I think Rider is a very good team. They play hard, they execute their stuff, and they're well coached. But I thought our guys did a great job of making plays down the stretch in those last five minutes. We got some key rebounds. Our defense was solid. They hit a couple of shots, but our defense for the most part was pretty solid. They shot 36% for the game, which was great (for our defense). And I was proud of the way our guys hung in there under difficult circumstances and pulled this out.
We executed our stuff at times against their zone. We had some wide open jump shots that we missed, and there were a couple of times were we just rushed. There were some careless passes and at times we tried to create something that wasn't there. But in the second half, we slowed the game down in terms of our action and our reads, and we were just taking what the defense was giving us.
What did you learn about your team today?
Pretty much what I thought all along: there's a lot of pride here, there's a lot of character here, and that they want to win – they don't like losing. That's what I wanted to see – how we would come back today. We came out with great energy. We played with great energy. At times, I thought we played too fast early because we were just excited to get back out there and try to redeem ourselves. So, it wasn't a surprise, but it was good to see the response.
Having said that, we need to continue now with that. We need to come out tomorrow with great energy again, and execute our stuff. Especially the way we came out in the second half – I think we shot over 50% in the second half. We need to come out and do that tomorrow.
Why did you decide to go with Ben McCauley over J.J. Hickson at the start and in the second half?
There was a team policy that was broken (by Hickson), and we didn't feel he was deserving, at the time, to start.
What did you like from Ben?
I was very pleased with his energy. Given his experience, I thought, late in the game, he would get us back in the game and help us out. He had great energy, he helped us execute stuff, and he played a very solid ballgame for us.
After how you shot from three-point range in the first half, then you came out and hit the first few in the second half, did that help you get back on track?
It really did. These guys know I don't ever tell them not to take a shot if they're open. I don't like bad shots. But they know that if they're open, the guys that can shoot the three, they know they can shoot it, and those shots were huge. It was huge to come out and hit a couple and get the confidence going again, and get us back into it.
Will J.J. be back in the starting lineup tomorrow?
I haven't decided yet.
Was Dennis Horner not playing also part of that decision?
Not at all. The rotation we wanted to go with tonight, that was it. We have enough guys where we can go 10 deep, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you go 10 deep. You can go 10 deep, but you just want to get some sort of rotation in there and get them used to playing, and unfortunately, some guys just aren't going to play. Now, there will be some nights where Dennis is in the rotation, and then we'll go with those guys.
We're fortunate to have enough players, but you play the guys you know will get it done. It's that simple. I have to answer that question a lot about why some guys don't play, and the fact is, we don't have to go 10 deep. Today, I didn't like some of the matchup situations, but I like what we had going. We wanted to try to win this game.
Junior Guard Courtney Fells
Courtney, talk about the 22-7 run you guys had in the second half that really got you guys going and set the tempo. What did you do differently?
We just played tougher mentally. We knew who they were going to try to get the ball to, and we just took it upon ourselves to take the challenge and just go out and play hard.
Courtney, there was talk before of playing time, chemistry issues, etc. Has this game helped to solve some of that?
Definitely. I think we put those little things behind us and focus on the big picture – and that's winning this tournament. And we're not going to be able to win this tournament with team issues that we had in the last game. So, we're just going to put the little things behind us and keep pushing forward.