We feel very fortunate, to say the least. We've had several games this year when we've been in position to make plays and didn't make the plays. Today, Jawad Williams made a big-time 3-pointer from the corner that was huge for us. We were down one or two when Rashad made that one in front of our bench. Those are big-time shots. We haven't been able to do that several times this year, so we felt great about that.
In the first half I was very pleased, yet we knew it could have been better. I think they scored the last four or five points of the first half. At halftime we talked about guarding a little better, continuing to rebound, but being responsible for guarding your man, so they didn't break us down and allow them to get 3-point shots.
We did play a lot of zone. It was difficult for us--we aren't the deepest team in the world and playing without Jackie is something we don't want to do. He's our best defender. We had David Noel playing out of position sometimes in the first half. All the kids sucked it up in the second half, especially when we got two-down or three-down, whatever it was.
We were as open as you could possibly be early in the second half. We weren't passing the ball to the first open man. We had six turnovers in the first half and 11 in the second half. But I did like our toughness, instead of quitting. We kept after it and kept trying to do a better job. And saying all this, we do realize that we caught State on a day when they didn't make a lot of shots that they normally make.
Jawad's three's, Rashad's three's, those are huge for us. The rebounding--we wanted to see if we could do a better job on the backboards. We wanted to keep them off the free-throw line. Until that one stretch, I thought we did a good job of that. We feel very fortunate.
This means you probably won't have to jump off the top of the Smith Center.
I won't today. Tuesday is another night.
We've had five games this year where we've had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win and didn't win. Yeah, we made a shot against Connecticut and some other things have happened, but it's important for the kids to be able to understand it's the team--that's all it is. I asked everybody to play a little bit better on the defensive end of the floor because we didn't have Jackie. Play a little bit harder because we didn't have Jackie.
They responded, yet you look down and Rashad is 4-7 and Jawad--I didn't start Jawad today. In fact, I told Jawad and Melvin that I was not going to start either one of them. I was going to start Jackie and David because I thought it was better match-ups for us against State with their spread and number of backdoor cuts and the fact that they don't play very many true post players. Jawad could have sulked, could have been mad--probably was mad. At least he didn't let it affect him when he got in the game because he was big for us.
On Rashad's scoring:
The other night he let a box-and-one defense psyche him out and he quit moving. Today, I thought he was more focused. I think he realizes that he needs to score for us. In this kind of game each possession means so much more. Again, early in the second half he was involved in a couple of those turnovers as well. But Rashad McCants can score. He can shoot the basketball, we've posted him up a few times. We need to do those kind of things.
Late in the game, how were you able to get so deep into State's defense for lay-ups or force them to foul you?
Well, we had that stretch early where we were turning the ball over. They were double-teaming and screening the ball. All of a sudden we are playing offense 40 feet from the basket. There was one time-out that was very heated because I told them we have to be tougher mentally. You can't be a pansy; you have to be able to step in and face the fire because I thought that State was so much more aggressive than we were. Then, I felt like we got some aggressiveness back. I think it is important to make shots. State didn't make them; Melvin didn't make them. I don't know what he was--2-6 from the 3-point line--but I think it is to make shots. Then you can be more aggressive and be more positive. If you get better shots, you've got a better chance of making them.
What are your thoughts about the zone that worked really well for you in the first half, and then you pulled off in the second half, but it worked down the stretch.
Again, we do realize that State missed shots that they make a lot of times. We went to it in the second half because of Rashad picking up his third foul--trying to save that--and for the fact that when he got his third foul Melvin was guarding Hodge and they were trying to post him up. That was a bad match-up for us, so we went to the zone.
On maintaining composure after losing a big lead:
At that point I said, 'Fellas, we were awful. We can't do anything about that, but we can do something about what happens from here on out. We turned it over and turned it over. We were soft with the ball. We can't do anything about that. Now we can do something.'
At the [under] eight-minute time-out I think we had a one-point lead at that time, and I said, 'If I told you at the [under] eight-minute TV time-out that we were going to have a one-point lead, you would have been ecstatic. Well, we've got that. We screwed it up; it could have been a lot more, but we've got that, so let's play this last eight minutes with poise.'"