A&M beats Penn; advances in NCAA tourney

No. 3 South seed Texas A&M defeated No. 11 Pennsylvania, 68-52 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Lexington, Kentucky. The Aggies (26-6) advanced to play Louisville, who beat Stanford, on Saturday at Rupp Arena.

Texas A&M junior Joseph Jones notched a double-double for the Aggies with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Dominique Kirk added to the effort with 16 points, and senior standout Acie Law IV recorded 20 points.

Texas A&M head coach Billy Gillispie spoke to the media after his team's victory.

Opening statement
This is a great win for us. Anytime you get a chance to advance in the tournament, you're awfully fortunate, and we definitely feel that way today. We're just happy to get a win.

Penn is a very, very, very good team. I thought we did a great job, defensively, especially at the start. [We] didn't finish enough plays and didn't make enough rebounds, and gave them the opportunity to get ahead of us. But I was really [pleased] with the way our team responded once we got behind. We really played well from that point on. It's a great opportunity, and we're very grateful to be moving on.

On Penn, and first-year head coach, Glen Miller - How long does it take a coach to put a stamp on a program?
Well, it didn't take him long. I think that he probably benefited from having three great seniors and some other experienced players that are making their third trip to the tournament. But he's done a fantastic job. The amount of improvement that they've made on the tapes from the start of the season until today is amazing. He's done a fantastic job of really maximizing his personnel. He's done a fantastic job with this team.

On the decision to put Marlon Pompey on Penn's Ibrahim Jaaber:
I guess that's what I was doing. I was really wanting to put Dominique on [Number] 24 (Mark Zoller). I thought that he was really hurting us in the second half, so I just wanted to kind of mess with them a little bit and just see if that would do anything differently. They threw it to the post some, but I thought it did some things, as far as taking away some perimeter opportunities I was afraid they might get. They did get a couple of baskets inside, but I wanted to put a smaller player on 24. And Marlon did a great job of guarding him too. He did a great job of guarding him.

How he motivated the team when they were down by 2:
They always play hard. If you watch our team, they always play hard. You have periods in the game that don't go very well for you. You know that Penn is not going to keep missing as many shots as they did in the first half – they have too good an offensive plan and they have too many good players. So you knew that they were going to make some shots and they had some guys do that. During that time, we weren't making free-throws or finishing plays. It's a 40-minute game, and you're going to have good periods and you're going to have bad periods against any team that's advanced this far. It wasn't about motivating a team. It was about finishing some plays, making some free-throws, getting the ball moving a little bit quicker on offense.

How much does it help your defense that you can put [Dominique] Kirk on a taller player or Marlon [Pompey] on a shorter player?
I think it means everything. I thought Marlon did a fantastic job on 2 (Ibrahim Jaaber). Dominique has guarded anywhere from centers to point guards all year long, and did the same thing today. It gives you a lot of flexibility, but all our guys helped defend it pretty well today. I can't recall a backdoor that they got. That was something we were going to try and keep them from doing. I thought the best defender in the game today was Joe Jones. Not taking anything away from Marlon or Dominique or Acie, or anyone that played. I thought Joe did the best job, probably in his career, of helping against a really hard team to help against.

At what point did you relax and put this one in the win column?
When the clock said 00:00. You can't relax in the tournament. They weren't going to come back from a 16-point deficit with one minute to go, I didn't think. I think we were eleven up with 50 seconds to go. You never know what's going to happen. I was watching the Suns and the Mavs play last night and I quit watching the game, and the Mavs ended up losing. With 50 seconds to go, they were up 8 and had the ball, and ended up losing. When you get in those situations, to try and advance right now, you're going to do your best and not let one slip away from you.

On Dominique Kirk's offensive performance:
He started out great and he's been playing well for us all year. He doesn't get enough credit for being a better offensive player than he does. He's a good player. I feel confident every time he shoots it. He's learned how to drive. And he's got to make his foul shots – he was 1-2 tonight. He's really a nice player and he's a guy that you have to guard.

On Joseph Jones' two dunks on shots that Acie Law missed. Is that proof that good things happen when you take the ball to the basket?
Always. Anytime you force help, someone has to come over and rotate over to either try to block a shot or try, in those two cases, helping uphill away from the basket. It's going to open up something. Usually Acie makes those plays, but he didn't in those two situations. Penetration is a killer. It's the hardest thing to guard in basketball. It's a killer. It really breaks your defense down. Everybody thinks, ‘Well, the only thing that penetration does is it gets you baskets off drives and those kinds of things.' But the best way to offensive rebound is to penetrate and get guys out of position on the help.

On the team's struggles at the free-throw line:
I'm not concerned. I mean, you have to make them better than we did today. But when you get to the foul line 25 times in one half, probably things are going fairly well for you. And so that's a very positive sign. If you made 15 foul shots, or whatever we made in one half, that's not bad. I guess we made 14 in one half. But we have to make a higher percentage to be able to advance. But I'm not concerned about it. I think Antanas (Kavaliauskas) was a little nervous today, and rightfully so. He tries so hard to please everyone, and I think he was trying a little bit too hard. He'll make his foul shots. Marlon has been shooting them, until here recently. I think he'll make them. I'm not saying we're not going to talk about it, but that's about it. We'll say, ‘Hey, guys. Let's concentrate and make these things. Let's don't try too hard. Let's make 100 percent of them next time.'

Coach Gillispie's impression of Rick Patino and the Louisville Cardinals
I haven't seen them play much. I saw them play a little bit today and totally impressed. As far as Coach Patino, he's been one of the guys that I've watched and studied for a long, long time. I have great respect for him, as a fan. As a young, inexperienced coach, I try and [learn] how to coach the game. I've probably got all the tapes he ever made, and he made several. I've watched all his teams play. I'm a big fan of the way he goes about coaching and winning and everything. This particular team I've watched a little bit and I know quite a few of their players, personnel-wise. And they're great. I was very surprised, when you put the pencil to it, or whatever, and you're thinking, ‘Well, this team is going to be this seed or that seed.' I think everyone was pretty shocked when they were considered to be a six seed. I thought they were a three or a four, at the absolute worst. [They are] a really, really, really good team, great coach. It ought to be a very, very difficult challenge for us on Saturday. But we're glad to be playing them; because that means that we advanced.

On the pace of the game:
We didn't set out to try and run them. We're going to try and do what we do and try and dictate effort. That's what we want to try to do. We want to have great effort and be totally intense when we have the ball and be totally intense when we don't have the ball. I thought that we did that for the most part of the game. I couldn't care less if it was 50s or 80s or 90s – it makes me no difference. I want to have great pace on each possession. When they're on offense, whatever pace that they want to play, we're going to try to defend that pace. I thought they did fairly well on that.

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