PHILADELPHIA – Roy Williams, Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson met with the media following North Carolina’s 101-86 win over Indiana to North Carolina in the 2016 NCAA tournament Sweet Sixteen at the Wells Fargo Center.
Watch the full press conference below.
Quotes are available after the jump.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll start with an opening statement from Coach Williams and then we’ll open it up to questions for players Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson and then questions for Coach.
ROY WILLIAMS: No complaining because we played very, very well, but the NCAA needs to buy a dadgum new table, the dadgum leg just broke my bad knee. But other than that it’s a fantastic night. Brice even laughs at me. It hurt.
I’m sitting up here with two guys I have enjoyed immensely that played their tails off. Steve was mad this morning, told me about an article that said I can’t coach 3-pointers, so I guess I still can’t, but I know the little sucker over there tonight made four of them before the first TV timeout. For us he gave us a great start, there’s no question about that. It lifted everybody’s spirits, gave everybody confidence.
At halftime it was like 11, I think, I don’t think it ever got below double digits like that. But I was scared to death. I have so much confidence and respect for Indiana, the job that Coach Tom Crean has done. Yogi, those guys — I watched four games in the last 36 hours, because we played so late I had all kinds of time. But four games in the last 36 hours. I saw them play against Maryland and I thought there was no way that anybody could beat them the way they played against Maryland that day. But our kids played very well. And I left out one guy, too: Troy Williams, 21 points in the second half, was sensational for them. And he was not their best 3-point shooter. In fact, of the starters he’s the guy that had the worst percentage, but he competed like crazy.
So we feel very good about beating a really, really good Indiana team. Brice, fantastic work, double-double again, and Marcus, 21 points, six assists, no turnovers. We’re ecstatic to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Brice or Marcus.
Q. When you guys are shooting that well, just how big did that basket look to you guys tonight, first half and second half?
MARCUS PAIGE: I felt good. As a shooter, when you get the first one to go down, it’s always kind of a good thing for your confidence. And then I was able to get free a couple of times right after that and get pretty good looks at the rim, which are hard to come by sometimes as a six-foot guard. So that really helped me get going. And I think other guys fed off that. And we shot the ball better than we have been shooting the ball, so that always helps against a team that can really score.
BRICE JOHNSON: He answered. He’s the one making the shots. I really didn’t hit —
ROY WILLIAMS: Brice was 1-4 in the first half, so he didn’t know how big the rim was.
BRICE JOHNSON: I can’t answer that question. Marcus did a terrific job.
Q. Marcus, the ACC is guaranteed a team in the championship game, four teams through to the Elite Eight. Does that surprise you with what you saw out of the league this year?
MARCUS PAIGE: Definitely doesn’t surprise me based on the quality of play in our league this year, it was fantastic. Top to bottom, we had some really competitive games. Even the lower — the teams that didn’t do as well were competitive throughout the whole ACC season with the top teams. Doesn’t surprise me at all to see UVA, Notre Dame, us advancing as far as we have. And it just shows that we had the best conference this year. I know the Big 12 is really strong in the top, but I think with as deep as our league is, we had the best year.
Q. Brice, how good was it to see Kennedy step up on a day that Isaiah got in foul trouble didn’t do a lot to have him do what he did tonight?
BRICE JOHNSON: It’s really big. Just for his confidence. He has been getting down on himself just because he hasn’t been playing a lot the last couple of games, but if you think about it the last couple of games probably weren’t good games to play in. Just thinking of matchups, you got people like Bielfeldt running around off screens, you have a lot guys from Florida Gulf Coast, essentially a lot of guards running around. So those aren’t really games that we really want him out just because they space the floor.
And tonight we’ve got guys like Thomas Bryant, he doesn’t really go out there and shoot 3s, that’s a lot better matchup for him. And I mean he really showed that he’s a really good player, and he really showed up today.
Q. Brice and Marcus, to put up 101 points in a game like this, was this the most impressive offensive performance you guys have had as a team over all this year?
BRICE JOHNSON: Yes, it definitely one of the most impressive just because of the way Marcus came out. He was on fire there. At one point, when me and Joel kind of fumbled it down there in one end and he ended up getting a 3, I was like, wow, he’s really feeling it right now. Hey, everybody was feeding off that. So that’s the way we need to play every game because we’re a very good team and if you want us to run then that’s the way we want to play anyways.
MARCUS PAIGE: I think we knew they were coming in and there was going to be a lot of points scored in this game. Indiana is terrific offensively. We’re pretty good offensively as well. The tempo was going to be higher than the traditional college basketball game. There was going to be a lot of points scored. But I think in terms of our balance, getting some outside to complement our inside game, that was one of our better performances, because we had a lot of great offensive games where we just scored all our points in the paint. But this time we were able to get some balance and I think that helped us.
Q. Brice, they were in the — you were in the bonus like three minutes 56 seconds into the second half. Had you ever had that happen so quickly in a game, and what kind of psychological advantage does that give you guys knowing that every whistle you’re going to the line?
BRICE JOHNSON: I don’t think we’ve ever had it where we’re in the bonus that early. But it does help us because we want to be able to attack from the inside and then go out. First half we really didn’t get the ball inside. Our guards were hitting a lot of big-time 3-pointers out there, and the second half we got — they got a lot of fouls on post-ups, getting inside, the way we really want to play the game. That really helps us in the long run.
Q. Can you guys talk about the excitement of being one game away from a Final Four?
MARCUS PAIGE: Yeah, I mean, it’s extremely exciting. It’s one of the things we’ve talked about all year, as one of the goals that we’ve set. So to be one game away is extremely exciting. And to have to beat a great Indiana team to get there, it feels really good. We’re in a good place mentally right now. Using the short turnaround to recover physically and then it’s for all the marbles. Notre Dame is going to be ready to play. We split. They beat us earlier in the year and we beat them in the tournament. So both teams should have some confidence and have some positive things to look at.
But I know for the next however many hours it is, that’s all that’s going to be on my mind is how close we are to reaching one of the big-time goals that we set for this team.
BRICE JOHNSON: One game away. That’s all I’ve got to say. One game away. We’re not done. We’ve just got to go out there and play. Like Marcus said, we split with them this year. Just gotta go out there and play. Not expecting to come out any particular way. We’ve just gotta go out there and play the way we know how to play.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. Roy, do you remember the first time that you watched Marcus play; and, if so, can you tell us a little bit about that?
ROY WILLIAMS: Yes, I saw him play in the — I can’t remember what number court but it was the Milk House, Orlando, Florida, Disney World, one of the upstairs courts in the Milk House. I was extremely impressed.
I had another game one of the assistants wanted me to watch and it was postponed. I heard about Marcus from J.P. Tokoto, and so I went up and watched Marcus play and thought he was sensational. And I think that was the summer before his junior, summer before his junior year.
Q. Four ACC teams in the Elite Eight, guaranteed to have one ACC team in the championship game. What does that say about the league and does that surprise you at all?
ROY WILLIAMS: Everyone has different opinions. All year long people would say — some guys would say the ACC, some guys would say the Big 12, Pac-10. I felt all year long that our league was outstanding. And I think that there’s different ways to evaluate it.
The play at the end of the season is the way most people evaluate it. And I feel our league is showing the kind of depth and strength of the teams the way they’re playing right now. Have Syracuse, Notre Dame, Virginia, North Carolina, something we’re very proud of.
Q. Marcus talked a little bit later in the year about sort of like having to relax and trying to calm down a little bit. From your perspective what has he gone through and done this year to put him in the place he is in now from a mental aspect?
ROY WILLIAMS: He’s a very thoughtful young man. He’s not the typical jock image, that kind of thing that everybody thinks. He’s a really thoughtful young man, three-time academic All-American. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He had high expectations this year for himself as an individual, and he had high expectations for our team.
The ball didn’t go in the basket for a long stretch in there and it really bothered him. I loved him because he didn’t let it affect the rest of his play. He was standing on a beach and couldn’t throw it in the ocean, he was still winning the defensive player award a lot. He was still making the other guys on the team better. He was still one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around. I’m thankful that the ball is going in for him a little bit now, giving him a little relief. But he’s so focused on how our team is doing, he’s handling all the rest of that as well as anyone I’ve ever seen.
Q. If I remember, the other day you mentioned about trying to maximize your opportunities and limit theirs. You seem to have done that in the first half. How essential was that in terms of the start you guys had, especially in that first half?
ROY WILLIAMS: I think Marcus got us off to such a good start. Let’s be honest, Indiana didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well as they normally shoot it.
We were fortunate because I didn’t think we played that well defensively in the first half. I think they just missed a lot of shots. In the second half we played a little better defense, and they made more shots. But there’s no question that it gives you a good feeling, but the game of basketball can change so quickly.
I told our guys at one of the timeouts: The game is not over with. One of the media questions early was about I was still coaching with two minutes to go. We just saw a couple last week: 12 points in 44 seconds. The caliber of the teams in the tournaments you’ve got to keep playing and understand you have to play for 40 minutes. It was very good for us to get off to such a positive start, especially when I didn’t think we were playing well defensively during that time.
Q. You said several times you feel like this is your least appreciated, most criticized really good team. But the way that it’s played in the postseason, some of the accolades you are starting to get now, the players talking about getting closer to playing to their potential, do you feel differently about that since the Duke game, maybe?
ROY WILLIAMS: I think you’re exactly right. Probably the last two to three weeks I think things have changed. I felt like we were pretty doggone good before that. But I knew that we could get a heck of a lot better.
At one point, I guess after the Virginia game, I think is when — is that our last loss? So we had lost six games and we had lost those six games by a total of 22 points. So we were pretty doggone good. I don’t think that was appreciated at that time.
And I didn’t get fired up as much as Steve did about the article this morning, because I don’t mind things. As long as my team is playing the way I like them, that’s good. And I’ve been really appreciative of the team the way they’ve competed.
I think the way we bounced back and played at home against Syracuse on Senior Day was very important to me, the way we went over to Durham and played against Duke in the last regular season game was extremely important to me. I think that from that time on, I think people are starting to realize, hey, we’re okay, we’ve got a chance to do some things and we’re playing pretty well.
Q. To put up 101 points against a really good team in this type of a situation, what impressed you the most with your team on the offensive end tonight?
ROY WILLIAMS: At Florida State we scored over 100, I think, on the road in the ACC. And that’s pretty impressive. I think it’s only the third or fourth time this year we scored over 100. I’ve had some teams in the past, nine or ten times we’ve scored over 100.
I was impressed by our team the way I jumped on their tails at halftime and responded and we started playing better. I have no idea how Brice and Theo can have a perfect lob pass on to them 25 feet away from everybody else and screw that up, but other than that I thought we did some good things.
Q. They made a little run in the second half and got it to within 10 several times. How important was for it to not get into single digits and to keep that at least a 10-point advantage there?
ROY WILLIAMS: You know, some people could say it was important. But I’m not going to be one of them. I never knew it got to 10, because I’m just coaching. But some people think single digits — Steve is the one that brought it up to me, said they never got it inside single digits.
So what they were doing — I mean, the crazy thing is — seriously, you think about it, we were up 20 because I looked at the clock when that long pass was in the air, I looked at the clock, saw we were up 20. We screw that up and seven seconds later they make a 3, so it’s a five-point swing in seven seconds.
So I decided after that I didn’t look at the clock again for the next five or six minutes. But some people can say it was important, but I never felt like our team was panicking. There’s so many possessions in the game, there’s going to be ebbs and flows of how you play. Things will go your way a little while, and then they’ll make a little run and we’ll make a little run because they’re very good also.
Q. Coach, how much fun are you having coaching this team like this, winning a game that convincingly, and when was the last time you’ve had this much fun? I’ve been told you have a soft spot for your ’89 Kansas team.
ROY WILLIAMS: Wow, ’89 Kansas team. That was my first team. That was the soft spot because those guys gave me a chance. I didn’t have any record beside my name and those kids believed in me. They had just won the national championship and gave us a chance.
And at one point in the year we had eight guys dressing out because we got everybody hurt. But that was a special team. But your players are like your children. You can’t say which child you like the most.
If I tell the child that I have — either Scott is around and Kimmy is not, I tell Scott I like him better. If Kimberly is around, Scott’s not, I tell her I like her better.
But the bottom line is this team has been special because of all the stuff that they’ve handled during their four years. And what Brice and Joel and Marcus have accomplished. I mean, Steve was telling you guys something: Marcus passed Michael Jordan on the North Carolina scoring list. That’s pretty neat.
He said, “Well, Coach, I’ve only played three years.” I said, “Shut up. Your name’s going to be ahead of Michael Jordan’s in something. Just take that and appreciate it.”
Brice tied the record of most double-doubles than anybody in North Carolina history with Billy Cunningham. The things that those kids have done, they’ve really been special to me because the times have been tough the last two or three years. I’ve never had my — I’ve never had my credibility questioned. I’ve never had things happen to me that’s happened in the last three years. And going on that court with those guys has really been neat. It’s really been something special.
Q. Over the course of recruiting, how much do you try to sell kids on the ACC and the history of the conference and the depth of it?
ROY WILLIAMS: Some. But I sell North Carolina. I sell North Carolina. I promote North Carolina. And I say, yeah, we play in the best basketball conference there is. But I don’t throw things out there like that. I sell North Carolina. I sell our team and what our university stands for.
And I think that’s what I should sell and promote. But I’m very proud of the ACC, always have been and always will be. I’m an old-timer that grew up on ACC basketball. But I promote the University of North Carolina. That’s my school. That’s the school that I’ve loved since the fall of 1968. And it never will change.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
Filed to: 2016 NCAA tournament