Amaker Re OSU Game: "This one is huge"

Coach Tommy Amaker met with the media yesterday to discuss how his team was doing after the disappointing loss to MSU on Tuesday and how he expects his team to come out versus the Bucks this weekend.

On how the team has been after Tuesday’s loss:

“Obviously we’re disappointed with our loss. But I’ve been pleased with our last two practices. If that’s any indication I think we’re going to look and move forward and get ready for the Buckeyes.”

On if the short time between the Wisconsin and MSU games hurt:

“Being very honest, I thought that was one of the things that could have helped us and it looked like it did for a while in the game. Sometime the build up and everything can take away from how kids can be focused and think about the task at hand. So I thought in a small way that allowed to move right into getting prepared to play against State and not have too much time to think about it. It was a tough loss. But we certainly know that there is a lot of basketball to be played and we also have our last home game here against Ohio State. They’re fighting, scratching, and clawing like we are so I anticipate that it’s a game that’s going to be very competitive.”

On what the team needs to do to move forward:

“Well, I think for us to continue to take steps forward we have to close games show mental toughness…to be tough minded to get defensive stops. You hope the team can grow into that. I’ve seen us take monster steps here recently in the last three games. We’re 2-1 in those games but we’ve done some really really good things. I think we’ve seen the emergence of Courtney Sims and his presence for our team. I think we’ve seen Bernard’s passion and purpose in how he has played. We’re hoping we can get better play from our outside shooting. We haven’t shot the ball as well from three. That’s an area that could give a huge shot in the arm going down the stretch with the rest of our schedule.”

On how he expects his team to play Sunday:

“I think we’re going to learn a lot as we try to close out the regular season. I’m confident that our guys are going to be ready to play on Sunday. We were ready to play on Tuesday. That doesn’t always equate to getting a W, but I do feel that we’re going to be able to show the right energy and we’re going to guard people on defense. There are some really good things that we’re going to be able to take from that game on Tuesday. I’m confident our guys are going to perform in that way Sunday afternoon. To me that’s going to be the telltale sign for us for the remainder of the year for us…this game Sunday. I’m not trying to put any pressure on our guys, but we really felt whatever happened on Tuesday night, Sunday’s game was the kind of game that could show a lot. If we won Tuesday we would need finish off the segment of another game at home and wrap that up. If we dropped the game on Tuesday, which we did, we would need to bounce back and win our final game at home against a team with a fighting spirit. They’re fighting for a post-season birth in their own right. They had some nice wins on the road. They upset Purdue at Purdue and won at Minnesota in their previous game. So we know it’s going to be a game that’s very competitive.”

On why the offense faltered toward the end vs. the Spartans:

“We talk a lot about offense being critical and executing, which we obviously need to do better. We didn’t stop them on defense. I look at that more. They executed very well, but we didn’t come up with stops. Sometimes that’s very deflating for you on the offensive end. You don’t score and then you can’t stop someone on the other end and they’re kind of coming back with a rally you kind of get a little tentative. I thought that was one of the elements for us. Having Daniel in foul trouble hurt us…not having his experience on the floor at critical times. But he came back and did all that he could do. But I think those are the growth moments. We’ve had a number of them this year and I’m sure we’re going to have a few more.”

More on the offensive struggles late in games:

“We haven’t seen anything there…a common denominator…that we can pinpoint. If you look around the country you see it. It’s so common in basketball period. Even if you look at the pro game at times and I think there have been moments and stretches where you see it. I think it’s a sign of the times with shooting and offensive efficiency. I think one of the things that we need to do a better job of is creating more offense from our defense. Sometimes you put so much pressure on your offense to get a score as opposed to stealing the ball on defense and scoring. That’s creating offense through your defense. I think we need to reevaluate that with our team. An old coach said one time ‘if you’re struggling on offense, put your best defensive team on the floor.’ That’s kind of contrary to what you think, but maybe your defensive team can get something off the defense to help you on offense. That’s one of the areas that I think we should address more with our team.”

On youth being a factor in closing out games:

“I think we see some of the moments of a young team and how well that we can do things and we get so excited. I think we see that as coaches, media, and fans, but I think sometimes we forget how that happens a lot in youth. You tend to forget the things that have gotten you to where you are. That’s an area of growth for us. For some reason when we were up by 12, I think we wanted to see if we could break it wide open, and that’s hard to do against a really good team. You have to methodically do it, as we did. You have to take one possession at a time. I think as a young team it’s hard to get them to internalize how quickly a game can change, and how fragile a game really is. I think those are the lessons to be learned, but I think we’ve played really good basketball. I think we’ve closed out a lot of opponents in certain games that we won this year. We weren’t up 12 with five minutes to play. I don’t think it was that late in the game. So in terms of us closing out, 10 minutes of time is a long time in a basketball game. I don’t think they’re consciously trying to get away from what we want to do. I think that sometimes they want to do so well, and that can get you off kilter where you try too hard to make something happen. At times we all want to do something as opposed to making sure we have to do it.”

On the three-point shots when Michigan had the big lead:

“I don’t want to pinpoint which one we wanted and which one we didn’t, but we wanted one of them and one of them we didn’t. We’re going to play to win. We’re not going to turn down opportunities for us to do the things we have been drilling, coaching, and preaching. I think sometimes you get into that pace where we want to see if we can stretch this thing out, but sometimes stretching it out might be where we make six passes this possession and get fouled and go to the free throw line. I think for a young team it’s hard to have an appreciation for those kinds of moments in a game…where getting a foul and going to the free throw line is just as good as us doing something spectacular on the fast break. That’s because we’ve worn the defense down, got someone else in further foul trouble, and we get a chance to score. That’s a part of the learning of how to put a team away...of how to play the game.”

On when this team will figure out how to win:

“Well, I think we have figured some of that out. That’s my point. Are we going to be able to do a 180 with everything? No, absolutely not. I think we’ve figured out a lot of things. I think we’re valuing the basketball a lot more, but we don’t seem to be talking about that. So, I think there are things we have figured out…that we’re in the process of doing well. I just think we lost a tough game and we lost it in certain stretches. Give State credit…they won the game…they made every big shot. “I told our guys, let’s look at a few moments of shots that we didn’t make, and they made…3’s that they made. Chris Hill’s three. Dion misses his three, Daniel misses his three, and Hill makes his. Let’s don’t lose sight of the fact that I thought they made every big shot they needed to make. Every one. If we maybe get one miss in that stretch there…I don’t know. To me that was the dagger. It was a 65-63 game and he buries a three. The shot clock is running down and he steps back and shoots a 23-footer over a 6-11 guy. Let’s not lose sight that it’s a game of inches at times. There were stretches were we didn’t do as well, but to say we’re not improving or haven’t learned…I don’t think that’s fair.”

On positives from the Spartan loss:

“We were feeling down because we expected to win. We prepared to win. I thought we played a good enough basketball to win. Obviously we didn’t win. I thought they played better than we did in certain stretches of critical times…and we gave them credit for that. They deserved it. But certainly, we want our players to recognize there were some really good things we’ve been able to do over this three game stretch that we’re been talking about after the Iowa loss. So for the three games that we’ve played, I think we’ve played really good basketball. We were 2-1 in that stretch, and now we have a chance to finish this up Sunday with another home game. They recognize some of the mistakes we made, but there are always some really good things that you can take and that you can continue to do. We worked on certain things and then achieved certain things. We need to grow from there. We certainly need to show them that there are some positive moments in that game.”

On Courtney Sims and his effect on other post players:

“I think his confidence has really improved. You can just see in terms of how his teammates are looking for him. I think it’s obvious when you’re a post player and you’re playing well, people are really looking to get the ball inside. I think it goes hand in hand. He’s catching the ball and he’s finishing, so those things allow him to feel more confident on the floor. We’ve always felt he was going to be a really good player. I think he’s starting to prove that to everyone. He’s the only player on our team who has started every game. He’s been solid for us all year. I think you’ve seen the growth and development of a really solid, young, first year post player. Sometimes that’s hard because you get pushed around a lot and you’re getting used to the physical play. But I think right now he’s proving he’s deserving of the attention he’s getting. He’s making his free throws so when you foul him and he goes to the free throw line, he has confidence there. Hopefully he can continue on the path that he is, but we can’t expect him to carry us. We have to have good balance. He’s allowed us to have good balance on the inside. I think that’s helped our team tremendously when you have to defend a guy in the post. I think it’s also helped our other post players. I think you see Graham Brown’s game has emerged somewhat and been more productive at times. Chris Hunter has been able to come in and we are able to fit pieces around different players. Courtney has become one of those anchors that we can put players around and can count on certain things from our team. Even if he doesn’t score as much, you have to guard him. I think that right now he’s a major threat for our team.”

On the final game being special for the seniors:

“The final home game is always a special moment for a senior player or manager. We’ve talked about that. Sometimes you can get off kilter in a lot of things, but that’s a significant moment. There are certain times you always remember about your career as a member of a program. You always remember you’re final home game. We touched on that a little bit. I’m anxious to see if we can wrap that up right for our two senior players in Bernard (Robinson Jr.) and Colin (Dill). Two players that have been through and given a lot over their four years here…and are still trying to do some terrific things as the year goes on. But to be able to send them off with a positive effort and feeling good about ourselves at the end of that day would be great. They deserve that. You want to finish your final game right. You don’t necessarily remember how you play in your final game…you just remember if you win. So I think it’s always a special moment.”

On if he has discussed with his team how many wins they need to get into the tournament:

“We have not gotten into that with our players. We stay away from that with our kids. I’m sure that they talk about it and hear it, but we haven’t done that. We’ve tried to work on and emphasize the things we can control. For us I think it’s important that we stay in the moment…that we stay in the present. Sometimes you put undue pressure and you think about all those things instead of thinking about we’ve got to guard Tony Stockman and we’ve got to defend Terrence Dials in the post. For our players, trying to stay focused on the task at hand is critical. We’re just trying to win our next one.”

On Chris Hunter:

“I think he’s playing very well. I think he’s been a big catalyst for our team during this stretch. I think he’s given us a shot in the arm, and he certainly has excited his teammates. The fact that he’s back and doing some good things, they’re happy for him. I think that’s been a very positive vibe in our locker room. He’s a youngster that has gone through some things… kept the right attitude, the work ethic, kept his head up, and good things have happened. The story is supposed to be written that way. I think the players on our team have really taken hold of and embraced that. I think that’s been such a good feeling for our team to have Chris back and playing the way he’s playing and having the energy that he brings on the floor. He’s rallied our team in somewhat of a different kind of way. It’s been very positive. Very positive.”

More on what he said to the team after the loss:

“It was a very tough loss…but moreso, I know how much our kids invested and I know how far we had come. Sometimes when you invest that much and lay it all out there and you don’t come away with the prize, you get concerned because you hope the next time you have the chance you want them to invest and lay it all out here again. When you don’t come away with it, you might be a little shy about putting it all out there again. That’s a normal natural feeling. We have another chance Sunday. We’ve got to do what we did on Tuesday. We did some great things. We came up three points short, and I said to them, ‘you guys have to know; you know where we were in that game. You know it was close, and we had a team down and we didn’t finish it. But you give them credit. They’re a heck of a team. They’re a great basketball team. They’re better than we are right now because obviously they beat us. But the fact is, we have to invest and commit and still stay as hungry as we were coming into that game.’ “It’s natural to feel depressed, and I think the players were that way after that game. We had the next day off, met with them a little bit, watched a little film. I thought their spirits were good. I think they were anxious to see I was going to be or how we were going to be as a coaching staff. I told them I just felt really proud of them. I felt that we did some great things. We did some things good enough to win the game, but we didn’t win it. That’s hard to accept sometimes when you feel like you played well enough to win, but you still didn’t win it. That’s a good lesson for us…possession by possession. But the good thing about it…the sun came up, we’ve got another one on Sunday. We told them that we felt Sunday’s game was going to be the important game regardless of what happened on Tuesday. Well, we lost that game and this one is huge.”

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