Just really proud, to say the least … we've been taking punches to the face all year and have come off the mat each time. Came off the mat today and played a great game against a great opponent. Kept their poise throughout. I'm just really proud of them – gutsy effort. The crowd was awesome. And to me this was one of those classic Carolina-Duke games, and fortunately we were on the winning side.
It was kind of crazy that Dahntay Jones' shot went in, but fortunately it was a second and a half late. And I admire … things got a little heated there and Coach Krzyzewski handled it great. That happens, that's part of it, and as crazy as things got both teams settled and down and again Coach Krzyzewski handled it with a lot of class.
Rashad, offensively, looked a lot like he did at the beginning of the season. Did you see it coming?
I think so. I really thought, and I said exactly that to him after the game – ‘Rashad, you're back to your old self.' I really felt that he was ready to do that against Wake Forest, but got in foul trouble and that prevented him from doing what he's capable of doing. And I think tonight he was back to the Rashad McCants of old, his defense has gotten better and he was in the flow. Guys were looking for him and he took advantage.
… I think you see how he handles situations and you see in practice. Before the Wake Forest game we spent some time away from the court and I don't know if that helped, I'd like to think it did. We talked and talked and didn't talk about basketball – talked about other things. He just seemed to be focused going into the Wake game. Even when he fouled out, he was on the bench talking. I just thought that was unbelievable that here's a kid that fouled out whose head is in the game. I felt at that point that if he could continue that he'd get back to being his old self.
On the team's clutch free-throw shooting –
Obviously, it's still not great at 66%, but it's much better. Guys making big foul shots – Raymond, David Noel. We've worked on them, concentrated on them and neat to see it takes off.
How important was it to whether Duke's outburst in the second half?
We talked about it at halftime – ‘They're going to be fired up and we need to play with a great deal of aggression.' I didn't think we did. I think our defense was a little soft there at the start of the second half, but we managed to make some baskets and that kept us with a little bit of a lead. So many times we've have to rely on our defense. I don't know when the last time we scored 82 points [vs. NC A&T and Penn State].
You talked about getting up off the mat. How much heat does this take off of you and the players?
Is there heat on me? [laughs] I thought probably the most important thing about this win is that we are guaranteed a winning season. That's important. At the beginning of the year, I know everyone circles games and guesses how many we're going to win, but I didn't know how many we'd be capable of winning with such a young team or a healthy team. I thought it could be 12 to 18, who knows. To double the win total from last year I think that shows a lot about this team. Again, this schedule, fellas, is one of the toughest schedules in the country. So I'm really proud of what the guys have done.
On Raymond Felton's leadership –
Yeah, he's learned and he's learning. It's work in progress. He didn't run the team sharply against Wake Forest. We watched tape, saw some of the things he needs to do better, and he was almost flawless today. … How about the loose ball he came up across from our bench? When there's a loose ball, I know Raymond's coming out of the pack with it. He was tremendous as was everyone. And it was great to send out Jon Holmes and Will Johnson with a win. They'll remember this game forever. It's a part of athletics – you remember the great games and the gut-wrenching defeats.
Were you worried that maybe Felton wouldn't be able to return after he went down?
Raymond Felton? No, no. You guys don't know how tough Raymond is. Raymond is one of the toughest kids I've ever been around. He's been fatigued, logs the most minutes, guards the other team's point guard, pushes the break. He's got a jammed finger … he's had nagging injuries all year and then to get the cut. As long as the bleeding was stopped, I knew he could play.
On the incident following Felton's injury -
I don't know if anyone shoved me, we'll have to look at the tape. I was checking on Raymond, but at the same time talking about how he got the cut and someone from their staff made a comment and things got a little heated. But I respect their staff. The players would probably play pickup games and get in a fistfight but afterwards go share dinner together. They're competitive, but they are good guys. I know Johnny Dawkins since we played against each other.
After the scuffle, you met with the officials and Coach K – what was discussed?
I think that they decided they didn't want to put fouls on any players, so they just gave it to each bench. I thought Coach Krzyzewski, he's been in situations like this before, and the thing we were concerned about – he saw the big picture. It was such a beautiful game and we didn't want to ruin it. That's what he talked about. He said, ‘I'm sorry for my team's actions and I'm sure Matt feels the same way about his team.' I agreed, we shook hands and we wanted to move on and finish … even though they lost I'm sure they'll admit it was a beautiful game. We didn't want to ruin a great, great day.
How does this one rank with the games you played against Duke?
How does this rank up? I don't know – it's hard to compare. They were all great wins. There was the double overtime game my senior year and we went undefeated in the league. But this game probably means as much – different emotions, different perspective. It's a neat feeling to see kids grow – physically, emotionally, mentally, X and O wise. To see kids grow and get off the mat after getting knocked down several times. And again a young, young group and I'm proud of them.
On Dahntay Jones, who scored all but two of his 22 points in the second half -
He's such a great player that when I saw his stats at halftime and I knew he was going to come out in the second half and get his. And he did. He's a guy that's so talented that it's tough to stop him and as the saying goes ‘you can only hope to contain him.' He can get a shot because he's so athletic and talented, he can get a shot anytime he has the basketball.
When they went to the zone this time, you guys overcame it …
I thought that they went to it several times. They went to it more earlier and I thought in the middle of the half. And I don't think we solved it. We got some good looks but overall I think we didn't really drive in that situation. At their place they went to it about three times and I thought we got decent shots, two out of three, but I think they went to it a little longer here and we did okay. I don't think we did great.
Does this win give you confidence to make a run in the ACC Tournament?
I think it helps, but however we could play Duke again, or Maryland. You play Duke again after beating them and that's going to be tough. You play Maryland and to me they are a great team and we struggle with the matchups because of their size. Confidence is one thing, I think we'll have confidence, but play Duke and they'll be fired up to play us. And play Maryland and they're a difficult animal for us to handle.