Tom Crean Opening Statement
“First off, this is so big to me, I said it on the radio, I’m so excited for our team and I’ll say it in here, to have a crowd like that tonight when we’re going through this process of struggling and losing close games and trying to build this program, to have a crowd like this tonight was — the win is awesome, and there’s no question about that, and I’m happy for everybody that we got it — but to have a crowd like that on a night like this, shows that we’re building the program and people are getting it. And I can’t thank the fans enough, the students, the fans, everybody that becomes a part of it, they were tremendous all night long, they were loud at crucial times, they carried us through, that stuff matters in such a big way when you’re building something. And this is my third time and I absolutely have no doubt whatsoever what’s No. 1 when you’re building something is you got to have that kind of support. And we had some high-level recruits in the building, that always helps, but most importantly to have that kind of support and for them to stick with us means a lot to me and it means a lot to the program as we build it up. As far as the game, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team get 35 deflections in a second half. We had 10 at halftime, we had 35 in the second half. Toumani Camara had 19 for the game. Jordan Harris had 11. That’s an active defense. Our guys we knew we had to be — we got to be in the fight, just as I said to you a week ago when I was in here after South Carolina, we never got in that fight. And we had to establish toughness tonight, we had to establish we were going to fight, because we know Auburn does. And their record is no fluke, they’re the real deal. And I know they’re missing Isaac, but they are the real deal. And he’s a tremendous coach. And we were going to have to go tooth and nail with them. I mean, whatever corny line you want to use, that’s what we’re going to have to do, because they’re that tough. And to be tied in the rebound game, to get the defensive field goal percentage that we had — our percentages have been skewed somewhat the last couple of weeks because of how many turnovers we’re committing, which are turning into live ball turnovers which there’s really no defense for, but tonight once we got our transition defense better and we mixed the zone up with the man — McCormick Curtis obviously for awhile, but for the most part our guys really tried to follow the game. And then we moved the ball. We didn’t shoot it great, but we moved the ball and the biggest statistic in beating them right now is the fact they were shooting 36 free throws a game their last five games. So for us not to put them on the line like that throughout the game was a huge, huge thing, because they just have been dominating the foul line. They have been dominating the offensive glass and they have been dominating the foul line. So we played, the bench was short, not for any other reason other than the guys that were on the court were doing a really good job and it was hard to take them off. But we knew Anthony would bounce back, he’s had a good couple of days, got the energy back up and I thought he did some really, really good things tonight. Toumani, Jordan Harris, Rayshaun, Sahvir, Mike Peake coming in, what those guys did defensively was big for us. And Anthony showed at the end of the game — well throughout the game, but really at the end of the game — when he went on McCormick, just what he is capable of defensively. And when he spreads out and plays and he’s locked into being an individual defender he is high, high level. That’s why we think that down the line for him he could be an elite, elite defender at the next level. But proud of the win, proud of our guys and again so thankful that we have fans like this that are sticking with us and that showed this support tonight. So go ahead.”
Q. You mentioned Camara and all those defensive contributions and deflections, the foul shooting, I wasn’t sure if it a mistake for him to be in there. Did you know he was that kind of a foul shooter?
“Here’s the thing, if he hadn’t been making them earlier that would be a much different situation, but he’s made some earlier. So he was 10-12 on the night. The last thing we did tonight at walk through — not to bore you with details, but like usually your walk through is — like if we’re going to play at 7 o’clock, we’re going to eat at 3, our walk through is going to be at 1:45, 2 o’clock. We didn’t get on the floor until 2:45 because we have guys that have class until 2:15, right? So we had a shorter walk through. We have to get things done, we want to shoot, but the one thing we were not going to miss was shooting free throws. So we come up to the upstairs gym and we just have to make sure we’re prioritizing them every day. And so I say that because usually he makes them when we shoot in practice. And the fact that he made some at some moments in the game is confidence to have him in, in that situation. We’re not taking him off the floor with what he’s capable of defensively, especially how we were playing time and score with Ray because of his four fouls.”
Q. You guys were up by 10 with under 15 minutes to go. What did you like about how you guys handled that situation in terms of closing it out?
“I loved the huddles. I really did. I loved our huddles. I did not see us lose belief at any point in time tonight. I thought our — I thought Sahvir Wheeler did a fantastic job with that. We have really been challenging him the last couple of days to take those steps as a freshman in practice. But Anthony was good, Jordan was good, they were all good, they were good. They were talkative, all right, they were talkative in the huddles. There wasn’t I’m fighting them to get their eyes on me type of stuff. And we have had that. When we start to lose confidence those eyes drop and it’s hard to get them back and we didn’t have any of that. So I felt good with that. We knew they would make a run, we just wanted to make sure that we were getting good shots on other end and we were putting ourselves in position to not take quick ones. We took a couple ones we got up, that were, that we would like to have back, but for the most part let’s be in position to rebound the ball if we miss so we have balance so we can get back in transition.”
Q. Just inside of 10-minute mark you have to take Hammonds out with four fouls and you took Edwards out I assume to rest him —
“Yeah, and he wasn’t okay with that. The only thing I wanted to do — we got to stretch one coming, right? And when he’s playing the way he’s playing, and especially he’s playing with so much more energy tonight, because he’s healthier, I just want to get him out for the stretch, because I don’t really have any intention of taking him out again. He doesn’t know that but they don’t ever want to come out of the game. You can play 40 minutes and it’s, they never want to come out, that’s part of it. But it was only to get him a rest to get him through the stretch and put him back after the TV and 8.”
Q. How important was it? You still had a lead —
“Oh, it was. You play, you’re playing, you’re playing time and score in a situation like that, but I’m also playing the long game, because we’re going to going to need him to close the game and I need him as fresh as he can be. Now does one minute, two minutes, three minutes get you out? Well when you go through a timeout it ends up being a little bit longer and so it’s part of it. And I would like to get him out somewhere around the 13, if he’s winded early, or somewhere around the 9 and a half, 10 to get to a TV and then — in my own mind — and so we were able to do that and then get him right back in.”
Q. Talking to Bruce Pearl about his first few years, he had losing records in the SEC and now obviously, as you said, he’s got the program going. He said sometimes you just got to eat it early and some of the guys he’s got have been through the tough times and it’s motivated them. How have you kept this very young team engaged through some of the disappointment and heartbreak you guys have suffered this season?
“Well it’s, it’s every day, it’s an everyday process this. It’s not — this is not — I have all my books, right, all my seasonal books of practice plans and stuff like that. I don’t go back to that that much. There’s not a real pattern to having this many young guys, you know, what did we do this date a year ago or two years ago or five years ago, it’s not like that any more. Every day we got to put a lot of time in what does this team need, and keep getting them fresh, keep their energy high — their concentration and focus spans are really, really tough. And some of it is back of age, some of it is because they have never been through things like this. But I think our coaches are doing a great job — Joe Scott did the scout on this one — does a great job of really, really getting them to lock into what’s most important. We’re not trying to over practice, we’re trying to mix things up. I thought I made a good move a week ago last or last Thursday when we had a small group workout, the other guys lifted, and they come up and we had a whiffle ball game. I though it might relax them. And we still lost. You try to do different things to keep them moving in the right direction. But they really have — we don’t have everybody understanding how hard you have to practice for how long you have to, we don’t have everybody understanding how you have to prepare for practice yet. But we really haven’t had what I would call bad practices. And my thing is I’m trying to get that last 10, 20 percent of the practice to be where it’s got to be in a focus. And so we just try to really stay focused on that and I don’t think it’s a negative atmosphere. I think it’s a challenging atmosphere, I think it’s a learning atmosphere and I think it’s a development atmosphere and if you have a development atmosphere it can be challenging, but you can’t have development if it’s negative and we’re not, because I’m trying to keep real perspective on this group. And that’s hard, it’s very hard, but it’s part of it. And so I’m really proud of the way they persevered tonight.”
Q. In addition to those huddles you were talking earlier in the first half, Auburn goes on that run to take the lead, you guys answer with like an 8-0 run. How much of that to you is a sign of a team that’s been in these situations and has been finally getting that experience?
“I had to adjust, too, right, because I like to let them play, per se, right. I like to get more ball screens, but I think what’s noticed is when we get up, we got to call, I got to call the game more with this team right now and I got to you call the action. And that — I never want to take us out of transition, but young teams really don’t understand time and score situations. You saw it even a little bit late in the second half, Mike Peate’s three in the corner, Sahvir’s three early. Yeah, they’re open — Anthony’s three — they’re open — but it’s a time and score situation. That’s not what we need right now. So I think I learned that I got to do an even better job and as much as I can to call the game for them, to put them in something that makes the ball move. And that’s a little bit what we did in that situation. Now they got to execute, right, it’s not me, but the bottom line is they did. And I think that really, really helped us inside of the game. So we didn’t have that, here we go again feeling.”
Q. When you’re a young team and you lost eight out of nine and —
“Thank you for reminding me of that.”
Q. Sorry. And your best player is probably not going to be here next year. Do you worry that this could really, really go bad or did you feel like this group has it within itself —
“Could go bad now or in the future?”
Q. Could go even worse.
“Like this year?”
Q. Yeah, like people just check out.
“No, I don’t think like that, no. And I’m very confident in how we’re building the program. If I look at retrospect — and we talked about this last week a little bit — year two at Marquette, year two at Indiana — those are bears, they’re really hard. And again, I’ve never been this young, other than the first year at Indiana where we had to build a whole team, but no, I think when you have a track record of you, in your own mind, when you look at it and you see how guys have been able to persevere because of what you try to do and you believe in those guys — we have to recruit, right, that’s why tonight was big, there were crucial players here for the future. But, no, I don’t think like that. And because if I thought like that then it would probably come out inside of this team and we probably don’t get tonight’s win. So I don’t think like that at all. Just like I didn’t think like that a year ago when we had those four games this time of year that all came down to one possession and we lost all four of them before we went to Florida. So, no, I don’t — I have my own worries and my own things that I go through as a coach, but how we’re going to build this program and how we’re going to persevere through it is not one of them, it’s real not.”
Q. What can you say Jordan and Anthony late in the game, they were forcing Dowdy and McCormick into tough shots.
“I said it earlier with Anthony, when he locks down defensively it’s unbelievable. He spreads out and he gets those wings, I mean those long arms going, wings, gets those long arms going, he’s got such strength in his legs that creates such tremendous balance. When he really, really learns how to use his length all the time consistently and when he learns to take that first dribble and because he can, he plays in a compact stance which is what you want somebody to be. You don’t want somebody to play up high. But he’s so strong, but he plays compact. And when he really learns to take that first dribble and you just can’t get by him and that’s a little bit of what happened there. Jordan was just all over the place. The challenge for him was, let’s make this your best defensive game you’ve ever had here and we’ll turn it right back around and say the same thing on Saturday night. Because that’s what we need. And it’s amazing, mit’s like Toumani’s defense, those turn into good offense. When you’re playing good defense and you’re locked into things that you can control, your effort, your activity, it’s amazing what happens offensively. It’s amazing what happens offensively when you’re not thinking about offense. And that’s the thing that takes players a long time to learn, but we had some guys that really fulfilled that tonight. They did such a good job defensively and it turned out to be good execution of offensive or free throw shooting or whatever it is.”