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March 7, 2012

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Pitt vs. St. John’s, Big East Championship First Round, March 6, 2012, Madison Square Garden, No. 13 seed Pitt 73, No. 12 seed St. John’s 59


Opening Comments:

COACH DIXON:  We defended well and did enough rebounding wise, and I thought we were patient offensively, took pretty good shots, shot a good percentage against a good defensive team.  Obviously St. John's with a match-up zone bothers a lot of teams.  We played pretty well in both games against them and took good shots for the most part and today we cut down on the turnovers and gave us another good opportunity. Another good win.  I think we had a lot of guys give us good performances.  We had ten guys out there giving us good minutes and that's something we're going to need.  So I'm proud of how our guys played, I'm proud of how our seniors played, and we're trying to get better every day.  I think we've gotten better the last couple weeks and it's a good sign as we go forward here.  We've got to defend defensively, and I think we did that today and we'll continue to do that here as we go forward tomorrow. 

Q.  Is it kind of weird you guys have never won a Big East Tournament, now it's your senior year.  How much do you want this?

Ashton Gibbs:  Yeah, it's definitely a little weird, especially the past three years we had a lot more success during the regular season.  But it was a good win for us today.  I think it started on the defensive end, and we let it carry on to offense.  We did a good job of moving the ball, and it's something we've just got to continue to do throughout the tournament. 

Q.  (No microphone.)

Ashton Gibbs:  Yeah, I think it's definitely possible.  We're just going to take one game at a time and worry about our next game and keep going. 

Q.  Nasir, this is the second straight game that you've had to defend Moe Harkless.  What is it like covering a guy that size?

Nasir Robinson:  He's a good player, real skilled.  I wanted to make him shoot tough shots.  He hit some real tough ones, and I just wanted to make him make tough shots. 

Q.  You guys had a pretty tough Big East season.  Do you feel like you're peaking at the right time during the tournament?

COACH DIXON:  Well, I think we're a little bit -- about as healthy as we've been.  We've had a number of guys miss practices last week, but we have everybody available.  We didn't have John last game, John Johnson, but he gave us good minutes today, so that was valuable.  But I do believe that we are, and I tell our guys that I believe our best basketball is in our next game here, so I told them that going into this tournament.  We did some good things today.  I think we can be a better team tomorrow, and I believe that that's what you want to be.  We've obviously had some injuries and had to battle through some things, but we're still around and we're getting better in some areas that we've focused on. I think we are playing our best basketball here going forward.  And we've got some guys healthy right now, so I feel pretty good about where we're going.  We've got a good team to play tomorrow, so we'll see what we can do. 

Q.  There was a play late in the first half where the ball seemed to go after the back of the backboard.  Did you sense them getting frustrated?

Ashton Gibbs:  Yeah, I heard them arguing, a couple players arguing going back and forth on the court.  We just wanted to keep our team together.  When it hit the backboard, we wanted to keep playing until we heard the whistles, and we just wanted to keep playing and stay together. 

Nasir Robinson:  Yeah, same thing.  That's one thing we've been stressing in practice really is just to keep playing, whether the ref blew the whistle or not.  That's what we did.  It got a little frustrating, that part of the game, but at the end of the day we played together as a team from beginning to end and got the win.

Q.  How about having to play back to back games like that? 

Nasir Robinson:  Yeah, I feel good.  Throughout the season I've been struggling with it, just been fighting through it, trying to do what I can for my team.  Towards the end of the year I've been feeling good.  I've been doing what I do with my trainer, and it's feeling good.

Q.  How about the way you guys played against the press in the second half? 

COACH DIXON: They're going to force some things.  I think we can do a better job of getting -- advancing it and maybe attacking on the backside of it.  It's something that we've looked at and tried to do.  But hopefully it'll get us better and help us down the road, but 13 turnovers is still a little bit too high, but against a pressing team, and looking at what they were doing, I think it's not a horrible number.  Better than we had in our last game against them.  We took good shots.  That was the most important thing.

I think at the end of it, we took a good shot at the end of the press, and we didn't get rushed into shots, and I think that's the most important thing, too. 

Q.  Given what Ashton has meant to this program, is this the time to let him do his thing?

COACH DIXON:  Well, we're just playing like we're trying to play.  We've encouraged him to take open jump shots and more threes than he's been taking, and that was a good thing about today, I think he took nine of his fourteen shots were threes and off the catch, and four for nine is a good percentage from three.  That's what we want to do.  They did a good job on the defensive end, too, and that's what we need and that's what we've been stressing from our guards is they need to get our defense going.  They need to be the big -- they need to be the energy, the charge, the direct and get us where we need to be defensively.  So I thought he did a good job in that area. 


COACH DUNLAP:  The difference between the first time we played Pitt and the second was that we were able to rebound with them a little bit better, but we weren't able to finish at the rim.  We had a lot of easy baskets that didn't go in.  And I think when we came out in the second half, that impacted our ability to play probably a little bit more intense.  We let that bleed into our defense. But the story was we had plenty of good looks, we just couldn't finish. 

Q.  Looks like you did a pretty good job the first half, you had a lead.  Is there wear and tear having two players play a lot of games in a very short amount of time?

COACH DUNLAP:  Well, from our vantage point we never forwarded that, so when we go in at halftime, we tried to lock in on two or three adjustments.  I'm sure that your question, it's factored in, but that'll be down the road.  Because the journey, this journey, is over with, we're not going to give ourselves the luxury of evaluating in that form.  There were some tactical things in terms of I just thought we moved the ball great.  We had some great player movement.  The game had a tone to it of a playoff game.  But I think that what really played in, we had some guys that were 1 for 8 or whatnot, and I think that that kind of took a little bit of the wind out of our sails. 

Q.  How much of that do you think is attributed to you?  You've got a good team.

COACH DUNLAP:  The seeds are there, and the wisdom that was gained this year and where we're headed.  Certainly we have steel girders in terms of the players that we have now.  Now to add to them and to advance forward, and there was never, the entire journey, where we got down.  This team was resilient.  We came back and played a quality team in Pitt, one.  But two is the way we played, the esprit de corps was high, high level, and that's kind of the way it's been all year long with our guys.  They were a joy to coach the entire year.  We didn't have one player miss one practice and we didn't have one player of the six that went down with injury.  So it's attributable to a lot of our support staff, whether it's weights or trainer, but also to these guys how mentally tough they grew over the course of the journey. 

Q.  Mo, it was a pretty physical game today.  Sometimes you guys were on the floor with no call.  Does that get frustrating after a while?

MOE HARKLESS:  Yeah, definitely, because I think we didn't get a lot of calls that were like clearly fouls.  But you've just got to keep playing through it and you can't really worry about it too much and not worry about what the refs call and just play the game? 

Q.  D'Angelo had it going in the first half and he got cold as the game went on.  What changed in the second half?

COACH DUNLAP:  Well, I think some of that is our sensitivity, as we grow, that to play the hot hand out, and I think Mo was 5 for 7 from the floor going in at halftime, so we tried to point out those two things.  We have a couple of actions for them and we isolated them quite a bit in the second half.  But I think some of that is attributed to how well coached Pitt is. You know, you definitely -- they know who D'Angelo is.  I think it's a combination of the two. 

Q.  That late first half run you guys got up 6 and then they ran off 13-2.  How deflating is that going into the locker room?

COACH DUNLAP:  As they say in the Westerns, we had them right where we wanted them.  We knew what was hurting us.  We had a two-minute patch, and again, you have to give Pitt credit.  Towards the end of the first half, and I think some of that had to do with just the intensity of the way we played in the first 18 minutes, and also as they wear you down physically, because they're much heavier in the pockets at their fours and fives, where they're pushing you and driving you and playing physical, as we tried to.  But I think we got a little bit weary with the short patch in there.  So during halftime, we didn't even address that phase.  We just told them here is what's good about what you're doing and we tried to replicate that in the second half. 

Q.  At one point in the half you guys hit a lull in rebounding.  Was that attributed to foul trouble?

COACH DUNLAP:  Combination of foul trouble and also Pitt's ability to wedge on the weak side and use their thickness and height to drive some of our smaller players under the basket because they're going to do that all game long and you've got to be sturdy and withstand that kind of thing.  So that's full credit to Pitt. 

Q.  When they went on the 13-2 run and the game got quick and you guys didn't get the kind of offensive stuff you wanted, did you feel that you were hurrying, that the game was getting faster and you guys were maybe shooting the ball a little bit?

MOE HARKLESS:  I think we like to play a fast-paced game but I think when the pace switched, we were rushing a little bit.  A lot of shots that we took during that time were bad shots and I think if we would have slowed down and took our time, I think we would have been able to overcome that hump. 

Q.  For Mo, obviously all year with basically six guys, can you describe how tough that's been to go 32 games that way?

MOE HARKLESS:  You know, it's pretty tough, but I think our guys on our team, everybody is like -- everybody is tough on our team.  Nobody gave up on each other.  Everybody just kept at it every day, even on our days off we'd be in the gym playing pickup and everything.  I think this group has a bright future.  A lot of guys on this team are young and we're talented, and I think how this team, they never give up.  A lot of people didn't expect us to even play this way, the way we did this season.  A lot of people expected us to do a lot worse, and I think we did a good job keep fighting.  I think as coach said we showed a lot of resiliency, and I think we have a bright future? 

Q.  Ashton Gibbs, what do you make of the way he played today and what have you seen from him in those two games?

COACH DUNLAP:  Well, the one thing about him is he's always going to come back to his better self, you just don't know when.  He ran into a really tough patch when Woodall went down, so it forced him to change his game a little bit, and when Woodall came back, he got back to his natural position.  Unfortunately, we were probably the recipient of them feeling that whole situation out and he came back to his better self.  We know he's one of the better shooters if not the best shooter in the Big East, but if you look at his field goal percentage from the three, it was down because he was taking more contested shots because Woodall wasn't there to drive gaps and kick and all that kind of stuff. Again, it's just a very fine player wearing us out a little bit and doing a good job, and he's got a little mojo going.  He's just playing off momentum right now, and he's found his better self.

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