Penn State Postgame Transcript: Crean, Hulls, Rivers, Watford
COACH CREAN: I thought our guys played with tremendous heart, discipline, toughness, and they left it out there, and I think that’s what’s most important. Penn State did, as well. And we knew that’s the kind of effort we were going to need to play against them, and obviously they felt the same way. It was a hard-fought game, and we didn’t shoot the ball great. We didn’t rebound the ball nearly as well in the second half. But we still played at a very high level of competitiveness.
When we play that way, we have capabilities. We’ve done that certainly at times this year, and when we have, we’ve been successful. Tonight we weren’t successful obviously with the win, but our guys have a mindset that’s growing, and I’m proud of what they did, and that’s where I’m at.
Q. Jordan, starting the game out, Penn State on a pretty good opening the game up, you knocked down a couple shots yourself and you had a three and then that stretch, Victor off the bench, what did he bring to the team, no doubt a lot of energy?
JORDAN HULLS: Yeah, Victor no doubt brought a lot of energy on offensive rebounds. I don’t know how many he had, but he definitely brought that to our team, which we needed. But there in the first half, we cut it to — or they got it up one to end the half, so that was tough for us. But like I said, Victor just played great for us today.
Q. Jeremiah, more so just your journey now, your final game. Talk about the last three years at Indiana and what your emotions are like right now knowing this is your final game?
JEREMIAH RIVERS: Yeah, it has been a journey. I mean, two years at Georgetown, two good years at Georgetown, three good years here really. Honestly, I’ve created such a strong bond with my teammates. Like I told them in the locker room after the game, this is my family and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This was the best experience of my life. I’ve grown so much as a man and as a person and seeing these guys grow and getting better and better and moving forward, it was a blessing, and I thank them for having my back all the time.
Q. Christian, what do you see the problems were in the rebounding in the second half?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: I don’t know, I think we had a lot of mental lapses on the rebounding end. A couple times we didn’t hit guys and a couple times tipped a couple balls out and got long rebounds. It was a battle all game, and they unfortunately won the rebounds.
Q. Jeremiah, you managed the whole Talor Battle 3 for 12, what were you trying to do against them and what was successful for you?
JORDAN HULLS: I was trying to stop them, get in them, make them uncomfortable. I just really took on the challenge. I mean, I know coach had faith in me, the players had faith in me. I mean, 3 for 12, one of the top ten scorers in the nation, everybody knows he can go. I just wanted him to not have confidence around me. Every time he was around me, I didn’t want him to feel like he could just score, and I don’t think he did. I just kept hacking at the ball, getting in him, and was able to do a pretty good job on him.
Q. Christian, what did you see out of Brooks and Jones tonight and why were they so effective down low?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: They’re great, physical guys. Brooks did a great job at scoring when they needed him. When they were down and they needed a basket real bad or when they were up and they needed a basket real bad, he provided that, and they did a great job of getting on the glass.
Q. Jordan and Christian, you guys only won two more games than you won last year, but in what ways do you feel like this team has improved and in what ways have the individuals improved, progressed?
JORDAN HULLS: Yeah, over this past year, I felt like the team has gotten a lot closer, team chemistry was really good all year. We just weren’t able to get it done in certain circumstances, but I felt as a team we got a lot better. We competed every day in practice, we competed in games. Like I said, we just weren’t fortunate enough to get some of the wins we wanted. But again, the team really came together this year I thought.
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: I mean, yeah, Jordan basically said it all. We grew a lot together as teammates. We love each other. We are friends, we’re teammates on and off the court. That’s one of the great things that we have with each other.
Q. Christian, you guys didn’t shoot a free throw in the second half just by going at the basket. Is it tough not to get frustrated when you’re just not getting the whistles?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: Yeah, I mean, it’s frustrating but you’ve just got to let it go and keep playing and keep attacking and hope the referees don’t call a foul. There’s nothing more else you can do.
Q. What did it mean for you to come out if you didn’t get this one to at least go down swinging?
JORDAN HULLS: Yeah, I felt like we competed all game. We had certain stretches there where we got up, then we had some lapses, whether that be defensively or offensively. But I felt like we played like warriors tonight as a team, but we just weren’t fortunate to get it done.
Q. Jeremiah, can you talk a little bit about the fan support here at Conseco? And also, did you realize what they were all standing and clapping about with two and a half minutes left?
JEREMIAH RIVERS: No, the only thing I can really remember is when I caught that first foul in the second half and they all just went crazy. It felt like a home game. The IU support has been tremendous. It’s been something I never experienced before. We were, shoot, 34 and 4 at Georgetown my freshman and sophomore year, and that’s one of the most heralded programs in the nation, but I’ve never experienced anything worldly, nationally, it’s just not in Bloomington, it’s in Indy, it’s everywhere. It’s been a blessing for all of us to have our back.
Q. Tom, same question I asked Jordan and Christian, you only won two more games than you did last year. You guys see improvement in maybe more subtle ways, but in what ways did you feel like you progressed this year?
COACH CREAN: Well, I think we responded when we had different adversities, when it had to be. To start the year off without our center that we had recruited and really had good expectations for, we had to respond to that, and we had to respond to Maurice’s injury. We responded when Christian went down. We responded when Verdell went down, and I’m not sure we would have been able to do any of that last year. They’re getting better. They are in a sense of understanding time and score, possession, the work ethic is very, very good.
I think the biggest thing for me is this year, it’s our first year in Cook Hall, and I’ve spent a lot of time watching film and basically working out of the coaches’ locker room, which is very thin walls next to the players’ locker room. And I think the fact that this team got — was really close. Now, we didn’t always play that way and we didn’t always have success because of that closeness, but I think that’s such a huge part of building a program that they’ve got to really enjoy being around one another.
Now, the next thing has got to be will they hold each other accountable more? Will leadership really rise to the top? Can we build more of a toughness and a warrior mindset competitively to where we can withstand the lulls you have in a game where you’re not shooting the ball as well? Things of that nature.
And there were times even with guys this year, and I didn’t see this last year, they were trying too hard, not necessarily in the games, but they’d miss shots and we had have our workouts and we’d have our practices, and there were times this year we’d have to ask guys to slow it down a little bit. And those are good problems to have.
But there’s obviously a lot of room for improvement. There will be improvement. We’ve got to get more athletic. There’s no question we have to get better defensively. We were 2 and 15 this year when we got out-rebounded defensively, and that was one of the biggest goals for us going into the season. So obviously we are not good enough as a rebounding team, and we’ve got to have a great, great off-season.
The recruits we have coming in, we’re excited about, and it’s very likely we’ve got to add somebody else.
I’d like to say our athleticism improved, but a couple of the guys who are better athletes never really — one was hurt after the Michigan game and one never really got to play, so it brought some deficiencies to us athletically. But I’m proud of the way — again, I would add this: I’m not sure a year ago guys would have understood playing through some of the pain that they played through this year, too. And I’m proud that they’ve learned how to do that, and hopefully that’s going to help them down the road.
Q. You obviously had to play four guards a lot tonight. Was that kind of a double-edged sword?
COACH CREAN: Well, it did, and we let Brooks get going a little bit. You know, this is not a game where — we mixed our defenses. We were in a box and one, which is really more of a one-three and a chaser, so to speak. We were in another zone, we were man-to-man on some, zone in others, and you cannot let Battle take the game over, you can’t. As you saw, we make a mistake one time on a three, one time, and he bangs a three. He’s very good.
The game plan on Brooks we did not follow as well, and we had a couple of tough match-ups tonight, the Jackson match-up and the Brooks match-up. And that’s why we had to mix defenses more. It got us in rotation. There were a couple of times we just didn’t block out very well. But as much as we didn’t defensive rebound, we only had one offensive rebound in the second half, I believe, and that hurt us, too. When everything is all said and done, the rebounding I think was the difference in the game. And a lot of that, like I said, is because of the rotations.
Q. What are you going to be doing tomorrow and the next few days?
COACH CREAN: Oh, I’ll be working. There’s no doubt about it.
Q. Doing what, when you say working?
COACH CREAN: What do you think I’ll be doing? It’s recruiting season. You’re constantly evaluating and measuring your team and seeing those types of things. But as much as I’d like to be at home for a couple days with my family, it’s much more important that we’re recruiting, and I will be. Did you think I was going to run off to California for a couple days and go golf? We don’t need any players that golf.
Q. Four of the six offensive rebounds came from your two freshmen. Your thoughts on their first tournament experience?
COACH CREAN: Well, I thought — you know, we wanted guys to be fire starters, and they were. Victor was bouncing off the walls. Will was ready. I mean, we’re asking Will to guard a — is Jeff a fifth year guy or fourth year guy? Who’s here from Penn State, anybody? I mean, he’s a grown man, put it that way. He’s very strong, he’s very physical, and we’re asking him to guard them one-on-one. That’s a heck of a responsibility. But they belong. They didn’t — they made freshman mistakes this year. They played us freshmen at times, but we never viewed them as they weren’t going to be in the mix. And as we move forward, they’re going to be a huge part of this, and they’ve got to have tremendous off-seasons, and we’ll get to that, as well.
Q. You mentioned leadership. Verdell seems to want to be the guy. The players seem to be willing to let him be the guy. Do you think he has the capability to lead this team next season?
COACH CREAN: Oh, I think he’s a part of it, I don’t think there’s any question with that. You look around this league especially, and I mean, one of my strong opinions, I’m getting ready for Penn State, is the reason they’re playing so well is Tim Frazier. He has more assists than field goals in the league. His penetration is tremendous and he’s probably the most improved player in the league from the start of the league to the end. Jeff Brooks and Jackson are veterans. That allows Talor Battle to do more.
My point being this: It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s very, very hard at any top level league like this to have one or two guys be the main guys, one or two guys be the main leaders. You’ve got to have it more collectively.
Now, with that being said, he’ll be a senior, Tom Pritchard will be a senior. I think the work ethic — the next step for Verdell is that just gym rat work ethic that he does not want to be denied and he doesn’t want to leave a regret behind when it’s all said and done. And I think that’s the most immediate leadership that has to come from a player because we’ve got some young guys that really understand how to work. I mean, as we build this — and maybe we didn’t get a chance to do this right off the bat because of the situation that we were in, we’ve put — outside of talent we’ve put the year-round winning at the forefront of decisions in recruiting, and if you’re not a guy that wins year-round, there had better be a heck of a reason for it as we evaluate it. Because if you’ve got guys who are year-round winners, they’re year-round workers. And we’ve got to continue to have a team full of those guys, Verdell being one of the main leaders of that.
Q. The first half Verdell and Christian took a little while to warm up, your defense kept you in the game and you get in a little bit of foul trouble. Do you think you missed an opportunity to take an eight, ten-point lead at halftime?
COACH CREAN: I think even earlier than that. But they’re pretty good, too. They were guarding us and we got off in transition a little bit. We got some turnovers. That’s got to be our mindset. And if there’s one thing we’re still lacking, in a way it was better — maybe in answer to Bob’s question, it was better than it was a year ago, but it’s not even close to where it’s got to be. The defense has constantly got to be the driving force behind your offense, behind your point differentials, all those things. Your defense has got to be at the forefront. And we started to do that, and that helped us, but we didn’t capitalize maybe as much with some baskets, a couple decisions. A bounce pass would have been better than a chest pass.
Again, we don’t have a lot of margin for error. If we make a mistake, the other teams are little better than us at capitalizing.
Q. Coach, if you can just reflect a little bit, have you ever been through anything like the Big Ten threw at you this season?
COACH CREAN: I’d have to reflect a little bit longer. I’ve been in some great conferences and I’ve been around a lot of really good teams. We’re not on an even level playing field yet. I wish we were. We’re not. Every day is just an absolute grasp to get closer to that, so that would be my answer to that. I mean, the league is good.