Coach Tom Crean, junior Christian Watford, junior Jordan Hulls and freshman Cody Zeller met with the media following the Hoosiers’ 75-58 win over Penn State in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon.
Watch the complete press conference below, courtesy of IUAthletics on YouTube:
Complete transcript after the jump.
MODERATOR: We’ll ask Coach Crean to make an opening statement and then go to questions for the student?athletes. Coach.
COACH CREAN: We knew we were playing against one of the most mentally and physically tough teams in our league, without a doubt. And we’ve had some great battles with Penn State over the years. We’ve certainly had a couple really good ones with them this year and we didn’t anticipate it being any different.
And I’m really proud of the way our players played inside of the game, inside certainly of the adversity of losing Verdell in the game. And I thought our resolve in the second half, our determination defensively, and the adjustments that we made?? or I shouldn’t say as much as we made as some of the things we went to in the snatch were very good for us offensively and defensively.
These guys did an excellent job. The three up here, to have Cody and Christian get a double?double, to have Jordan sit out so much of the second half at the end and us to?? first half, for him to?? for us to play time and score with him a little bit, and then for him really not to come out to the very end in the second half, outstanding game from him. And certainly I thought Will and Victor at times were outstanding on both ends as well.
So really proud of the way that these guys played. Without a doubt, it’s a tough afternoon. You want to win, which we did. You want to play well. But you want to do it with your whole team, and we didn’t get that opportunity today.
But these guys did an excellent, excellent job of playing through it, playing composed, and very, very proud of them for the win.
MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. Jordan, how did you all regroup after you see Verdell go down and just talk about what you all did to kind of get back into a rhythm?
JORDAN HULLS: I mean, first, Verdell has put so much into this program, so we knew when we saw him go down and out of the game, we knew we had to step up for him. And as a team, we just picked up a lot on the defensive end, and that’s really where we were struggling a little bit and not getting the stops that we needed, but we were able to rally around him and stay focused as a team and play hard.
Q. You guys mentioned some of the things you did different defensively. What did you change and just do to give Frazier a different look?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: We just tried to take away a lot of his catches and just make things difficult for him and get him out of his certain spots and stuff like that. That’s basically what we did.
Q. To any of the players, it was 40 to 34. You guys went on a 14?0 run. Jordan, I think you hit the first 3 to start that. But just talk about what that did for you guys inside the game and how that extended the lead.
CODY ZELLER: I think our defense picked up in that period. Our defense kind of led into our offense. Like you said, Jordan hit the shot, but I think we had a nice defensive stop right before that. And that’s where we’re most successful is when we’re defending and rebounding.
Q. Christian, you had kind of the odd shooting night of the 2 of 11 from the floor but 10 and 10 from the free?throw line. Is that something where you just wanted to keep grinding along and find any way to score points?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: Oh, yeah. You just want to get attack, get in, get some offensive rebounds, get some easy buckets. And my teammates did a great job of putting me in position to where I could get fouled and went to the free?throw line.
Q. Jordan, you had 13 points in the first ten minutes of the game. Were you familiar with your surroundings? Have you played here before in the State Championship?
JORDAN HULLS: Yeah. It’s not my first time playing here, but it’s a different shooting background. But shots were falling down for me. Teammates were finding me when I was open, and I was able to create a little bit on my own. So luckily, the shot was falling down and then I got in foul trouble there, but the teammates picked it up and mostly on the defensive end.
Q. Christian, you’ve had a lot of first in a long times with IU this year. This is the first one, Big Ten Tournament, I think, in five years. What’s that mean to the team and is that just another step in progression for you guys?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: It was just another step. We’re going to take it a game at a time. But, you know, it’s been a long time coming, and we’re going to enjoy it, but we know we got to get ready to pay Wisconsin next.
Q. Jordan, this question is looking ahead a little bit. But just with the way this season has gone, the way the Big Ten is, and with all the different styles and all the talent in the league, do you feel like this has sort of helped prepare you guys as players for the different match?ups you might face in the NCAA?
JORDAN HULLS: Definitely, but we’re taking it one game at a time. So our next base game is tomorrow, and but the Big Ten is a great conference, so we are playing a lot of different styles so that will benefit us.
Q. Jordan, you always get good crowds here, but how much does that help you on the tight game like that and just to push you guys in terms of momentum?
JORDAN HULLS: Yeah. The Indiana fan base has been huge for us this whole year. Even when we weren’t doing so well, they’ve been behind us a hundred percent. So to have that, come over here to the Big Ten Tournament is definitely huge for us. And but then once?? further down the road or so, we’re not going to believe able to have that, so we’ve got to be able to create our own energy as well.
Q. Cody, seemed like Penn State did a good job bodying you in the post. There are a couple times you couldn’t get your shot off but got to the free?throw line in plenty of time. What exactly were you looking to do inside?
CODY ZELLER: I just wanted to be aggressive. They were being physical down low, which we’ve seen quite a bit this year. But I just tried to stay aggressive, get to the free?throw line and get rebounds, do all the things that the team needed to win.
Q. This is for Christian and Jordan. You guys have both alluded to your next game. Obviously it’s a team you’re familiar with, Wisconsin, but haven’t had much success against. What are the keys going to be in that game? What’s important? What will it be to end that losing streak against them?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: It’s going to be very important, but we’ve just been taking it game at a time. So we’ll go back to the hotel and we’ll get ready. I’m sure the coaches will come up with a game plan and we’ll go out and execute.
JORDAN HULLS: We just gotta prepare. We know they’re a good team. This is the most important game of the season for us because it’s the next game, so we got approach it that way and keep our mindset pretty focused.
Q. Cody, there was a moment when you missed three straight free?throws and then you got that fourth one to rattle home. You pointed at Will and you said something to him. What exactly was going on there?
CODY ZELLER: He was telling me to not worry about it. Told me to move on to the next one, which is exactly what I did. I don’t know how I missed three in a row, so I don’t know.
Q. Coach, can you talk about what you know specifically at this point about Verdell?
COACH CREAN: Well, he’s being evaluated now, and we’ve got a great team of doctors that were with him, obviously, right away. And I was hopeful when he went down that it wasn’t as significant, but I’m going to keep holding on to that hope, but I don’t obviously feel good about that. And but we’ve played numerous times. It’s in the doctors’ hands. It’s in God’s hands. And we’re going to just absolutely hope for the best with him.
Q. Talking about the game, you talked yesterday about how you guys led the Big Ten in free?throw attempts. 36 times there again today. Just talk about how important it was getting to the line in this game.
COACH CREAN: It’s very important because it establishes everything for us. It establishes the ability to set our defense, which we wanted to keep Penn State out of transition as much as possible. We’ve got very good free?throw shooters, and just I think, if I’m not mistaken, Wisconsin was at 77.8. We were at like 77.4. Wisconsin led the nation last year, so to be up in that ballpark is really, really important. And it’s a big part of our game plan.
So again, we can get the ball in the lane through the post?up, through the drive, today certainly through the offensive rebounds. I think the fact that we have three guys in double figure rebounds says a lot about the tenacity that our guys played with, and they were rewarded with it a lot of times during the game for going to the line?? by going to the line.
Q. Coach, has Cody met or exceeded your expectations?
COACH CREAN: I don’t coach like that. That’s a hypothetical to me. I coach him every day to be as good as he can possibly be, and I think Gene Miiller did the same thing. And his summer coaches and certainly his parents have done that with him.
So I don’t coach with expectations in mind or where a guy is where a guy isn’t. It’s all about where he can go and what he’s doing that day to get there.
Q. Coach, Christian, touched on it a little bit, but what does it say about a guy that makes 2 of 11 from the field but still work and get to the free?throw line, hit all ten of his free throw shots and have a double?double?
COACH CREAN: Says he’s pretty good. And I thought there were a couple times where he probably could have shot a few more, especially early in the game. But we asked him to do a lot and he does a lot.
And the tenacity on the glass, the responsibilities defensively, whether we’re man or zone or whether we’re switching inside of the possession, those things are not easy to do. And they’re easy for him because he’s so locked in.
So he’s an excellent shooter, and he’s been that way for the entire year, and we feel very, very confident when the ball is in his hands.
Q. Coach, you talked about x number of wins, x different ways. In a tournament setting, how does the experience of being able to win those different ways really help you guys?
COACH CREAN: Oh, I think it does. I think it does. It was a unique day, and you certainly don’t wake up in the morning getting ready for a game and think you’re going to have to play a majority of it without a guy that?? you know there’s going to be fouls, but you don’t plan to have somebody like Verdell be out, especially the way that he was out. But it happened. And I thought our guys did a tremendous job.
I tell you one thing, because I was on the out with Verdell, that really deserves credit is our coaches. Because I know how much our players care about one another and certainly how much they care about Verdell. And I didn’t have to be over there to know that that was being handled really, really well. And when I got back over to the huddle?? and I’m a bit stunned and shaken. There’s no question about it. They were looking right in the eye, they were ready to go.
And that’s a tribute to the players. That’s a tribute to the coaches. That’s a tribute to the resiliency of them. They’ve all been through a lot, and that’s where those experiences have helped them, too.
But every game is different, and we’re proud of where we’re at with it, and we know the task tomorrow is difficult.
Q. You may have been asked this before, but how emotional was it for you to see what happened with Verdell? And if you can go, where do the minutes go?
COACH CREAN: Well, the minutes?? I’ll answer the second part first. The minutes?? we didn’t play Jordan very much certainly with the two fouls because we were playing time and score with him. We could have definitely put him back in, but I did want to try to save him because I was hopeful that we were going to get back in that locker room and they were going to have cleared Verdell, but the longer it went on the court, the more I didn’t see that coming.
And I think Remy Abell has got to play well for us. I think Dan Moore has to be ready to go. I think the fact that Victor has handled the ball so much since Verdell’s first injury in the Michigan game this year has helped him?
But I think we’ve got to be a low turnover team. I think everybody’s got to be involved in that. We’ve got to be strong with the ball.
There’s no question that we missed him. I could feel it, not just the emotional part of it during the game, but I could feel it when he’s not in there. But we go through a lot together. These guys, we go through an awful lot together. And Verdell Jones stands a lot for what’s right here.
And when you start to think about all the things those seniors have had to endure and go through and now to be at this point, that’s tough. That’s a tough blow. But the initial of just watching him in pain, that’s hard. It’s like?? there’s no worse feeling than when your own children are sick or hurt, and it’s really a lot like that when you coach.
Q. Coach, I think a lot of people expected this tournament to be really good and really exciting, but considering the way the Big Ten season has gone this year and the way that the Big Ten has performed as a whole in the NCAA tournament in the past couple years, do you feel like this year will be different as far as the conference really holding strong in the NCAA?
COACH CREAN: Well, I think there’s a lot of great teams in the league. I really do. I think these teams are hard enough to get ready for, and we’ve got the off season where we have two, three, four days to get ready for. There’s a great toughness about this league, and there’s certainly a lot of talent.
The coaching speaks for itself. But there’s a lot of different ways that teams can beat you in this league.
So in answer to your question, I would think it gives this league a great opportunity. But at the end of the day, I mean, that’s a week, week and a half?? or a week away from coming to fruition, and I’m sure everybody’s really just focused on what they’re going to do here next. I know we are.
Q. Tom, Tim Frazier, 19 in the first half. What was different in the second half?
COACH CREAN: Well, the problem was we didn’t play our game plan right in the first half. We went under the screens. And he hit I think?? at least three shots come to mind right now where we went under the ball screen on him, and we just can’t do that. He’s really, really improved. He is a great guard.
And we felt like it last year. We’ve talked about this, that we put a lot of attention on Talor Battle. We put as much attention on Tim Frazier last year because of the way that he delivered the basketball. And in the way that he has continued to improve, he’s going to be an all American. If he’s not this year, he will be next year. He’s really, really good. There’s a lot of different ways that he can beat you.
And the one thing that he’s really improved this year as he’s shooting is his long?range shooting. He’s been shooting more threes since Woodyard went out.
But the number one key with him was to keep him out of the lane as much as possible. But I think the job done on Marshall was really big because of the way he was averaging 18 and a half in the last two games since Woodyard was hurt. He was averaging rebounds, he was shooting better from the three, from the foul line. And we put a lot of emphasis on him in the last couple days. Whether we were man or zone, we wanted to know where he was at.
But, again, when you limit Frazier’s touches but, more importantly, you limit his ability to penetrate and create havoc in the lane, whether it’s his basket or a basket for somebody else, then it gives you a better chance to win. And that was the biggest part of our plan today.