8) Marquette vs 9) Michigan State

March 16, 2007

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Opening statement:
It was one of the more difficult games I have played. It was a very difficult prep week for me, and yet I learned that you are going to have to play your friends once in a while. I thought we had to get back to our identity. We did a heck of a job defensively and they made some big shots at the end. I thought our defense, in trying to stop that penetration; there were five guys who did it. It was a great team effort. I am just happy we won.

Is the team where it needs to be?
First of all, there is no condemning. We had some struggles at the end of the year. I didn't think all year long we had the defensive mentality you need to win. It wasn't all the players. I think I got soft. What I would like to do is take a couple years ago offense and this year's defense, and that's what I am shooting for next year. I don't want to be just a defensive team. I want to run it every time we get it and I want to defend every time we're on the other end. Basketball is a two-way game. Teams that advance and that are really good have to be good at both ends.

How satisfying is it to have players other than Neitzel come through?
I keep saying Ramon Morgan is getting better. If he hadn't had that injury and missed six weeks, I think that kid would be the top freshman in the conference and be up there with some other really good ones. Maurice Joseph has worked really hard on his free-throw shooting and we've spent some time together. He looked like the player that I have been telling all of you he could and should be. They [Marquette] stuck with Drew pretty good and thank God our other guys came through.

Were you worried about not getting a good defensive effort?
I wasn't worried about it because all year I wasn't giving our team credit about how good we were defensively. You look back and in 30 games we did the job in 28 of them. Sometimes we lost some games because we didn't do the job converting turnovers in our offense. We have been pretty good defensively.

Did you think the familiarity with the teams went both ways?
Their personnel is different than the way people see us - the way we play this year. Those of you that follow us (know) it is not the way we normally play. Then we got into foul trouble. A couple years ago Jake Hannon was lassoing buffalo and now he's playing in the NCAA Tournament eight or 10 minutes. That hurt how we were going to play when we decided to walk it up. That's not the way we normally play over the years and we had to this year. We did what we had to do. They run some different stuff, we run some different stuff. I was proud of 17 assists on 22 baskets. I think that's a very important stat for us.

Could you tell us about the things Drew Neitzel does other than scoring to help you win?
The big pass to Marquise Gray I thought was big turning point. That got us up almost to 20. Give Marquette credit, they really came back on us. He [Neitzel] is so much better defensively than people give him credit, including me. I keep saying that, I am not sure I believe it. I've had a career here where most scorers I've had it's illegal to play defense if you are a scorer. Drew is a small guy, who doesn't weigh much, but he's done a great job defensively and I don't think he gets enough credit for it.

What do you think about potentially seeing UNC in the next round of the tournament?
I've seen them play a lot of times. Marquette runs the ball as good as most teams we've played. I told our players the next team could be at warp speed. With McNeill, I think Marquette runs the ball well too, and even without him very well. At least we didn't play a team that didn't walk it up. At least we had some prep for something we are probably going to see in a couple days.


On allowing five two-point field goals and MSU's defensive mindset:
Neitzel: That's been our mindset for the whole season - winning through defense. We don't have the most dynamic weapons on the offensive end, so we've had to rely on our team defense the whole season. In this game we wanted to force them to take outside shots. We wanted to limit their penetration by shrinking the gaps and not letting them get to the basket. I think we did that for the most part.

On MSU's familiarity with Marquette's style:
Walton: We were familiar with their things. We executed pretty well. Our bigs set good screens. The guards came off the screens pretty well. For the most part we had a lot of open shots.
Neitzel: I think our coaching staff did a great job of preparing us through scouting. We knew all of their sets. It was team defense. It wasn't just one-on-one. We really shrunk the gaps and forced them to take outside shots, even their best shooters. We forced their touches on the perimeter.

On the game's physical play:
Neitzel: That's going to happen, especially with coach (Tom) Crean. He preaches defense and playing physical. That's what coach Izzo taught him. I knew it was going to be that way and you just have to play through that sometimes. You have to give them credit to try to limit me by playing me physical. The other guys stepped up and made some big plays for us.

On scoring his 1,000th career point in the second half:
Neitzel: I didn't know that, actually. I don't know what to say. I don't know how many people at Michigan State have scored a 1,000, but it's a good honor.

On not allowing any two-point field goals in the first half and its demoralizing effect on Marquette:
Neitzel: When we started the game, it was 14-0. We talked about that before the game; coming out and getting a strong start. They made some shots. They hit a couple of deep threes on us in the first half, but we kept sticking to our game plan and it worked out, especially in the second half.

Walton: We stuck to the game plan and played great team defense. We stuck together and closed up gaps. For the most part we closed up all of the gaps. (We had a) great start and we did a great job on team defense.

On Michigan State's forwards' early foul trouble and minutes provided by Jake Hannon:
Walton: This team is surprising. We have a surprising squad, with people stepping up. Jake Hannon works hard in practice every day. He challenges our bigs every day.

When he first came in, he got a deflection. He did a great job. It says a lot about our walk-ons and how much they give to our team. He did a great job. He picked us up and gave us a lot of energy.

On moving into the second round:
Neitzel: Any time you're in this tournament, you want to win and move on. We're not sure who we're going to play yet, but this is a big step for us. Not only making the tournament was a big goal for us, but now we've changed our goals to advance in this tournament. We're on the right path now. It feels good, especially after that tough loss last year to George Mason, to get back on the winning way.

How Neitzel has responded to Izzo's challenge at the end of last season:
Neitzel: To be honest, I try to do everything he wants me to do. He demands perfection, but that's what every great coach does. I'm going to keep trying and we're always going to keep trying as a team. He has great experience in this tournament and a ton of success, so we're just going to follow his lead and let him carry us.

On Neitzel's shot off the top of the backboard:
Neitzel: That might have been one of the craziest shots that I've ever made in my entire basketball career. Marquette did a great job. They were forcing me to take tough shots. They were on me all over the court. Even when I was cutting through, they were constantly bumping me. You have to give them a lot of credit. I guess you call that the shooter's roll.

On MSU's focus on defense and containing Marquette's top scorers:
Walton: We knew they were great players and they penetrated real well, so we just wanted to give them six eyes and shut up all of the gaps. They've been driving on a lot of teams this year and getting a lot of points to go into the basket, so we wanted to make them earn it from the outside.

Did you feel any sympathy for Marquette's scoreless draught to open the game?
Neitzel: Not at the time. You're trying to beat them 50 to nothing, if you can. At the time you're not thinking that at all, you're just trying to bury them even more. That's been our staple the whole season, just our defense and that's what won us the game tonight.

On the injury to Idong Ibok:
Neitzel: I definitely felt for him. I took one look at his elbow and it was nasty. I was glad to see him come back to the bench and feeling alright. I'm sure it's sore. That was tough. It happens, but we kept on pushing without him.


Opening comments:
I thought Michigan State did a great job especially defensively. I think so much of this game was outside of the initial shots that they hit where we struggled and missed. They executed their game plan defensively we didn't execute ours. The credit goes to them, but at the same time we have to share in the blame for why we didn't win. There have been three areas all year long where we have been in a struggle or we have been inconsistent. These three areas show up: post defense, pick and roll defense and our talking. All three of those showed up in the wrong way tonight. The players to my left (Dominic James and Wesley Matthews) played outstanding and the numbers may not prove it, but that is not the issue and I think they have done an excellent job in four games they have played without their co-partner in Jerel McNeal. I have never been around three guys that make each other better that feed off each other more. I think these two have done an excellent job of building that even more so with their teammates. This was just not our night and it was more not our night because of our lack of communication defensively and it has to get better. We have the off-season to ponder it now and improve it. We look forward to looking back at this situation a year from now and talking about a victory."

Did Izzo throw any wrinkles that caught him off guard?
They moved some people around and did a pretty good job there. They might put Travis Walton in a backdoor situation. They spaced Drew Naymick rather than posting him. They did a good job with that. I think we had some new things, but bottom line they executed their defensive game plan really well and we didn't. I think Dominic did an outstanding job. It is not easy to chase those screens. We got into some foul trouble early which set us back a little bit. Being down a perimeter player, especially one that was voted the best in the Big East, caught up with us tonight and caught up with us last Thursday in New York when we played Pittsburgh. We were playing against teams that have outstanding guards. Tom (Izzo) has outstanding guards. Drew is one of the best in the country. I have always liked Travis Walton, we had him for a visit. I think it came down to Michigan State, Marquette and one other school. They have outstanding guards, but it was more our lack of communication and execution in the post and the pick and roll.

What expectations do you have for your team next year?
You can't look ahead yet. I am too busy dealing with a stomach that feels like it got kicked in to look ahead right now. We will get to that next year. I haven't thought that far ahead.

How costly was the early foul trouble?
Big time. With a short bench - costly. We wanted to be aggressive without fouling, move our feet. We were already thin with Dan (Fitzgerald) in the starting lineup and then you take him out, and we were trying to mix and match on that front line all night tonight. We got outplayed badly on the front line. I can say this. Jamil Lott came in and did an outstanding job. His energy, his defense. He is not a great or even good scorer, but he is a tough guy and he helped us with great energy. When you have a short bench going in and you have two starters going down it is not going to be easy.

Contributions by other Michigan State players other than Drew Neitzel?
That didn't surprise us at all. That is why they are here because they have gotten so much better. As you know when you go back to the Iowa game when they won at home they have been a totally different team. Since that point it really clicked. They beat us in their fifth set when they popped their guards out on the wing and for four days all we talked about was having our bigs stay in the paint because one of the things they do so well is hit the slip man. He always has. I mean I spent four years in it. When you get beat with Neitzel coming off and the big guy steps up when we had him covered and he throws it for a dunk that is the stuff that is disheartening. I think some of their other guys got easy baskets because their good and we let them stay open. It is not like we said all five guys have to be where Drew Neitzel was every time. We were very, very confident with Dominic James and with David Cubillan being able to guard him. They did an outstanding job. He played 39 minutes and had to earn his baskets and it wasn't like we were going to tire him out. He was averaging seven points in the first half and 11 in the second half during the Big Ten season. I think those guys did an outstanding job, but I think Michigan State did a great job of exploiting our mistakes and that is why they are so good and that is why they can play. He is a great coach at doing that and I was real confident, we were all real confident in our defensive game plan, but when we don't execute we look silly and that is kind of what happened to us tonight at times.

Comparison to slow start against Alabama last year?
I think our youth showed up and I am not using that as an excuse because it has showed up when we have been inconsistent this year in our communication. If our big guys are not leading the way with our pick and roll calls...we got beat on our own plays a couple of times tonight. We just didn't talk up front. The youth of our team when you get down and it is not going perfect yet, you have to keep coming and your talk has got to move up. Our talk went the other way and that's where the disappointment is because after the 14-0 run, we out scored them 49-47. It wasn't beautiful, but it wasn't like we went away with it. You are going to score at some point and you are going to get back in it, but what you can't do is give them easy baskets. When they were making their run in the first half we were giving them easy baskets and that hurt us.


Offensively, were you not hitting shots, or were they taking you out of what you wanted to do?
James: It was obvious from the jump. One of the things that was talked about in this match-up was the similarities between the systems, but the first thing that Coach told me before the game was that players make the plays, not the plays - they don't make the players. We really weren't knocking down the shots early on. We dug ourselves a hole, but we were still playing pretty well on defense. We were just getting beat on some of the things that we talked about in our preparation, and we're still in the game. Our shots weren't falling, but we gradually started getting back in the game, but there were little things in the game that hurt us. At this time of the year, those are the kinds of things that beat you, and that's what happened.
Matthews: We were able to get looks, but we weren't able to put them down, and that's what you need in a game of this magnitude. Every possession is crucial. We just weren't able to capitalize. We played hard on defense. Our effort is never questioned on this team; it's just a matter of executing. Like Coach said our top wasn't there every time like they needed to be on defense, and we got beat on things that we were ready for and we were prepared for.

Is 14-0 embarrassing?
Matthews: I think for this team and this tradition and this program, being down is of course embarrassing. It's embarrassing anywhere. We hate being down as it is. We're so competitive as it is, and we get that from Coach Crean. We're tough-minded guys, we're competitive guys, and we hate losing at anything. Name it, and we want to win. Being down 14-0 is of course embarrassing for us, but at the same time we have to show maturity, and we have to build back, and for the most part we did. We fought back, but like we said earlier, we just weren't able to get the necessary stops through our communication and our talking. The concepts were there, the preparation was there, everything was set. We just didn't execute it enough.
James: I wouldn't say embarrassing. I don't agree with that word. When we got back into the huddles, we knew the things that we were getting beat on, and we were talking about them in the huddle, but I don't think embarrassing is the word. Once we start getting down, we start getting that sense of urgency, but we start getting beat on the little things, and we know that's what happens.

Has it hit you yet that you're out so early?
James: We already realized that we lost. Any time this ball club takes a loss we take it pretty hard. We wanted to advance further than we did last year. We felt like we had the personnel to advance. We felt like we had the matchups. We had an unfortunate injury in Jerel McNeal, and we really missed him. I felt like with him out there would have really made a difference, but I still thought we had the personnel to get it done. We still believed in each other and played well as a team, but unfortunately it didn't work out for us this time.
Matthews: We fell short again. It's kind of like how we did it last year. We didn't come out in the first half like we should have. The same thing happened here. We just have to keep building, keep building, keep getting better and keep realizing how important playing every second of every possession is. It did hurt losing Jerel, but at the same time we were ready. We were prepared. We just didn't execute.

[Dominic] James, was Travis Walton one of the tougher defenders you've faced?
James: He's definitely a tough defender. Most of the time when Travis was guarding me I was on the top of the key, so obviously they had more help on the top of the key. I'm not taking anything away from him as a defender, but once I got that ball on the side a little bit more, things started opening up for me. It's a little bit easier to guard somebody on the top of the key when you've got all five guys watching you. He had a lot of help, so Coach did a great job of putting me on the side in pick-and-roll situations, and that's when things started opening up. But he is a heck of a defender.

[Dominic] James, was guarding Drew Neitzel one of your best jobs defensively this year?
James: Drew is an excellent player. He invests in the game a lot of different ways. I felt like he did more with his passing. He focused on it a lot, and that was one of the constants that we were sticking with. I knew I had Drew. I felt very confident with my defense. I felt like I was doing a great job on him. There were a couple of times when we started helping, and there was no need to help, and they started getting slips to the basket for easy layups. That takes a lot out of you, especially on the defensive end when you give them wide open layups, and they get and-ones. I feel like I did a good job on Drew, but it has to be a team effort. Everybody has to lock down, especially in these types of games.
Matthews: Dominic, I see this kid every day in everything - every practice, walk-through, individual, all that kind of stuff - and he's underrated. He's an underrated defender. I think he showed tonight. I just wish we all played with that energy that he had the whole time, his mindset. You could just see it in his eyes that he didn't want to let his man score. He played tough. He played through cramps. He was tired. You could tell. You could feel it. He's like my brother. I could feel everything that he was going through. I think he just showed everybody tonight that he can play defense. He's one of the best defenders I've ever seen. I've gone against him, I've played with him, I've played alongside of him, I've played with him in games, and he just did a great job tonight. Like he said, it's a team thing, and we all need to play with that mentality every time.




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