with a deficit, let alone a 13-point deficit in our home building in the championship of a tournament. For them to then recover and win by eight in a 10-minute span, I couldn't be more happy or proud of what they did. It wasn't a 40-minute artwork of beauty, but those last 10 minutes I enjoyed as much as any part of the season so far.
How big was it to have Jared lead that charge back?
It was big time. He didn't have a great first half in either game. But you look at his numbers; he had to have been right at being the leading rebounder. He was real close to a double-double. And he led his team in the last 10 minutes. They couldn't guard him. He made all of his free throws in the second half. Here's guy that couldn't buy a free throw in the first half, and he makes them all in the second half. He had an incredible presence. (Brody) wasn't recruited here to be a defender. But what he did defensively in the second half was as big as anything that happened to us all weekend.
Could you talk about Worley's play against (Tournament MVP Marcus) Smallwood?
Tremendous. We challenged our seniors at half. We weren't playing well. We challenged them again 8 minutes into the second half because we weren't getting much out of our seniors. Then, our seniors were absolutely incredible down the stretch. They were big-time leadership. They attacked the basket. They guarded. They played with the urgency that they've got to play with. When we were struggling a little bit with Smallwood, Glen did a tremendous job in the last 10 minutes.
What has made your defense so effective early in this season?
One, we've got more experience. They're getting used to understanding the rotations and our system defensively. But, we've got guys playing with urgency. And, we've got some tough kids. Horner and Brunner are tough sophomores, and Pierre is the same way. Our seniors are playing with a lot of urgency. Right there, you've got seven guys in the mix. You throw in Mikey, who is a very good defender for a freshman. And Nick is learning what defensive play is all about. I just like our demeanor at the defensive end. The offensive end has not clicked the last two games the way we want. And yet, in watching tape of last night's game, we miss 11 lay ups and 14 free throws. If we make half of those free throws and six of those lay ups, we're in the upper 80s again. Tonight was more of a game where we were stagnant. We stood a lot. We didn't have the energy. We weren't getting up and down the floor in transition. Our defense in the second half, Brody in particular with his steals, ignited our offense. A couple of years ago, we're down 13 with 10 minutes to go, we don't win. We're were all worried about our offense. We had a team that was worried about offense. This team understands how defense can win games.
Do you need to take the momentum of the last 10 minutes up to Northern Iowa?
Without question. We didn't play well up there two years ago. Two years ago, I'm passing out pizzas in the parking lot. (He gave away the players post game meals because he was upset with the way they played) We didn't like that feeling. We know they're going to be ready. It will be their biggest crowd of the year. They've got an abundance of Iowa kids on their team. We've got an abundance of Iowa kids on our team. We're playing pretty well. They had a tough loss (Saturday). I'm sure theyr'e wanting to rebound. We just need to go up there and give it our best shot. It's a great road game for us in the non-league preparing us for what's going to happen in the Big Ten.
Northern Illinois Coach Rob Judson
What did you think of Marcus (Smallwood) tonight?
Marcus battled real hard. We always like to say that Marcus likes to throw his heart over the rim and then go get the basketball. He was going up a real good Big Ten team with a lot of size inside. Turnovers are an issue with our ballclub. When Iowa made their run, it was because of their defensive pressure that forced us into making a lot of turnovers. We scored 20 baskets and we assisted on 17 of them. Most coaches will take that. But the 21 turnovers are what set us back when you look at Iowa with only 14. The Hawkeyes are a real good ball club. They took a good shot. For a stretch there, we had them a little bit worried. Then, their inside strength took over. They got the basketball inside and got to the free throw line. We tried to sneak back in a little bit at the end. We made that steal and had the ball down five. A turnover for us again. Those are the things that keep coaches up late at night.
Steve was a little upset with the MVP voting. Did you feel that Marcus was deserving of that award?
Marcus had a real good tournament. He played hard and showed well for himself and for our university. Whoever did the voting can take the credit for that.
Can you talk about the learning experience for (East Moline United's) James Hughes going against Jared Reiner?
It was a real learning experience going up against Jared. It was a real weighty experience by about 30 pounds, maybe 40. James is going to be a good player. I recruited Jared in high school (when Judson was an Illinois assistant). He's eaten a few steaks out of Tripp, S.D. since high school. He has put on a lot of weight and really developed into a nice low-post player. Those are the kind of guys that you have when you're in the Big Ten. Those are the guys that we're striving to develop at Northern Illinois.
What happened to your food at Northern Iowa two years ago?
We didn't get to eat. We eventually got to eat, but we didn't get to eat at that time. Coach was pretty upset with us. That's stuff that we remember. We're not going to let that happen.
What was happening during that string of steals that you had there?
I'm not for sure. I wish I knew. I'd do it every time. I know they were trying to go inside to Smallwood. Anytime it goes into the post like that, I'm going to dig down. He put it in front of me a couple of times.
Where does missing out on the all-tournament team fit into the big picture for you and Jared?
It's not a problem to us. We know what we did in the second half to contribute. That's no big deal to me and Jared. I've lived with that kid for three years now. There's not a thing that bothers us. We come out and play 100 percent and we get after it.
Were you expecting defense to the identity of this team?
That's something that we worked on all summer long. We're doing a great job of it right now. We hold teams to under 64. Our offense was kind of stagmant tonight. Offense is going to be there, but you have to have your defense there every night.
What's different from last year on defense?
Last year, we didn't have a lot of communication. Nobody was vocal on the floor. This year we've got several players that are doing that. Anytime you communicate, and prepare and know the scouting report, all that stuff comes together. When all of that comes together, you're going to be a good team. That's what we're doing right now.