March 15, 2015
Mike Brey: Just, I am a little bit in awe of what my team did tonight, and really the whole weekend here. To be down nine and come out of that timeout and get maybe seven, eight, nine stops in a row, when it looked like we couldn’t guard them. Then put that together with beautiful basketball, which we’ve played all year in ball movement, it was a lightning strike to watch it.
To win the championship going through Duke and North Carolina on Tobacco Road I think is extremely powerful. It’s really powerful for our program. We’ve never won a conference tournament championship. Of course, we weren’t in the conference, but 18 years, but to be part of the first one, I’m really proud.
These two seniors have set the tone from June on.
Q. The run that you guys had, was that pretty much the essence of what this team has been all season?
Mike Brey: Yeah, I think we really combined defense with just a great attacking offensive run. Now, like last night, we got to the bonus quick because we were driving that ball, so getting to the foul line helped us too. But I think Demetrius and Jerian were really able to get into the lane when they needed to, and it put a lot of pressure. They got fouled, but then they started kicking the shooters. I love how fearless we are when we step up and take big time shots. We’ve done that all year though. We really have.
Q. Coach and players, anybody that wants to answer, was there a point on or off the court during the run that you thought what just happened?
Mike Brey: We were down nine and then up a bunch.
Jerian Grant: I really didn’t know what happened. I seen us down 7 or 9, and I looked at the scoreboard and next thing you know we were up three. It was kind of a blur. But when we get into the zone like that, there is really no stopping us. Offensively we know we can score. The way we play is really unselfish, but when we’re getting stops like that and running, we can score so quick, it’s almost like a blur.
Q. Pat, since Jerian answered, what is it like to be in the middle of a lightning strike like that? Were you guys simply taking the ball away from them every possession?
Pat Connaughton: When they made their run because of how fabulous of a team they are, we just kind of had to think in the timeouts that we’ve been in situations like this before. We’ve been down 18 at North Carolina State. We’ve been down and been a part of runs. Miami in this tournament made a run on us in the second half. Duke did as well. So we’ve been a part of things when other teams made runs. It’s how do you respond. I think Coach has done a great job of instilling that in us, how are we going to respond? We knew that we needed to do it on the defensive end. That defense fuels our offense. That’s something that we’ve really tried to build this program on this season, and it’s something that allowed us to get out in transition and allowed us to score like that so quickly.
Q. Coach, you said yesterday if you guys won the championship it would be the greatest accomplishment for the basketball program. Can you talk about that? Do you still feel that way? Also, has playing in the ACC made your squad tougher?
Mike Brey: Digger Phelps would probably argue with me a little bit, but I can’t wait to have that argument and debate with him when I get back to South Bend. But, again, we were an independent then and we were a really good independent. To do this and still the early stages of league play for our program, there is not a better achievement in the history of our program. I’m thrilled that Jerian and Pat, when we come back or they come back for reunions, that is something they’ll always remember.
Q. Pat, I think the go ahead three that you hit was after about four or five passes around the perimeter and about a half a second. You had a bunch of those plays today. When you’re standing there and watching the ball whip around, do you feel that’s coming? How quickly does that happen for you guys on the court?
Pat Connaughton: It’s something we work on in practice. Our assistant coaches are fabulous at getting us game shots, even if it’s just in shooting drills. We work on one more pass. I think Steve was the one to knock down the one to tie it where we ripped the ball across the perimeter for literally three, four passes. I think that was something that we just knew it was going in. I held up three fingers before he even shot the ball because we take “one more” to the next level.
It’s something that is a really unselfish team that we have. All 13 guys in there have one goal, and that is to win. We don’t care who does the shooting, who does the scoring, who does anything on the offensive end. We just know we all need to dig together on the defensive end. ￼
Q. Pat, when you have to guard a much taller player man to man, you’ve done this all year, but what do you need to do to make it work and exploit his size to your benefit?
Pat Connaughton: You need to get low. You need to get lower than they can. I’m closer to the ground than a lot of these guys I cover, so I have to use that to my advantage and try to get them as far away from the basket as I can. Make them as uncomfortable as I possibly can.
At the end of the day my teammates did a great job of digging down. I think the one thing about this program that we’ve built on the defensive end is you never feel like you’re on an island. You have four other guys out there that have your back, and they talk to you and let you know where they are. They let you know when they’re going to help, when they’re going to get back.
So at the end of the day it’s not me guarding a bigger guy, it’s our whole all five guys out there helping each other defend and get stops.
Q. Coach talked about the gravity of beating a Duke and Carolina on Tobacco Road and what it means to him. But he’s lived it and you guys haven’t. I wonder if you have any sense of what it means and if you felt that pressure of having to win here and against those teams or it wasn’t that big a deal for you as maybe it was for your coach?
Steve Vasturia: I think growing up Duke and North Carolina are two premier programs, not only ACC but in the country. So anytime you beat them it’s big. But we came in with a lot of confidence in this tournament beating both of those teams during the regular season. With the leaders we have and the way we’ve been playing all year, we came in here with a certain confidence and we’ve played with an edge just like the coaches have been talking about. So, yeah, we knew it was big to beat these guys, but I think we came in here with the confidence and ready to attack that opportunity.
Jerian Grant: Yeah, we could hear it from the crowd. Obviously there were a lot of Carolina fans in there. We almost took it as a road atmosphere. We play well on the road, so like Steve said, we had a lot of confidence going in.
Q. Coach and Jerian, when you think back 365 days ago, what life lessons that basically you guys went through?
Jerian Grant: Yeah, it’s something we talked about. Coming back and the guys welcoming me back. This is what we talked about. We wanted to do something special this year. Me and Coach talked about how we weren’t done yet. We hadn’t done anything special here together, and I think this is really special.
Mike Brey: Yeah, I put on the board at the end of last year after losing 17 games I needed something to look at every day to give me some hope. I had my assistant, I said, put up the top 15 returning players in the ACC. This is after the one and dones left. And Grant and Connaughton were easily on that list, and I made sure I walked by that every day because I’m looking and going, all right, we’ve got a place to start with those two guys.
I thought they’d be great leaders. They’ve been even better than I could ever imagine. They’ve kind of run this ship, and it’s one of the great stories in college basketball. They’re two unique stories. Jerian’s story is a feel good story.
But we’ve come a long way since getting knocked out of here by 3:00 Tuesday a year ago by Wake Forest and limping up to my room with the returning guys to talk about putting the ship back together.
Q. There was a brief stretch in the second half where you used both of your bigs at the same time. For the most part you avoided that temptation. Why did you go to it and did it not work or did you just not feel comfortable with it?
Mike Brey: You know, I thought we’re looking at it going, okay, help us rebound and help us defend their bigs. Your natural instinct is to go big and we tried it a little bit. But what it does do is it really changes us offensively. Yeah, we played great D, but part of that lightning strike and part of them having trouble playing against us was we were in such a rhythm offensively that that breaks your spirit a little bit. We’ve had teams in the past that have played like that. This team does it at a whole other level.
So great offense like that is part of your defense, and I felt we needed our small guys, Pat as our second big. So the floor was really spread for Jerian and Demetrius to drive and kick, and that’s what we got into there in the midst of that run.
Q. One guy who is actually not up here is Zach Auguste and he played really well today against their bigs. Can you talk about his performance.
Mike Brey: You know, he was great last night against Okafor. He gave himself up and fouled out playing post defense. And he’s taken it to a whole ‘nother level. That’s another reason we won this thing. He is really consistent, focused, I’m thrilled how he’s playing right now. He was great both nights.
Q. Steve a minute ago said, “We play with an edge.” Does this team maybe have, and especially your senior leaders, have a little more edge than some of your previous teams?
Mike Brey: Yes. Yeah, there is no question. There is a little toughness and an edge about this group. Certainly our two seniors have it. This guy here, I know there is a certainly here about the baby faced assassin, but this guy here from Jersey, he grows his hair out long in the summer so he tricks everybody. But he’s a killer. He’s a flat out killer. Demetrius Jackson is a killer. Auguste is starting to develop that edge, and Bonzie Colson is another one.
So we’ve really got a tough group. Our toughness level is the highest it’s ever been mentally and physically.
Q. 6 1 against the Tobacco Road teams. Won at Louisville, Michigan State, Purdue, what kind of resume is this? Could it be a No. 2, No. 1 seed?
Mike Brey: No. When I told our guys, don’t worry about the seed. We’re thrilled we’re going to be in that thing. We’ll go wherever they send us to play. We have won away from our place. We’ve had great wins. Our non league schedule is a thing that people will be critical of. When you lose 17 games, I didn’t put a non league schedule together thinking, well, I want to get a 2 seed instead of a 3 seed. I’m hoping and praying and lighting candles at the Grotto to be an 11 seed in freaking Dayton, so I could care less. We needed to get confident, and we did get confident with it.
We had fun playing. In Italy, I didn’t want to play anybody good in Italy. We won by 30 every game. These guys need to come into the locker room and smile a little bit because the last month of last season we were pummelled. So that was maybe part of the therapy, probably as much for the coach as the players. But our resume is really strong, and we go into the Tournament a very confident team.
Q. Jerian, I don’t know how well you know all these names, but as the MVP you added your name to a list that includes Tim Duncan, Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner, James Worthy and others. If you could tell us just what that means to you. Mike Brey, just to give you a second to think about this while he’s talking, you talked about this being a personal journey, even as you’re very proud for these guys. If you could tell us who flashed before your eyes in that long journey as you finally got to the end of the rainbow?
Jerian Grant: That’s special. Obviously the names you named were great players. It’s special just to be on that list and to know your name is down in history. It means a lot. This is what I envisioned coming back. This is something that’s really special. To do it with these guys and to do it with coaches, it means a lot.
Mike Brey: You grew up a Maryland basketball fan and an ACC guy. Certainly eight years at Duke. Have a lot of respect for the league. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be coaching in the ACC for the University of Notre Dame. That is how crazy league expansion is.
But to win a championship in this league, it does mean a lot. Personally, I’m really proud. I had a Lefty Driesell flashback though. And maybe some of you old timers will remember this: Going through Duke and Carolina and what we’ve done on Tobacco Road this year, I remember Lefty when he won it, he said, “I’m going to bolt the trophy to the hood of my car and drive all over Tobacco Road.” So if you see a Buick Enclave in June with this trophy going from Asheville to Wilmington, that’s me. That’s me going through there.