March 18, 2015
2015 Basketball Championship
Second/Third Rounds – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Wednesday, March 18
Q.. For both of you guys, especially considering the way you guys played in the ACC tournament, how much is it for you guys to focus on the opponent or focus on yourselves?
Jerian Grant: I think it’s definitely a little bit of both. The reason why I think we played so well in the ACC tournament is because we did focus on our opponent and really take our scouting report really seriously. Obviously, we want to play our game at the end of the day, play a good defense and outlet and run, but we definitely need to know the tendencies of the opponent we’re playing against.
Pat Connaughton: I think tendencies, scouting report, mental focus, it all kind of goes into play with our basketball IQ. I think we are a team that has basketball IQ and can retain that type of information. But at the end of the day, I think what you saw down in the ACC tournament was this team playing with some of the most energy, most passion and most togetherness that we have all season and we want to continue that. So at the same time as we’re focused on the scouting report, we’re focused on getting each other ready for each and every practice level in the game.
Q.. Pat, everybody talks about your offense, but does your defense not get enough credit? Also, does the pace of your play impact what quality a defense you can play because you’re so focused on offense?
Pat Connaughton: Actually, I think defense is something we focus on the most. I think if you look at our improvement defensively over — from just a year ago, it’s not just about the numbers, but if you look at the type of stops we’re getting, the key stops, the stops that, you know, help you win games, the stops that when you’re down by ten or whatever it is, like we were a few times in the regular season, you get the stops that you need. You get the loose balls that you need in order to give your offense a chance. So some of the things we focused on from the beginning of this year was having our defense spark our offense and the stops that we get. The defensive rebounds that we get can allow us to get out in transition and allow our offense to get going.
Q.. Jerian, you go against V.J. Beachem every day in practice. He’s a younger player. Talk about his development over the last two years and what areas you’ve seen him grow?
Jerian Grant: He’s definitely for me the toughest guy to guard in practice. At 6’8″, the way he can shoot and get to the rim and his athleticism is tough to guard. He’s been more aggressive. We knows that we need him. When he’s on the second team every day, he’s the most aggressive guy, and it’s tough to stop him. He’s like — like I said, he’s 6’8″, one of the best shooters on the team and he’s really athletic. He’s grown to be more aggressive and more vocal and that’s been tough to guard.
Q.. Jerian, I know you’ve been asked this a million times, but now that you’re here, to be up on that podium right now, could you have envisioned this when you were going through what you went through last season? What’s the feeling like just to go from that place to this place?
Jerian Grant: Yeah, it’s a great feeling. I didn’t know. I don’t know what my future was going to be when I was going through what I was going through. When I did decided to come back, this is what I envisioned. I envisioned having a team that would have a chance to win an ACC Championship, having a team that’s going to be able to make a deep run in March. Through all the hard work and through all the stuff we put in this summer, all throughout the season, the trust that we have in each other, it’s come true.
Q.. Pat, I’m sure you’ve talked about this at length over and over. For the uninitiated who haven’t talked to you before, your decision to keep playing basketball and whether — I know there’s a lot of reasons into it, but these couple weeks here could be really the culmination of that and knowing that you have — I know you hope you have six games left, but your number of games are down to a few. What your kind of emotions are, knowing your college basketball career is going to be ending soon.
Pat Connaughton: Kind of to spin-off what Jerian said, we talked a lot last season, him and I, about coming back. I think obviously, we both had different reasons for coming back. But at the same time, we had similar ones as well. To get to this point, to put ourselves in this position and to finish off our college basketball careers at least the right way is something that we wanted to do. We wanted to bring it to this university. We wanted to bring it to each other and we wanted to bring it to the coaching staff and the 13 guys in the locker room. That was very important to us, along with some personal factors going along with it.
Q.. For Pat, again, about Jerian, since you’ve known him for so long, did you see — I mean, did he take it to a different level when he came back? Was he more focused on preparation? Do you think he was any different when he came back as far as his approach?
Pat Connaughton: He’s always been a guy that puts in the extra hours. He’s one of if not the hardest working guys on our team and has been throughout the four years that I’ve been playing basketball with him. When you look at the things that he’s done this year, he kind of picked up right where he left off last year. I know he was disappointed personally, not just that he wasn’t able to play, but to see the way our team performed after he left was something that helped drive him through this season. When you look at the type of things that he’s done this year, it was something that I personally always knew he could do. It was just a matter of him coming out and getting the opportunity to. He’s definitely deserved every second of it.
Q.. For both of you, how difficult has it been to come down from the emotions of the ACC tournament, probably the most prestigious tournament in college basketball, and kind of reset and refocus for this week?
Jerian Grant: It hasn’t been too hard. Obviously, we enjoyed winning the ACC Championship for a couple days. But with leaders like me and Pat, I felt like we were able to get the team to focus on new goals. We have new goals and we’ve set new goals for this tournament. We put that behind us and that’s something we can get back to when the season’s over, but right now we’re focused on doing something new. Pat Connaughton: Yeah, I think the thing that is unique about this team is, like you mentioned, the ACC tournament being one of if not the most prestigious in the country. To be able to win that and to still have people wonder what we can do in March Madness, if anything, it only makes you hungry. It only makes you more focused to change the dynamic of the Notre Dame basketball program from the struggles that we’ve had in March. We already started it with that tournament. But to still have this nucleus of guys not necessarily have the faith from other people after winning the ACC tournament, it makes you hungry to want to go out and show it and take it one game at a time.
Q.. For either of you guys, you guys are among the fewest — one of the teams in the country in the fewest fouls per game. Is that something that you guys — is that a focus in practice, not reaching in and not getting in foul trouble? How do you guys sort of practice that, or is that sort of a mindset that you guys having come in that coach —
Pat Connaughton: We never want to give teams free points. That’s one major thing. Jerian and myself, we might get in trouble for saying this, but we always argue with one of our assistant coaches over the amount of fouls that he calls on us during practice. So I think that’s translate. It’s us fouling less during the games. Obviously, we’re trying to compete, going 110 percent. Fouls are going to happen. But to learn in practice that there are little ticky tack fouls that are going to get called if you put yourselves in a bad position, it only helps not only us, but the younger guys on the team that you don’t want to play with fouling. Fouling is something that you’re literally giving of the team points when the clock isn’t even moving. So we focused on our defense as a whole and that was one thing that translated from it.
Q.. Pat, you were talking about the dynamic and changing the dynamic of Notre Dame basketball. I don’t have to tell you what it is. Why is this team capable of doing that and how much of a responsibility do you feel because, as you know, the criticism is you guys get here but don’t necessarily stick around.
Pat Connaughton: I think this team’s able to do that because of the togetherness is the word that we use. But the trust in each other, the willingness to play for each other. I think in today’s day and age in college basketball, you see a lot of guys that come in and they may leave after one year, maybe two years. But there’s always individual goals that are set. Of course, this team has the same. There’s people with individual goals. But the unique factor is we’re able to realize that the team goal bring the individual goals along with it. Everyone’s focused on one common goal; that’s winning basketball games. We’re able to change the mold of the regular season for Notre Dame basketball so I think we thought to each other, why can’t we do it in the postseason. If we’re going to be the team to change in the regular season, why not win the ACC tournament. Now that we’re here, no one gave us a chance to win the ACC tournament. No one gave us a chance to get out of the semifinals versus Duke. Now that we’re in March Madness, why not be the team to change March Madness for the program overall as well.
Q.. Notre Dame basketball for the last several years has been known for good shooting, but especially from even last year to this year. Not that you were a bad shooting team, this year has been a huge jump and you’ve been arguably the best shooting team in the country. What’s been the key to that improvement and how far do you think it can take you?
Jerian Grant: I think it’s just the confidence that we give each other. We really trust in each other to make shots no matter who’s shooting it. I think the coaches and the players, we really tell each other take shots. No matter — like I said, no matter who’s shooting it, we have confidence in each other to knock down shots. That goes a long way with the trust we have in each other. It doesn’t matter who’s doing it. I think that’s the most important thing.
Pat Connaughton: I think the best thing about this team is we have guys that can make difficult shots. We have guys that can make shots with hands in their faces. But the unselfishness that we play with, the passing that we thoroughly enjoy setting someone up for a wide open shot. I think a lot of the shots that we get, we work on in practice. We work on one more is what we call it, one more pass. We may have a guy — prime example was in the ACC Championship game, there was one possession where I think we tied it off of Steve Vasturia’s three where Jerian kicked it to me. I had a decent shot, a shot I could have made, but I passed it to Demetrius because I thought he had a better one. Demetrius had a shot that he definitely could have made, but he saw Steve wide open in the corner and that was a better one in his mind. That right there speaks to the character of this team and speaks to the way we enjoy playing with each other. Shooting well is a lot easier when the shots are more open than your normal contested jumper.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Coach Brey will be in momentarily. We have Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. We’ll start with an opening statement from coach.
COACH BREY: We’re thrilled and honored to be in this thing. We weren’t in it last year. When you miss Selection Sunday, it’s like missing Christmas, in my opinion. We’re excited about coming here with what we feel some momentum, given how we played last week. We play a heck of a basketball team, a league I’m very familiar with, in Northeastern. When I was coaching at Delaware, ran into Northeastern a bunch. Have a lot of respect for Bill Coen, their coach, and how they play, especially on the offensive end. This is your typical mid-major team. I had a couple of them at Delaware, older guys that know how to play together and have won together for a while. I told our guys, it’s like an ACC game. We have to prepare like it’s an ACC game.
MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Brey.
Q.. Coach, everybody writes about your offense on this team, but not a lot of attention gets paid to the defense. Talk a little bit about your level of satisfaction with what you guys have done defensively.
COACH BREY: We’ve really improved on that front. We’ve been really good offensively over the years out there. We’ve gone in and out of being good enough defensively out there. This group, starting with Demetrius Jackson’s ball pressure, kind of changes the game for us. We thought with him pressuring the ball, it was the first step in getting better defensively and I think we do play it well together. We help off of each other. But there’s more of a — there’s more of a vibe, there’s more of an intensity on that end of the floor. Our guys believe we can get stops when we need to, and we have done that throughout the year. That, I take a lot of pleasure in that, to see that, because that’s an area where we needed to improve if we were going to get back to the NCAA tournament.
Q.. Mike, I don’t have to tell you what the narrative of Notre Dame basketball in March is. Is that a monkey on your back at all? And why do you think this team might be the one that can change it?
COACH BREY: I don’t lose a lot of sleep on it, maybe because I’m an older coach now and I have a great contract. But I do feel, going in, this group has the makings of being different because of how they played the regular season, Dana, and certainly how they played most recently. So you’re trying to kind of ride that momentum here. I didn’t want Pat and Jerian talking about their old NCAA tournament experiences. I think they created some new postseason experiences in Greensboro and I hope we can kind of use that juice moving into this tournament.
Q.. Mike, obviously, you game plan against Northeastern and know them inside and out. Considering the way you guys played in the ACC tournament, is it more about you and what you guys do in controlling your own destiny? How do you look at that?
COACH BREY: We have a lot of respect for Northeastern. There’s no question about it. I can remember watching and preparing for Florida State. We played a league game, obviously, before Christmas. We watched Northeastern beat them in Tallahassee. We didn’t have them as part of our draw up in the Mohegan sun. But I remember saying to our guys, glad we didn’t draw them. Come to find out, we did draw them. I was really impressed with them.
We’ve got to dig into them. Our guys don’t know them, haven’t watched them play like they know the ACC opponents. But certainly, our focus, our — coming out in the middle of the day, we were the night stalkers down there. You had the day to prepare and our energy was great. I try to educate our guys, the building’s going to be different at noon tomorrow. I don’t think it will be a great atmosphere. It’s not going to be the semifinals or the finals of the ACC tournament. We have some guys that have never played in the — I don’t want them to be shocked by that. We’re going to have to provide our own energy and we got off to great starts in Greensboro. That’s one of the things we’ve really talked about. Getting out of the gate and getting out of the gate at noon, I think, would be very important.
Q.. Mike, you referenced Northeastern being kind of a typical mid-major tournament team. You probably saw some of those teams when you were at Delaware. I know you don’t want to join this group, but when teams like that have sprung upsets in the tournament, are there similarities or things that happen that allow that to take place?
COACH BREY: They make threes. They make 3-point shots. They’re coming off a tournament where they made 55 percent of their 3-point shots. And I told the story when we went over scouting this morning to our team, the first thing I told them was when we were up at the Mohegan Sun, Florida State was coming out of the practice gym. We were walking in. They had just lost to Northeastern. Leonard Hamilton came up to me and said, Can you believe it, Mike? We gave up 12 uncontested 3-point shots. We did a great job against Duke, you know, in that they have a good big guy who has footwork. And we’ve made Okafor comparisons in that our bigs are going to be on their own for the most part because we cannot get lit up from the 3-point line. So we can’t help you too much. The jump hooks count too. Walker knocking a bunch down changes the whole atmosphere of the building. Now, our 3-point defense in the ACC tournament, we held teams to 24 percent. So I want to kind of take a page out of that book. But when you’re making jump shots and this is a team that relies on it, that’s when they get going and they just won a championship lighting it up.
Q.. Mike, I wanted to ask you about Steve Vasturia. I want to know what you thought of his progression offensively and defensively and what do you say about his toughness?
COACH BREY: Last year, in what was a very difficult year for us, he was really good. That got lost. He is the most all-around guy as a young guy I’ve ever had. Even last year as a freshman. We were putting him on the best perimeter player offensively because his defense is so attention to detail, whether he’s guarding the ball or helping his teammates. Nobody’s made more big shots than us. I mentioned after the North Carolina game, I know Steph Curry is referred to as the baby-faced assassin, but we got ours in Vasturia. He is a fearless guy and such an important guy for us and the one thing I love, I look next to his name and it says s-o-p-h. I got him back for two more years. I’m really excited about that. Big-time winner.
Q.. Your assistant coach, Martin Ingelsby, has family around here. It’s a reunion of sorts for him. I was wondering, do you see a little bit of yourself in him? And do you think that his time will be coming and maybe a little bit about how he has contributed?
COACH BREY: Well, I just think he’s one of the really great young ones in our profession. I think ADs and search firms know that. He’s been involved with some jobs. He’s due. I think there’s a good chance I could lose him this year. He’ll be a fabulous head coach and he’s really ready. I would hate to lose him, but it’s his time. He’s very fortunate, and I’ve talked to him, he’s in a situation like I was in at Duke. You don’t have to just run outta here. You can get a good job. And Delaware was a great fit for me and the timing was great. But you don’t have to be crazy and jump on anything. I think he’s been smart about that. But whoever gets him is getting a bright young one. He really has a bright offensive mind. A lot of offensive stuff we do, he and I spend a lot of time talking about things.
Q.. Mike, your two seniors that came out for very different reasons, maybe other situations they aren’t back and don’t play their senior year. Does it say anything about them that they did come and they led this team to be such a run and what do they mean to you and what does this couple weeks, three weeks hopefully, for your sake, mean to them?
COACH BREY: They were the key. There’s no question. At the end of last year, you lose 17 games, I had Rod Balanis, my assistant, put up on the board after the one-and-dones left and the seniors left the league, put up the top 15 returning players in the ACC. Well, Connaughton and Grant are on the list. I make sure I walk by it every day. After you lose 17 games, you need something. I look and go, Okay. Those two guys, we really got a shot. There wasn’t really much indecision about coming back on either of their parts. Jerian, very quickly, a week after he was suspended from us, family, high school coach, AAU coach, you’re going back, you’re going to get your degree, you’re finishing. No drama there. Pat was — even though for Pat’s bargaining position, he was told don’t say you’re coming back, it will affect your draft status. And him and his dad was like, No, we’re coming back. We’re not going to play around with this. Those two guys, we’ve had great seniors. One of the reasons our
program has been consistent, we’ve had seniors helping me run the team and great leaders. I’ve not had better ones than these two guys. They have managed this thing starting in June when we had everybody together, and they really are driving the ship here in the last six weeks.
Q.. Mike, can you expand a little bit on Pat and his versatility for you guys? Obviously, the way he’s played and just athletically, his future obviously with the baseball and everything like that?
COACH BREY: He’s a freak of nature athletically. I mean, he really is. This is a 6’5″, 215-pound guy that goes and gets 12 or 13 rebounds amongst 6’11”, 7’0″ guys with seven-foot wing spans like it’s nothing. Going into this season, he was the leading returning rebounder in this league, not any of those other big dudes at other programs. I always thought we could play smaller and would be hard to guard and at least hold our own on the board. Connaughton as your four man, can get you 11 rebounds. The willingness to take the big shot, the willingness to make the big play, the voice that he has become in the locker room, it’s one of the great senior years in our history. He is one of — we’ve had a lot of great athletes, student-athletes that were ambassadors and powerful personalities in Notre Dame, across football, basketball. There’s no one more powerful than Pat Connaughton as far as how he’s represented, the role model he is, the ambassador he is. We’re going to miss that. Down deep, he’s a big-time winner.
Q.. Have you been able to convince your fan base and explain to them the significance of what you guys did this past weekend?
COACH BREY: I’m still having to educate them. For example, our people want to refer to what happened in Greensboro as the ACC tournament title. ACC tournament champions. We are the ACC champions. Regular season is designated by a special moniker, and I had to — our fans — now, in fairness to our fans, we didn’t join a league until 1995 and then we switched leagues on them. Being an ACC guy and growing up in it and coaching in the league, I even had to educate our sports information department on it. So we’re getting there. We’re getting there.
Q.. Mike, could you give a quick overview of your assistant coaches and their responsibilities in formulating the game plan?
COACH BREY: Well, when you come into the tournament like this, you have three assistants, so each of them have a scouting assignment. Coach Balanis had Northeastern, so he was the one kind of giving a lot of information this morning to our guys and kind of the point person in our staff meetings. I believe Coach Ingelsby has Butler and Coach Solomon has Texas. They’ve done a little advance work on it. Then hopefully, tomorrow afternoon and evening, we’ll have more work to do on that. So it’s kind of how we split it up as far as scouting.
Q.. What was the breakdown for the tournament?
COACH BREY: For the tournament, Ingelsby had every team. We wore him out. We flat-out wore him out.
Q.. Why was that?
COACH BREY: It’s like they pick the team they went over and would pick a team. His team always won. So he was on, you know. When I was at Duke, sometimes I’d be rooting like heck for my team to lose, I could throw the scouting report away and Gaudet had to do the scout. So his team won it every time. I told him Saturday morning, because he was up all night Friday again, I said we’re going to give you break first round of the tournament. Get us this one.
Q.. How did you determine them for this tournament?
COACH BREY: They did it. Rod kind of does our scouting assignments back in the fall, so I’ve let those guys kind of assign and do what they want. So Rod Balanis took the first opponent. Those guys split the other two. I’m not sure who has Texas and Butler now that I think about it. I’m not worried about that right now.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
COACH BREY: Thank you.
An Interview With: NORTHEASTERN
MODERATOR: Today we’ll have head coach Bill Coen and student-athletes David Walker, Quincy Ford and Scott Eatherton. We’ll start with the student-athletes.
Q. Guys, what was the buzz like on campus the last couple days before you headed down? And I guess for all three, just kind of talk about that, what it’s like to be around Northeastern right now.
SCOTT EATHERTON: It’s great right now, the energy around campus. We have people who were at our bus when we left and we had a good Selection Sunday show. A lot of people came. So it’s been a lot of fun so far.
QUINCY FORD: Yesterday, I got a lot of high fives going to class. Everyone’s real excited. Truly a lot of support behind us. Our whole school is behind us. Just a great feeling.
DAVID WALKER: Just support is awesome. We have great fans and to know that they came to the Selection Sunday show means a lot. Just all that support really is great.
Q. This question is for David and Scott. You guys both went to high school not too far from Pittsburgh, a couple hundred miles on either side. Are you looking forward to having a lot of friends and family that are going to be able to attend here tomorrow?
SCOTT EATHERTON: Yeah, I’ve had a decent amount of people text me for tickets and stuff like that. So I’m sure I’ll have a good, a good support base. I like Pittsburgh, my sister went to school here. So it’s nice to know that it’s so close to home.
DAVID WALKER: Same thing. I’m only two hours or so from here. I had a lot of people texting me, Hey, can you get me tickets. I’m like, I only have so many. But it’s nice to have my family close by and Pittsburgh, again, is a great city. So glad to be here.
Q. Did any of you play here before, AAU or anything like that?
SCOTT EATHERTON: At my first school, I played at the University of Pittsburgh.
DAVID WALKER: I’ve played AAU here a couple times. It’s nice.
Q. I’m not going to test your NCAA tournament knowledge. When lower seeded teams have managed to pull upsets and to win games, what do you think there might — what similarities might there be that would allow a team seeded lower, 13, 14, 15, to win a game against a high seed?
SCOTT EATHERTON: I think it’s the just the ability to be able to shoot the ball and I think we have that. If we can knock down some shots, I think we can challenge them. Confidence, a big thing is confidence. I mean, we’ve won four in a row, so we’re confident right now. We just have to look at ourselves like it’s just another game and we can’t worry about the seeding and stuff like that. It has to be our mindset.
Q. For Quincy, we’ll start with you, Northeastern’s a school that doesn’t have a football program. It folded. The Beanpots have been, what, 20, 21 years since you had a victory in that? Do you guys feel like you are the biggest thing on campus right now? Also, for the two juniors, how do you guys keep this rolling, going forward?
QUINCY FORD: I would say basketball right now is a big buzz on campus. We have a great hockey team in the history. So just this year, what we’ve done with basketball for this school means so much. Being here with David is such a journey, as well as Scott. This is a great start. Hopefully we’re going to make history tomorrow and continue next year.
Q. The situation you guys are in, playing a legendary opponent, maybe coming into the game as an underdog, is that something that you guys are embracing and maybe can add a little bit of a fun experience to this already important experience?
DAVID WALKER: Yeah, I guess so. The name of the program — I mean, Notre Dame, they’re a great team. It’s fun. We really have — they have all the pressure. We’re just coming in. We’re going to play hard. And coaches, they have a great scout for us. We’re going to come in, execute the game plan. Like Scott said, just try knock down shots, play confident and have fun.
Q. For those of us who haven’t seen a lot of your games, what is it that’s made you guys so successful this year, and how have you gotten as far as you have? What’s been the key to your success?
QUINCY FORD: I would definitely say our chemistry, our togetherness. We’re a close-knit group on and off the court. It really shows when we play. We share the ball so well and that’s just one of the makeups of our team and that’s one of our strengths.
Q. I don’t know if you’ll give me the same answer, but I’ll ask all three of you, at what point in the season were you guys convinced that you could have a special year?
SCOTT EATHERTON: I don’t think it occurred to us until — I don’t know. We had an idea of where we wanted to be at the beginning of the season. Then we lost some close games and we had some bad losses. And before our game against Charleston, which is right before we go into the conference tournament, we all sat down and had a team meeting and we kind of just rallied together then and got everybody’s confidence. That helped us get through the tournament and get through our last regular season game.
QUINCY FORD: Going off that, it was closer to the conference tournament where we were beginning to play our best basketball, which we really want to do towards March. Just going to the conference tournament, the practices leading up to that point were amazing. Everybody was on the same page and just had so much momentum going in.
Q. Scott, first off, real quick, you said your sister went to school here. Was that Pitt?
SCOTT EATHERTON: Yeah, she went to Pitt.
Q. Did she play sports?
SCOTT EATHERTON: No.
Q. You guys were the top 12 in the country in field goal percentage. Is that a function of the offense and wanting to get good — is that something Coach really stress, moving the ball around to get the right shot? Is that kind of a hallmark of your team?
SCOTT EATHERTON: Yeah, he focuses on getting a lot of reversals in the offense and it’s something he enforces every practice and we focus on getting each other great shots, getting each other wide open looks on three, getting easy layups. Going into the games, playing with confidence, that’s helped the whole field goal percentage thing.
Q. Scott, Coach Brey said the other day that you guys are a lot like them from seeing them on film. Do you see similarities? Especially offensively.
SCOTT EATHERTON: I think with how they move the ball and how we move the ball, we look to get wide open shots and we — I wouldn’t say we rely heavily on the three, but we shoot a lot of threes, a lot of wide open threes and that helps us free up the inside. So maybe that’s the similarity there.
Q. Did you see the ACC tournament as it was transpiring? Did you see it live?
SCOTT EATHERTON: I didn’t personally watch it. I know, I think these guys did. But we know they won the ACC, which is huge. So we’re going to have to come and play with a lot of energy.
Q. Scott, I know I’ve asked you this in the past. Against a team like Notre Dame, if I were to show you the box score now, what would be the first thing that you would look for to give you some indication of if you have a chance to win.
SCOTT EATHERTON: What was the first part?
Q. If I showed you the box score for tomorrow’s game right now, what would be the first thing you would look at to give you an indication if you win or not?
SCOTT EATHERTON: Just rebounding and their field goal percentage. They get a lot of — they go on a lot of runs, so it will be important for us to stay together and stop those runs. If we can do that, it would give us a better chance to win.
MODERATOR: Other questions for the studentathletes? All right, gentlemen. Thank you. Coach, we’ll begin with a two-minute opening statement.
COACH COEN: I just — our group couldn’t be more excited to be participating in the NCAA tournament. It’s been quite a week of anticipation and celebration and now it’s time to get down to work. We’re happy to be here and ready to go.
MODERATOR: Questions for Northeastern Coach Bill Coen.
Q. Bill, how many people have reached out to you from Northeastern, players, coaches of the past in the last week or so. And do you kind of understand the magnitude of this situation you guys are in right now and do your players also?
COACH COEN: Sure. Well, we’ve had a tremendous outpouring of support and congratulations from the entire Northeastern community; former players, alums, fans, friends of the program. It’s just been outstanding. I know your kids are very appreciative of everything and I think they understand the context of this event and how much it means to everybody in the Northeastern community. Our whole campus has been
abuzz. There have been rallies and send-offs and greetings and watch parties. So it’s been very exciting for them and I know they appreciate all the support, and they welcome the opportunity to come out here and compete and represent Northeastern University.
Q. When teams in the past seeded 13, 14, 15, when they’ve been able to win games in this tournament, do you think there are common denominators or similarities that allow a team seeded like that to win against a team favored to win?
COACH COEN: I don’t know — well, probably, simply stated, you have to play mistake-free basketball. You have to play the perfect game. You have to have a really good game plan. You have to execute that game plan. And you have to catch a break. You got to get a little bit lucky. You got to get a bounce. Something during the game has got to go your way to shift the momentum. And then you have to have the confidence and the courage to seize the moment, and that’s, I really think, is the beauty of March, watching that play out over and over again, seeing kids step up and really seize the moment. I think those have been the success stories.
Q. A lot of those wins, a lot of those lower seeded teams have been close, obviously. What about your squad would give you the confidence in a close game against Notre Dame, you’d be able to close the deal and get past —
COACH COEN: I think I’d have to lean on our experience. We’ve had guys who have played, multiple guys who have played over 100 basketball games and have been in those moments along the way, obviously not at this stage. But if they can stay focused in what they’re doing, they’ve been in those situations. They’ve been in close games. They’ve won close games. They’ve hit game winners. They’ve made clutch free throws. They’ve got that big rebound or that big stop somewhere along their career. If they rely on that experience, and we do have an experienced club, if they can — if we can draw upon that, you know that will serve us well.
Q. Coach, the situation you guys are in playing a team with one of the biggest names in college sports, the neutral crowd always seems to embrace the underdog and pull for the upset. In addition, you’ve got a couple players who grew up not far from here, might even add some more fans to the crowd. Is it a situation that the players are already embracing as something that’s going to be fun in addition to the competitive experience?
COACH COEN: I think so. We’ll gladly take all the fan support we can get if they want to volunteer it. I think, typically, in these things, many of the other clubs are rooting for the upset too. So I think once the game environment settles in, that all plays a factor. And if it’s favorable, then so be it. We gladly take the support.
Q. Bill, as you’ve watched more tape over the last week, what really stands out to you about Notre Dame?
COACH COEN: Just about everything. They’re just comprised of a team of really good basketball players. They dribble, pass and shoot, rebound, defend, and they know when and how to do each of those skills and execute them brilliantly. They are a very unselfish team, maybe the best passing team in college basketball. Their spacing, their movement, their ability to shoot the three, their ability of the guards to penetrate and get into lane and cause rotations, they’re elite at that. They’re an elite offensive team. All their numbers are off the charts. So we’re going to have to get back in transition and try to make it a five-on-five game and then we’re going to have to be elite in all the different various defensive coverages, whether it’s ball screen coverage or help side coverage or guarding the ball man-to-man. As you’re preparing for them, you see the likes of Duke and North Carolina and Louisville and some really, really good basketball teams that struggled to do that. So that’s when you know just how good they are.
Q. Sort of along those lines, what’s your biggest concern? What’s kept you up at night trying to figure out a way how this is going to play out?
COACH COEN: Their transition. They’re so quick and explosive. I think one of the things that concerned us all year long is our turnover ratio. We’ve been at our best when we’ve been able to keep our turnovers down. They’re not a team that turns you over, per se, full court. But when you do turn it over, they are elite at making you pay and just really transitioning quickly and turning turnovers into points. So I think if we’re going to have any chance, it’s going to start with us taking care of the basketball.
Q. What are you most looking forward to?
COACH COEN: Tip time. It’s been a tremendous year leading up to this point and we always tell our players that they want to build to that moment and just be ultimately prepared for that and just to be ready at tip time.
MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.
COACH COEN: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Good luck.