March 20, 2009
NCAA Tournament First Round, Dayton, Ohio
Pitt vs. East Tennessee State, March 20, 2009
COACH DIXON: Obviously a very good win for us against a very good team. Really happy how we responded to the second half. Adjust to the second half, did some things really well as far as did a better job taking care of the ball. Attacking went to a 1-3-1 which they haven't seen much, and we were well prepared for that and executing good shots against that, and so, once again, very good job by our guys adapting and being ready.
Excellent team that we played against, East Tennessee State. I mean, I watched them. This is one of those I watched that team and said there's no way this team is a 16 seed. If you looked at their last five games where they dominated their opponents with the new lineup, they changed their lineup about the last five games of the year, and they were a different team.
So this is a very good win against a very good team, and this is a team that's playing their best basketball right now with a totally new lineup than what they had played earlier in the year with. So very great job by our guys as far as rebounding and battling against a team that was really getting after it as well.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes only, please.
Q. Sam, what did you think about your first half performance and the effort you guys were showing out there?
Sam Young: I think we was playing hard, but I think we were just turning the ball over a little too much. We were a little careless. We came out just a little sluggish, just not taking care of the ball, mostly. I think that's what we did as far as not characteristic of ourselves in the first half. But second half I think we did a little better.
Q. DeJuan, how do you go about keeping the team calm, keep your cool? You started building a couple of leads then they would come back and hit some shots, how do you stay cool out there when that happens?
DeJuan Blair: Well, basketball is an up-and-down game, especially if you got good shooters and good play-makers on the team. I don't think our defense was up to par where we wanted to be.
But they was making shots, and Levance and Sam and Tyrell and Coach Dixon let us keep our head, and we just kept playing, you know. If they make a shot, we'll try and come down and make a shot, and we played defense.
I give a lot of credit to the seniors and our coaches for helping us keep our head and letting everybody just play. And we did a good job. Everybody played well and my hat goes off to them.
Q. Sam, what was the biggest problem that you guys were having against their press?
Sam Young: Like I said before, we turned the ball over a lot. I think we rushed some shots, and then in the press, when we were coming down and we would take some shots, we weren't really getting a lot of offensive rebounds like we would like to.
So with us not getting a lot of offensive rebounds and turning the ball over, I think that kind of sped us up a bit. We made some turnovers that were not like ourselves, I think that's what gave us the most problems.
Q. For either of you, did it ever cross your mind, "Whoa, we may lose this game"?
Sam Young: That crossed my mind yesterday, not just today. Every team that's in this tournament is a good team. So that crossed my mind way before today. So when we came out we wanted to make sure we were aggressive, and we played as tough as we can be, and the mistakes we made, we made sure we were smarter in the second half with the decisions.
Q. DeJuan, a 1's never lost to a 16, did you think, "Whoa, we may be the first"?
DeJuan Blair: That's my roommate, and we was talking about that. We seen Memphis had a little down game. And I mean, just put this out: We're not like any other team that will beat teams by 40, 50, we're not that type of team. We're the type of team that like to slow the game down and let the game come to us. And I mean, of course, that crossed my mind when we was down by 2, of course. But our defense stepped up.
We can't have our mindset on that. We've got to have it on we're going to win this game and we got an advantage. We survived. And that was a tough, hard-fought game. They're an excellent team. They've got excellent players, and we survived. So I give credit to them for fighting like they did.
They shouldn't put their head down. They did that against the No. 1 team, that was excellent. So we played hard, but we gotta come out playing hard against Oklahoma State.
Q. Are there any advantages to being tested so much in the first round, then? You guys said you expected a hard game, but to actually go through it, do you feel like there's something to gain from it?
DeJuan Blair: Yeah, first of all, we can't take every game lightly. And second of all, we know that now every game is going to be like that. Every team is going to give us their best. We just have to keep playing, and we just are going to have to find ourselves and we're going to come out strong this game.
Sam Young: I think we have a tough game like that in the beginning, kind of keep you on your toes, because in this tournament every game's going to get harder and harder.
So if that first game was a little tough, I think the next game is going to come out even more amped up and a little more prepared than you was the last game.
Q. Could you also talk just about the difference in offensive rebounding? They had 20 and outscored you guys 25 to 7 on second-chance points, what did you see their advantage there?
DeJuan Blair: That's unusual for us.
Sam Young: Definitely unusual for us. But I think they were sending three and four guys to the glass. And I think that's pretty much what allowed them to compete or be as successful as they were, was the second-chance shots. And I think that was mostly effort.
DeJuan Blair: They was working.
Sam Young: The next game, when we come out we've got to bring a little more effort to make sure that don't happen again.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys. Questions for Coach.
Q. Did the slower starts in the first half, does that bother you at all? And what could you do to maybe kind of get them going maybe a little bit better in the first half than they have in some recent games?
COACH DIXON: We adjusted in the second half. We'd like to play two great halves, but it's hard to do against a really good team. We adjusted in the second half. Cut down on our turnovers and cut them in half, more than half. And we did a good thing as far as coming out and executing better in the second half.
I mean, they're a very good team. I know what the seed is and what they were. I knew they weren't a 16 seed. I watched them play. I saw what they did the last five games.
And we could have done a better job, but, again, we played against a very good team. We responded and, you know, we defended well. We made them shoot 30 percent. I thought we guarded.
But what they did, and we talked about, was they'll take some tough shots and they kind of shoot them to go get them. And that's what they do. And we talked to our guys about that, preparing them for that. And they were going after it.
And we missed some -- I don't know how many break-away or lay-ups that we didn't finish, and I think that was a big part, too.
I think second half got going there. We started finishing, but we had some breakaways, we had some point-blank lay-ups we didn't make, didn't shoot it great. Second half we had some shots, and again, you're not going to play perfect for 40 minutes, but I liked how we played in the second half.
Q. You guys come from a very physical conference. It's supposed to be called much closer to the vest in an NCAA game, but how physical was this game compared to some of the games you played this season?
COACH DIXON: Pretty similar. I think anybody that watched it, anybody that's seen us play would say the same thing. They got after it. They played hard, we played hard, and I think it was very, very similar. I think it was a well-called game.
And I didn't agree with every call, but I thought it was very consistent and very similar to what we've seen. So I think anybody would see that there weren't a lot of fouls called, but both teams were playing very hard. You could see that it was athletic, a lot of athleticism, a lot of big bodies out there, and, again, that's a very, very good team. Coach Bartow is a very good coach, and this team has gotten better as the years have gone on. I've seen some games early in the year and late in the year, and this is a different team the last five games of the year.
So this is a very good win for us.
Q. Ashton had some more minutes again tonight, came out with a couple of big shots. Could you talk a little bit about the contribution he made for you down the stretch?
COACH DIXON: He played, obviously, very well. 10 points, didn't miss a shot, two assists. I think it was a couple of things. First of all, Jermaine was in some foul trouble, and he was a little banged up, Gilbert's been a little banged up. We went with him. And to have another guard in there, ball handler, and he hit his shots. And good free-throw shooter at the end of the game, too, we figured he'd be at the free-throw line. So that was big.
And I thought he played better defense. He's getting better as a defender, and that's what we've really preached to him, and he's responded. So, again, he's a very good freshman, very good player and made big plays throughout. So we have a lot of confidence in Ashton Gibbs.
Q. What did you see from Pigram and Tiggs? You were able to hold them to a low percentage, but they still hurt you at times.
COACH DIXON: I figured that was going to be the case. They were going to get their shots up. They were going to shoot a lot. I figured we would make them take tough shots but they're going to make some. And that's how they play. And they're different. I mean, how Tiggs play is we haven't played against a guy like him that bats you down from the perimeter.
It's unique. And so it was different for us, but we held him to 6 for 21. We held Pigram to 7 for 23. I saw the game when Pigram hit 10 3s against Mercer, I watched that one. And I knew what he could do, and Smith goes 3 for 14.
So take care of the ball a little bit better in the first half for us. Rebound, I think they got a bunch in the second, at the end of the game, too, they got the rebounds at the end. So that number got a little bit higher.
So I wish we could have done a better job on that. But, again, I can't stress how good this team is and how well coached they are.
Q. I know you guys talked to DeJuan coming into this game about laying off early fouls. The fact that he was able to do that, how key was that for you guys in this game?
COACH DIXON: I think everybody pretty much stayed out of foul trouble. I think it was pretty consistent. We went through it at the end as they were fouling us. But I think that was pretty consistent. Jermaine got in some foul trouble.
But I think it was obviously a big factor for everybody involved. But, again, you want everybody on the floor. They want everybody on the floor. And I think it really was the same case, the same way. I think it was a very consistently called game. I think you have very good officials here at the NCAA Tournament. It's to be expected. And these are guys that are at the top of their profession.
Q. Levance said yesterday that when he's out on the court he's 100 percent. How would you physically, considering what happened after the game, how would you rate him out there?
COACH DIXON: I think you have to talk to him exactly. I didn't get a chance to talk to him right after the game and get a number. So I know you guys like numbers. But he battles hard. I thought he played really well in the second half. We asked him to go get the ball more against the press, and he did.
And he did a very good job taking care -- I thought his defense was good against a very good player in Pigram. This is a guy that scored 2,000 points for his career. He's a fifth-year guy. He's 23 years old. Smith, same thing. They're older kids. And very experienced team.
So we did a good job against them. Obviously we'd like Levance to have been healthy this last couple of weeks, but that's not the case. And we're trying to play through it. But the longer we go, the better he'll feel, and that's how we're looking at it.
He felt better today than he did last week, that's for certain.
Q. Were you starting to get a little superstitious about this building? I realize it's a small number of games you've played here?
COACH DIXON: No, not at all. I never even thought about it. Because we lost last year, is that what you're talking about?
COACH DIXON: No, I mean, different players, different teams. I'm not a big superstition guy. We played hard. This game went exactly how I thought it would. I didn't think we would turn it over as much. It was exactly, but I had so much respect coming in for this team, our players did, and our coaches did. We knew how good East Tennessee State was, and, again, this is a different team than I saw the last five games than when I saw them play against Campbell, when they struggled earlier in the year.
They're playing different people. They're a better team right now than they were. And this is to be expected. So this is a very good win against a very, very good team, and it was amazing watching them now versus where they were earlier in the year.
I watched about seven, eight tapes, and it was an amazing transformation. So they're a much better team than their 16 seed indicates.
THE MODERATOR: Joining us this evening from East Tennessee State are Mike Smith, Courtney Pigram, Greg Hamlin and Kevin Tiggs. Coach, an opening statement, please.
COACH BARTOW: Well, I'm very proud of my guys. I thought we fought incredibly hard. Pittsburgh is a great team. Coach Dixon does a great job. DeJuan Blair is all we had heard about. Sam Young's a heck of a player. But I'm really proud of our guys.
We're really disappointed, because we felt we could win. We came here to win. We didn't come here to play a close game. So it's a very disappointed team, a very disappointed locker room, because we really believed we could win. We knew it would take a great, great, great effort, because Pitt's a heck of a good team.
So we didn't underestimate how good they were. We think we're pretty good, and we came here to win. So I'm really proud of my guys. I thought they fought incredibly hard. Obviously offensively we never got kind of our Big 3. We really never got going, and obviously you've got to credit Pitt's defense. They're one of the best defensive teams in college basketball. And certainly their defense had something to say about that.
But, again, I'm really, really proud of our guys, really proud of our team. We've got a good league. There's a lot of good teams in our league. Our league doesn't always get maybe the respect that it deserves, but we've got some good basketball teams in our league. So I think our team came in well prepared to play a good game.
We just couldn't get over the hump, you know? It was three and a half, always four or five. I think we cut it to two with four and a half to play. We had the ball. We turned it over. Just couldn't get over the hump. I really felt if we could get up one or two it might really put a lot of pressure on them being the No. 1 seed. But we just couldn't get over the hump.
Pittsburgh is a great, great team and certainly we wish them the best. Again, I thought we played hard. We just came up a little short.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Courtney, is this evidence that some day a 16's going to beat a 1? You guys make your shots, you could have won today?
COURTNEY PIGRAM: Of course. I seen a 16 seed come across the screen, I was kind of excited, because I think we can play anybody in the country. Because of the type of guys we've got. But we came out tonight and make shots, who knows, definitely can win a game. But unfortunately we didn't. And Pitt played a great game and they came away with the win.
Q. Courtney and Kevin, how tough is it, guys, to get this close and to not make it and it's also your senior season?
COURTNEY PIGRAM: It hurts. It hurts for us to go out like this. Because we had a game -- like I said we was making shots, we would have came away with the win. The shots just weren't falling for us. We had a lot of open looks, just weren't making them.
KEVIN TIGGS: Basically it hurts because we had them and then at the same time we just couldn't get over the hump. So we lost. But we're all right. We're all right.
Q. Coming in, how much of your game plan was just to kind of try to outhustle Pitt, maybe create the turnovers, get the offensive boards and maybe that could result in a win?
COURTNEY PIGRAM: We really played our game. We've been playing like that most of the season. We press a lot. And we like to get the game going up and down. Unfortunately, we had them throwing turnovers and things like that, but we just couldn't capitalize on the shots we got.
MIKE SMITH: We've been playing like that the whole season, pressing, trying to get the tempo up and down. And we got some good turnovers, we just weren't converting on the other end, just wasn't making shots.
Q. Greg, can you explain how much success you guys had on the offensive boards tonight?
GREG HAMLIN: We just came in looking to hit the glass hard. We heard they weren't a very good defensive rebounding team, so we just tried to attack the glass and get second chances.
Q. Kevin, had you guys experienced many other games this season where the Big 3 had missed this many shots or had had shooting nights like this or how unusual was it for you guys?
KEVIN TIGGS: We had a game like this we were playing against Florida Gulf Coast, I think, and we tried not to have a game like this again. But it came and bite us.
Q. Courtney, along the same lines, when you're shooting 25 percent in the first half and you go to the locker room within 3, do you sort of have the attitude you know this is going to turn around we're going to start making our shots and it's really going to happen?
COURTNEY PIGRAM: We had that attitude at halftime. We knew we weren't making shots in the first half. But we were still in the game. Like I said, we had good looks, a lot of good looks, just couldn't put them down. Just one of us could have been making shots, probably would have came away with the win. But neither one of us was. So congrats to Pitt.
Q. Greg, seems like the energy and the hustle was really big for you guys tonight, and whether it be second chance points or put-backs or rebounding, how important was that to kind of keep you guys close and keep you guys within range the whole game?
GREG HAMLIN: It was good. Really just came out and wanted to play hard. So that's what we do every game. We just try to continue with this game. We knew it would help us out a lot.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. Questions for Coach.
Q. Murry, you look at the statistics on this, do you say this is something that could have been, that you could have won this game if you made more free throws, get some of those shots that went halfway down and came back out?
COACH BARTOW: Obviously you look at that. But I always give the other team credit. I'm a big believer in the other team's got something to say with how you shoot the ball. Pitt's one of the best defensive teams in college basketball. So I think we did miss a few clean ones, but they altered some shots. And, again, that's who they are.
Our thing all year has really been: We've played good defense, but offensively we've really played pretty well. They're an underrated offensive team because they average about 70, 80 a game but, they're a phenomenal defensive team. And I thought they took us out of some things and altered some shots.
We took some hard shots. Again, I thought we got some pretty clean ones, too. We've lived and died all year with the Big 3, with Mike Smith, Kevin Tiggs and Courtney Pigram, and that's kind of who we've been all year. And we just -- they didn't make a lot of shots tonight, shooting percentage-wise and percentage-wise, and so obviously we would have struggled in our league if the Big 3 don't shoot the ball better than they did tonight.
But I think Pitt's defense had something to say about that.
Q. Coach Dixon talked about the transformation in your team, the lineup changes, can you talk about that for people who haven't seen your team very much?
COACH BARTOW: We've gotten better. Obviously, as a coach, you want your team to get better and improve, and during the course of the season, I thought our team did that.
And, you know, again, I thought really coming in we felt we were good enough to win this game, but we knew that a lot of things would have to happen right: The Big 3 would have to play great, hopefully get DeJuan Blair in foul trouble, keep Levance Fields in front of us. Not let Sam Young go crazy. Hold our own on the glass.
A lot of keys for us to have a chance. And with four-and-a-half minutes to go, it's a 2-point game. And I would have taken that prior to the game if someone would have said, "Hey, it's your ball in line out of bounds, four and a half to play and you're 2 down."
And that's what it was. We turned it over that possession, and great teams make plays down the stretch. And Pittsburgh's one of the top three or four teams in the country, and they made big plays down the stretch when they had to make them, when really the pressure was on them as the high seed or the better seed and they just made big plays. They made some big, big plays, and we obviously just didn't have an answer for Blair. I thought we fought hard in there, obviously we tried to trap him and double him, but he's a big, tough customer and hard to deal with.
But I thought we fought hard on him, but we just really didn't have an answer for him. But I do think during the year we got better.
Q. Is there any doubt in your mind that sooner or later a 16 seed's going to pull this off, and people looking at this game nationally, do you think that's one of the messages that should come out of a game like this?
COACH BARTOW: I do. A lot of good players and a lot of good programs and a lot of good players in a lot of different leagues. So it will happen. It will happen. It could have happened today if we would have shot the ball better, it maybe would have happened today. But it didn't. It didn't. And like I said, we didn't come here to play a close game. Last three times we've been in the tournament, three of the last seven years, and we lose to Wake Forest by 3 and lose to Cincinnati by 3 and lose today to Pitt by 10. We had a focus of coming in here today and trying to win.
But they've got a couple of pros, and that's the thing when you're a 16 trying to beat a 1. You've got to beat some pros, and Sam Young is a cinch pro. And DeJuan Blair is a cinch pro. Levance Fields is one of the top five point guards in the collegiate game. A lot of things have to happen right for a 16 to beat a 1. But it will happen. It will happen. Could have happened today.
Q. Do you feel you've played your best game today, you had a No. 1 seed on the ropes, but you shot so poor.
COACH BARTOW: We didn't play our best game. If we made our shots, we would have played a better game. Again, I'm a big credit the other team guy. I really am. Pittsburgh's unbelievably good defensively. So I think the credit's got to go to them.
With that being said, I thought we missed some shots that we've been making. Our offense just totally relies on 3 guys. And our rotation tonight was really about 6 guys, and three of those guys are going to take all of our shots. That's just the way we've played all year. So we're incredibly dependent on those three guys hitting shots. And the commissioner of our league came in before the game and it sounds very simplistic, but that's what he and I talked about, that the Big 3 are going to have to play a great game.
I thought they competed incredibly hard. But I thought they kind of missed some shots that normally they might have made. But, again, I think when you're playing one of the best -- obviously Pitt's by far the best team we've seen all year. And one of the best defensive teams in the country. So they had something to do with us shooting 31 percent.
Q. If the BCS schools played more games against mid-majors on the road during the regular season, would that alter your seeding and would it alter --
COACH BARTOW: Maybe. Maybe. That's just not going to happen. That's a tough thing. Certainly we try to schedule good people. And if you're a mid-major, maybe you can do a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 to get one of the BCS schools to come to you. Obviously if you've got a relationship, maybe, with the coach at a BCS school, maybe he'll do you a favor and do a home-at-home. But it's tough. You try to go -- we play 20 games in our league, but out of conference, you try to go to different -- maybe a tournament where you're going to see a BCS school on a neutral court so it's much easier to get a BCS school on a neutral court, but incredibly difficult to get a BCS school in your building, at home.
Q. Coach, you mentioned the close calls, in some recent years in the tournament pushing some good teams and even 20 years ago it happened with this school. Is that part of the reputation, you think, that is part of your program that these close calls in the NCAA, and if so is that a good thing for a program? Is that kind of tough to have these -- push these teams and fall short sometimes?
COACH BARTOW: We want to get over the hump. But it's hard. It's hard. When you're a 16 seed playing one of the top three or four teams in the country everything's got to go right. When you're playing pros, it's hard. It's hard. Everything's got to go right. And I've already mentioned four or five things. But the rebounding, dealing with DeJuan Blair, keeping Levance in front of us, our Big 3 have to shoot it great, everything's got to go right. And we were right there. We were close. But we just couldn't get over the hump. We've got great history in our program, some success back in the -- it's been 20 years. But we do have great history.
Q. I'm sure next time you guys are in the tournament, when teams, these big teams see you come across, they see the history and know what you can do; is that nice maybe knowing you put -- these big guys might be a little scared when they see your name?
COACH BARTOW: It's no fun to lose. It's no fun to lose. I think coming into this game we had an incredibly good mindset, because we were able to reflect back. They don't remember, to be honest, and my fans may get mad at me, but my guys weren't born -- some of them weren't born when we won the game back in the late '80s, or I guess it was early '90s, but they can certainly remember recent history.
We talked a lot about Wake Forest game, losing by 3. We talked a lot about the Cincinnati game, losing by 3, and we were up by 2 with two minutes to play in that game.
So we talked a great deal about San Diego beating UConn last year, we talked a great deal about Davidson getting to the Final Eight. We talked a great deal about George Mason getting to the Final Four. So the mind was right. And that's why the locker room is so down right now, because we really believed that we could win this game against a great, great Pittsburgh team.
But we've got a lot of good players on our team. Courtney's a heck of a player. Kevin Tiggs, I could go on and on and on about him, but he's just an incredible human being and a great player. And Mike Smith's a heck of a player. So, anyway, we're hurt right now but I thought we competed hard, played well but just didn't play quite well enough.
Q. You were just talking about Kevin and Courtney, how tough is it just to know that they played their last game in ETSU uniforms?
COACH BARTOW: We're going to miss them. But we're going to have a good team next year. I think we're a tight program. We're going to be good every year, hopefully. But we've got seven guys off this team that were in uniform tonight that will be back. We've got three guys that red-shirted or sat out this year and we've got three really good recruits coming in. So we should be good again next year. But it's hard to replace great players that can score.
And the thing about Kevin, and they didn't show it as much tonight, but Kevin and CP can get you baskets. Your offense may look bad and all of a sudden they get you a basket. Kevin averaged about 20 a game. CP averaged about 18 a game. So that's hard to replace. It's hard to replace those guys that can make baskets.
But I think next year we've got a chance to be really good again, and I think this was such a great atmosphere. This building, just the atmosphere in here was great. And I thought we did a good job as a coaching staff making sure our guys and really the returning guys really, really soaked it up, because obviously we'd like to get back to the tournament next year and figure out a way to try to win a game. Hopefully we can get back.
It's not easy. It's not easy when you're fighting for that one bid, but hopefully we'll be good enough to get back here next year and figure out a way to win the first game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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