But in the second half I thought we came out and did a much better job defending them and we executed our offense. T.J. hit some big ones. Tyler was terrific tonight. He played a lot of minutes and was great. Ralston hit some big shots for us. We just kind of had a combination there. But execution of our offense in the second half and defensively second half I thought we were much better than we were in the first half.
So ends up being a really good win for our team, and we're excited about the opportunity to go to Orlando.
Tyler, it seemed like maybe it took a little bit of time for T.J. to get going, but you guys got contributions from several different guys in the first eight minutes to build a lead. How important is that effort from the rest of you guys to kind of pick up the slack when he is struggling a little bit?
TYLER LEWIS: T.J. is a terrific player. We know sometimes it's not going to be his best game, and we know that everybody can step up and make plays.
I thought in the second half that T.J. did a tremendous job getting going and hitting some shots.
This is for Tyler. Earlier in the year you guys-- maybe T.J. goes out with foul trouble and kind of maybe struggled a little bit, but lately in the last month and a half so much it seems if he comes out like you're saying, the team's able to really rally and pull together without him. Have you noticed a change in that in the last few weeks?
TYLER LEWIS: I definitely do. Earlier in the year we were a pretty young team, and it took some time for us all to get used to each other. And now we're getting used to each other making big plays.
T.J., only nine points at halftime. Finished with 25. Did you feel like it was on your shoulders to have a good second half for your team?
T.J. WARREN: I just wanted to come out more aggressive, understood the shots wasn't falling for me the first half, but thought I did a good job moving without the basketball, just trying to get open. My teammates did a great job finding me.
Tyler, I want to ask you, there was a point where it looked like you kind of hurt your ankle, but you continued to play. I wanted to ask about that, if you're all right. And the other question was there was a critical play where you came down the lane and everybody seemed to be kind of looking for someone to match up with, and you just took it right to the hole. Do you remember that play and how important it was?
TYLER LEWIS: First off, healthy, my ankle. I twisted it a little bit, but I'm fine. And, yes, I remember the play. It was critical, late in the game and dropped it off to Jordan and he finished with a dunk.
There were a number of national pundits who were criticizing the selection committee for including you and saying maybe some other teams deserved the bid instead of you. What do you have to say to some of those critics after tonight's performance?
TYLER LEWIS: I think we showed that we should be in the tournament. And after this game, and here on out, we've just gotta keep proving them wrong.
T.J. WARREN: We definitely belong here. We're not going to worry about too much what they're saying. Continue to play our game and rack up wins.
T.J., when you're having trouble getting going, do you sense that whether it's running the floor hard and getting out in transition, you guys got some fastbreak points, that maybe that can get you going a little bit?
T.J. WARREN: No, just keep moving up the basketball really, stay aggressive. Eventually shots are going to fall. My teammates do a great job at finding me in my sweet spot. So just aggressiveness, stay at it.
Tyler, just the way they were guarding T.J., seemed like there were a few more openings where they might sag off passes. Did you feel there would be opportunities to find other guys and maybe be a little bit more open tonight?
TYLER LEWIS: Yes, earlier in the game I recognized they were throwing a couple of guys at T.J., and it helped me out because Ralston stepped up and hit some big shots and found Jordan and Kyle early in the game, and they stepped up.
Mark, maybe it's not fair to stay that it's an off night for a guy who scores 25 points. But in the early going, it seemed like it was invaluable what you got from the rest of the supporting cast, so to speak. Did this maybe send a message maybe there's more to this team than just T.J.?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think when we got other guys step up and score and everybody's chipping in a little bit we're much better, and that's kind of been the case with our team. I don't think our guys-- I mean, our players understand that T.J.'s a great scorer. And he is. They watch him every day in practice. But they also know we need some different things. We need Ralston to make some shots from the perimeter, if Tyler can hit a few, Jordan gives us a little bit, BeeJay had a dunk, Lennard, Kyle, all those guys.
And as everybody contributes, it makes us better. Because eventually in a 40-minute game-- I've not seen T.J. go very many times where at some point he's going to find-- he's going to find a way. And when those other guys step up and score, we've played really well. And we had that tonight. A lot of different guys made some key baskets for us.
T.J. mentioned that you really don't listen to pundits or whatever, but is there a psychological push you can get when some folks are saying maybe you shouldn't have been in the field?
COACH GOTTFRIED: You know, to be honest, I've not talked about it one time with our team, whether or not anybody else felt like we should or shouldn't be in. We believed in our hearts we deserved to be in. That's really all that matters. We believe that. Our players believe that. They played their way in. They earned the right.
We played a great schedule. We beat good teams on the road. So, really, it's not something that we've made a big point of emphasis with our team. We got a golden opportunity, and we need to go play, and tonight was the first chance to do that.
Mark, I asked T.J. the same thing. When he got going, seemed like some long rebounds led to some runouts and some steals. Do you guys sense that you can see his confidence rising and maybe it takes something like that?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I thought, first of all, they did a nice job. They really swarmed him in the post. They kind of were physical with him coming off screens. It got hard for him to catch the ball and those type of things. I did think a couple of times in the break Tyler pushed it ahead to him right around half court. And he gets that ball one or two steps across half court and he's tough right there to slow down to the rim. And I thought that probably helped him get going, a couple of those open court passes to him and some baskets.
So I want to mention the other thing. I thought Tyler tonight-- we were at the hotel today, Cat was pushing a fever of over 100. He was throwing up this morning, all day long. He played a little bit in the first half. I thought he actually did a really nice job. We came back in at halftime. He was throwing up at halftime. So we gotta try to get fluids in Cat and get him rested.
But Tyler I thought played -- just played with a lot of courage. He got tired. He knew Cat wasn't going to come in the second half, and he just kept making tough plays. He ends up with eight assists, one turnover and really, really played through some fatigue. I thought he did a great job.
Did you get the sense that your team was playing like it was a second chance, like a new lease, being in the tournament and not having to worry about playing your way in there and just being here?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Not really. Here's the way we approached this thing. We've basically been in a tournament mode here for about two or three weeks, the last couple of weeks of the year.
We're one of those teams, our backs were pressed up against the wall pretty hard. We knew that going to Pittsburgh. We knew that playing Boston College. We knew that playing Miami, playing Syracuse. We've kind of been in that mode here for a while.
So, for us, it's just continue on. Just continue on with what we've been doing. We're getting better at some things.
I think the one thing that's really nice to see is our young players are really learning how to play at this level, learning how to execute and defend. And that's what you want as a coach. You want your team to keep getting better, and I think we are getting better still. So for us it's just let's keep on doing what we're doing.
Your bigs in the middle, talk about you were happy with the defensive play. BeeJay and Jordan, I think they had combined seven blocks in the paint. Just moving forward defensively, what does that do for your team?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Well, it helps us, and here was the decision tonight. Stainbrook, I thought, really played great. And we had trouble. Jordan had a little trouble stopping him. BeeJay did a nice job stopping him, then he got in foul trouble. We talked about doubling him, sending somebody down there, but then my thought was if he can get 20, 25, I'm going to live with that.
But I don't want to start doubling him and opening up everything else for everybody else especially for Christon and the good 3-point shooters. As the game wore on, I thought Jordan got a little better guarding him.
But when our big guys block a shot, get some rebounds, and then score here and there, BeeJay had tip dunk, Lennard had a nice putback, Jordan made a couple plays there offensively, that's great for our team because we need a little bit from them on both ends of the floor.
Coach, there was a point early in the second half, it was a two-point game, and a span of 30seconds they missed a 3, led to a layup by T.J. and a steal and a layup by Tyler. How big of a turning point was that early to kind of reestablish control of the game?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Well, it was really big. And I think, if I could remember right, we had a little stretch and I looked out there and T.J. was about dead. He was dying.
That's one of those as a coach you're thinking, man, we're making a little run here. But I thought he was exhausted. We took him out and we kept scoring. We scored a couple more baskets with him on the bench, which was also big for our team. And then he was able to get a blow and get back in there and kind of continue on.
But that stretch was important for us. Especially playing when T.J. went on the bench, it helped us.
Did any of your crash course starting Sunday night at 6:00 include even a little peek at St. Louis, or did that not start until tonight?
COACH GOTTFRIED: What happens is my staff has. They've watched them. And I have not. I've not watched them. I did watch them a couple times this year. I really liked how they play. They're good defensively. The point guard is really good. I think I watched most of their game when they played at Andy. I just watched it live.
We'll get on the plane tonight and I'm going to start watching them as soon as I sit down on the plane, and we'll get ourselves ready the best we can to play them.
But I think they've had a phenomenal year. So we've gotta get ready to play.