COACH McCAFFERY: I'm very proud of how we played today. I thought we played against a team that was ready, a team that was well‑prepared, a team that fought extremely hard, as always. We knew what this game was going to be like, playing a team like Illinois. It's always difficult. And I feel like until the second half in particular we played with a lot more energy level on the glass. I mean, we had zero offensive rebounds in the first half, 14 in the second half. I think that was a big difference‑maker in this game.
And we played not them not so long ago and, I thought, had a pretty good game in terms of running the fast break. Didn't convert. 18 turnovers. And today, six turnovers. So I'm really proud of Bryce and Dev.
MODERATOR: Questions for the three student‑athletes? Raise your hand. I'll get a mike out to you. Start right down here in the middle.
Hey, Matt, you guys were down seven in the second half. You got the three and then you got the steal for the dunk, and then there's a timeout and you were kind of exhorting your teammates on. Do you think that was your leadership, you were trying to show them what it was going to take down the stretch?
MATT GATENS: Yeah. Down seven, you need to make something happen. I think I just missed the three, and I came off, got a good look. Bryce found me in the corner on that one. And we just needed something to happen. And I found a good spot to get a steal there and a quick bucket and just in the timeout, just trying to keep guys being aggressive and believing. And Coach said when we were down seven, you know, it's only a couple possessions; it's not over. So it was great to see our guys believe and be confident and put a run of our own on them and go up seven on our side.
Aaron, like Coach said, the rebounding effort in the second half was much better. Would you guys make adjustments defensively, especially on Meyers Leonard?
AARON WHITE: On the boards, we definitely talked about heading the crash off at the boards. Didn't have any in the first half. So especially me and Zach, I think, really tried to get down there, try and get one back if we couldn't make 'em, because the bigs ‑‑ spark that run. If you miss a three and you get it and you kick it back out, Matt hits a couple, make a couple lay‑ups, that's how you spark something. I think that was big in the second half for us.
Matt, in the second half when you were down six, you seemed to be vocal, trying to get everybody up, keep them up. How important was this game to you based off your career, based off everything?
MATT GATENS: Huge. I don't want to go home. I want to keep playing. I don't want to take this uniform off. And I think all the guys up here and in the locker room feel the same way. Personally, I haven't been past this first day. Feels good to get past it, but you gotta get over that and go and get the next one now.
It's back to the film room and we gotta get ready for Michigan State and keep extending this. We're playing for our lives. And it's a great feeling when you get it done, and it's a great group of guys to do it with.
Matt, obviously you guys have played in a lot of really close games this year, not just your team, but every time in the big ten. And a lot people are saying that this year is the strongest conference in the Big Ten. Do you think that?
MATT GATENS: Strongest year?
MATT GATENS: Oh, in the nation? I mean, people keep saying that, so, yeah, I believe it. I am a little biased because I'm in the conference and see the teams every week. But top to bottom, every team has knocked off a ranked opponent. I think I've heard that.
And there's no nights off in this league, no matter if it's home or away, and that's how you've got to approach it and that's how we'll approach the game tomorrow.
For a team like you guys that have to obviously go on a big run to make it into the NCAA Tournament, does that give you‑‑ does that help buoy you because of the fact that you've seen this year that every team can beat everyone?
MATT GATENS: Absolutely, yeah. It puts that belief in ourselves. We have proven we can we can beat ranked teams, and teams‑‑ we've been the underdog and won. Anybody can beat anybody in this league on a given day, and we're going to be try to prove that the rest of this weekend. Starts tomorrow.
Bryce, you've had an up and down season. How satisfying it was for you to play a game like you played today, the way you controlled the offense, got a lot of assists, just played the game like you've done so many times?
MATT GATENS: It's been frustrating being injured, but when healthy, I know I can play. I can play this game. So it was very gratifying today just to ball like I did and get my teammate involved.
Matt, looked like you were matched up a lot on Brandon Paul today. You only who four points, two of 11. Do anything particularly different on him or just paid a lot of attention to him?
MATT GATENS: Yeah, coming in definitely, because he's the leading scorer, one of our main keys, and we approached the game with our eye on him. And last game, he had 17 against us, so we knew he was going to be a key to stop but as a team effort on him. I just wanted to be the aggressor and make it tough on him, limit his touches and his easy looks, but other guys getting their hands in there and getting their hands in his face and making his looks tough.
But I thought overall, we did a good job on him. He's a good player.
Just for any of you guys, Zach is really (Off Microphone)?
AARON WHITE: Couldn't really hear you, to be honest with you. I'm sorry. You kinda cut in and out.
Zach, on the defensive end, as far as the dirty work‑‑
AARON WHITE: Oh, yeah. You know, being undersides at six‑seven, to go out there and front Meyers like that, seven‑foot‑one, just unbelievable effort. That's not the first time he's done that. He's done that in the Northwestern game, denying the high post.
mean, in this league you got a bunch of centers. You got Zeller. You got, obviously, Leonard. That's just a tough match‑up for him. But he's working his tail off, really proud of him. Be out in front of 'em and fight 'em and then go get a couple rebounds for our side was huge. So maybe his numbers aren't slowing it, but he's definitely making a big impact for our team.
This one is for Bryce and Matt. After Illinois hit a three that cut the lead to one, Bryce, you were inbounding the ball to Matt; Matt, you caught the ball. Were you‑‑ first of all, Bryce, were you looking for Matt? And second of all, Matt, when you got the ball and then turned to dribble up the court, were you looking to get fouled immediately and then you decided to just to dribble it all the way up? Bryce, start with you, please.
BRYCE CARTWRIGHT: Yeah, I was looking for Matt. He's our best free‑throw shooter, so we needed to get the ball to Matt so he could ensure ourselves some points.
MATT GATENS: Yeah, when he got it to me, you're expecting to get fouled right away. I think was like 16 on the clock. They tried a trap, and I just split it. And at that point, I wanted to get up the court and waste as much clock as I could. Those last minutes seemed to take forever, and you just want to run them out, but they came from behind and got me and it was a good find by Bryce.
Any or all of the players, you guys were down seven and then it seemed like two minutes later you were up seven. Talk about what you saw there from them. Did you sort of feel like you got into their heads? Did they sort of lose whatever‑‑ what was the changeover you saw from them?
AARON WHITE: The momentum of the game really switched. Matt really sparked that run with that three in the corner and the steal and the dunk. And when the momentum changes like that, you just feel really confident coming down the floor, both defensively and offensively.
So for us, we got a couple stops, started making our shots on the other end. And the next thing you know, we're up six or seven points and the whole game has flipped in a matter of a couple minutes. But, yeah, that was a huge part, and I think Matt really sparked that for us with the three and the dunk.
Coach, how satisfied were you with the rebounding effort in the second half, particularly after the way the game in Champagne went?
COACH McCAFFERY: I think not only the way the game went in Champagne but the way the first half went. We didn't‑‑ you couldn't get any traction because we couldn't get a second shot. We couldn't get a put‑back. We couldn't get an opportunity. If we were going to effect some change in the second half or the way things were going for essentially three halves, we had to get some second‑shot opportunities and keep them on defense a little longer.
You were a little outspoken on Matt not making the all‑defensive team. Just talk about his defense on Brandon Paul today.
COACH McCAFFERY: You know what, I could come up with a number of different superlatives, but it's the same effort every night. That's why I thought he deserved to be on the team.
Now, I don't want to get too sideways about it because it's disrespectful to the guys who made it because the reality is they're all terrific defenders. But I think he's the best.
Coach, Illinois went this entire game without shooting a single free‑throw. What's that say about the effort that you got from your defense for all 40 minutes?
COACH McCAFFERY: You know, I could kind of see it early. I thought our defense‑‑ because our defense was in front our bench. I thought our effort level was incredible. And then you look down at half‑time and they shot 14 for 28, shot 50 percent, and they had 11 assists on 14 baskets. And it just goes to show you how well they were executing and what kind of players they have and their intention to come in here and play well and play hard and compete and win.
So in the second half, it was much better, I think in particular in the first five minutes. We really made a little real push, and then we had the 20‑to‑5 run, which was really evident when we got up toward ball and got the passing lane and got a couple steals, Matt, Aaron White, Marble. You know, three big steals there.
Fran, the first half, some of the guys seemed a little tentative going against Leonard. And in the second half, they seemed to attack him attack the post a little bit better. Was that a concentrated effort or just something‑‑
COACH McCAFFERY: No, you know what, Scott, when you're playing Illinois, your effort has to be concentrated the entire time. You're not going to make a whole lot of changes. You can't play behind them. You have to be in front of them. Now you're worried about high‑low, you're worried about lobs over the top. And so wing‑side help was pretty good, but our ball pressure in the second half I think was a little bit better than it was in the first half, not so much from the high post. It was good from the high post in both halves, but from the wing, I thought second half was better.
Fran, (Off Microphone about Zach McCabe)?
COACH McCAFFERY: The thing about Zach is, you know, it's great when he has numbers. He had a stretch there where he was getting 18, 20 points. But he affects the game in a positive way if he doesn't have scoring numbers because he's going to defend and he's going to execute, he's going to make his free‑throws. He's not a big mistake guy.
He has got in foul trouble. If he's going to make mistakes, a lot of times it's fouling. And obviously we were worried about that today because we were going against a guy that's much bigger than you, you're worried about having foul trouble and getting them into the bonus, but that didn't happen.
Coach, can you talk a little about Michigan State? When you played there, they shot the lights out and you're‑‑
COACH McCAFFERY: They shot the lights out, but the other thing they did was they beat us up. They really took us out of what we wanted to do. So it was a combination of both. It was an incredibly concentrated effort at both ends of the floor. That's why it was a 30‑point game. So obviously we're going to have to do a much better job tomorrow.
Fran, the key from your perspective, three‑pointer by Matt, then steal and dunk when you were down seven, through your eyes, how pivotal was that in turning momentum?
COACH McCAFFERY: Oh, that was the pivotal piece right there. That was the pivotal part of the game. They're up seven. I mean, Rick, you've been around. Seven can go to 11 quick. Or seven can go to one or two. And that changes everything for the rest of the game. And as Aaron said, we then had the momentum. They had it. And then we hit the three and the steal and the dunk. Now everything's changed. They gotta call timeout and they gotta get reorganized. We can change defenses. We just have a more confident bunch coming out of that time out and we scored the ball.
Now, we got to a point where we were struggling scoring the ball. And we did. And a lot that had to do with how much they were fighting and their defensive effort.
Coach, can you talk about the press in the second half. I think you guys got a couple turnovers‑‑
COACH McCAFFERY: We got a couple turnovers. Couple of times they took it right through us, too, and that was unfortunate for us. They got a little bit tentative one or two possessions there. And that's kind of what you want. You want them to go a little bit sideways, a little bit less, especially when you have athletes and a great big guy, you want them going a little bit more east and west than north and south.