COACH CREAN: First and foremost, this game was everything that we anticipated and even more. And we knew VCU was really good on film, but they were even better in person. Their aggressiveness, their athleticism, the toughness that they played with, we knew we were going to have to match that and then some, and our guys did.
I'm sure it was a great basketball game for people to watch from the stands. It was really a great game for me, as well, because I got to see this game, the last six or seven minutes through our players' eyes. And they were so locked in and had such great resolve to never panic and to just truly believe that they were going to win.
And the magic words, We're always about the defense. And they just kept talking about defense and defense and defense. And I think it showed up in the way that we finished the game, with the stops we had, the percentages of stops that we had in the last six or seven minutes.
These guys did a fantastic job. Everybody that played was playing with great intensity, on both sides, great intensity, great energy, great toughness. And we knew we were playing against a team that really cared about one another, and I think they'll see that they were playing against a team, in our group, that really cares about one another.
And when you've got that kind of togetherness, a lot of amazing things can happen. That's what our year has been like and that's what this game was like.
Q. You were very quiet offensively in the second half until at the end and you made a series of plays. What changed?
Cody Zeller: Yeah, I was struggling in the second half there for a while, but really just tried to get some rebounds, tried to make a difference in other ways. I think that kind of got me going. So I was ready when my number was called later in the game.
Q. On that final shot was there any part of you thinking I need to pull this thing out and play for the final shot or was the idea to go in and get the first open look and just let it go?
Will Sheehey: Well, they made a great play guarding the rim. And at that time I thought the momentum was on our side. We had made a little comeback there. And I'm comfortable shooting at that range. It was pretty open, so I decided to take it.
Q. Can you talk about now getting to the Sweet 16 with Indiana, does this feel like another step in helping them get this program back into the elite?
Christian Watford: Yes, it's been a constant grind for us ever since the end of last year. We've been working hard and we did a great job with adversity, and it feels great to be in this position.
Q. You guys have played a lot of different styles this year and in this game it seemed you played different styles within the same game. How did the experience of playing all those different styles help you down the stretch?
Will Sheehey: We have a great coaching staff that gets us prepared for every game. Really, inside the game it's the player's role to pretty much just see what's going on and try to figure it out. So I think our players did a great job. Our guards, Remy came in there and really made some plays for us and really set the pace of the game. It was really guys coming in and just making big plays and that's what changed the game.
Q. You guys were down nine with about half the rest of the half left to play. What changed? What brought you guys back and how were you able to overcome that adversity and get back into the game?
Will Sheehey: Well, I think it's our experience. We've been there before, almost the same situation in numerous games early in the season. And Christian told Jordan, even though he was struggling for a little bit, just to keep playing.
And I think that really just was our motto for the whole time was just to come out and keep playing. Even though we got down in a little stretch, we were going to make a run and we did that tonight.
Q. Can you take us through the final minute there in the half with your two 3's and the free throws to cut the 9 point deficit down to 1?
Christian Watford: I knew we needed a bucket and I stepped up and concentrated and made the shot. The very next three, we got in transition and Victor did a great job of finding me and I just knocked it down. I got two free throws after that, so at that point I was going.
Q. In the last 12 minutes you only allowed two field goals. Defense has been your motto all season long, what was it that let you bare down and make those stops?
Christian Watford: It was our mindset. We knew what we had to do in order to win the game. We went out and executed that and it went from there.
Q. You had a look on your face that kind of said it all after you hit that shot. Can you take me through the emotions of what's going through your mind after you made that?
Will Sheehey: I knew there was 12 seconds left afterwards or whatnot, so we decided to get a stop on D. I think that was the confidence that our whole team has been going through this whole season. It might be me one night and obviously Christian has hit big shots this year.
Really, I just felt that our team was really just making a push and that was pretty much icing on the cake.
Q. Can you talk about for this program, getting back to the Sweet 16, haven't been in the tournament for three years. Do you feel like this is kind of a big step to bring Indiana back into the national picture?
Will Sheehey: A hundred percent. I know everyone watches March Madness and whatnot. We might do it a lot for the fans, but really it's for our guys in this program. We have seniors on the squad, Verdell, who can't play with us, but we play for those guys and they've been through it all.
Q. Did you ever think you could turn the ball over 22 times for 23 points and win a basketball game? What does that say about your group that you were able to win this game?
COACH CREAN: Well, you make a decision against pressure. You're either going to break it or you're going to attack it. When you're going to attack it, you're going to have mistakes. More of our mistakes happened in the front court. We wanted to play a downhill game. And that's one reason never called a timeout when Victor had the ball. We were going to call a timeout if they scored, and I told all the referees that.
So we wanted to play a downhill game. Every time we got away from that or we played sideways or we didn't meet the game, that was where our turnovers came. I was very comfortable with them attacking the press and making decisions, knowing there would be a few times you've just got to live with it inside of the game.
But it was one of the reasons, our attack was one of the reasons we shot 67 percent in the first half. But it's not the optimum way to win a game, obviously.
But I think the job we kept talking the last two days about, first and foremost, they can't press if they can't score. So we have to have as good a defense as we've had all year. If you look at the way we closed the game and the 25 percent shooting from the field and from the three, those were the things that really, really stand out for the reasons that we won the game, I believe.
Q. Final minute, you spoke about seeing the game through your players' eyes, was there a certain level of trust? Was this a certain kind of different experience going through this final minute given the situation and what you guys have gone through or was there a level of comfort there knowing what you guys had done earlier in the season?
COACH CREAN: I think it's the experiences. I think pressure really comes down to if you focus on it and you focus on the result and you get away from the step by step and we were still in a step by step process there. It was six with five and a half minutes to go, and there was no panic. And then you can reference a game like NC State, where it was seven with seven and a half minutes to go. Those things register with those guys.
Our talk is just that. And it's them. It's what they believe they're going to do. And the way that they talked to one another in the huddles. And the resolve that they had. And they're so locked in. We put a play in that I've been holding on to, I hadn't even gone through it in walkthrough with it, but it was in isolation at the elbow. And Christian kept saying, we've got to run this, because we tried to run it earlier in the game, and we couldn't get to it. It was an isolation for Cody. And it was one of the best things we did at the end of the game because we got to the basket and we got fouled.
When you're putting things in like that for them, and if they're nervous at all, somebody is not going to be in the right place. They were always in the right place. So their locked in mindset gave us great confidence, but most importantly it gave each of them the confidence. Because once we break that huddle, obviously they're on their own.
Q. The same question I asked, the different styles that you played within this game, basically how did you guys deal with that?
COACH CREAN: Well, again, they're quicker and more athletic on film, and I hadn't seen it them play in person, so film does not do justice to how good they are. They really, really are good. They're extremely well coached. He's a great coach. There's no doubt about that. Obviously got a very good coaching staff.
But they play hard. And they play it the right way and they're aggressive and tough. So we just had to keep adjusting, and I think they probably did, too. We switched defense a lot, went to different things. We played some personnel, we played different things when they substituted. We never felt like we could fatigue them, to get it in our favor, but we had to do some things that might make them adjust a little bit. So that was really our mindset throughout the game.
And our guys continued to do a pretty good job of taking what the defense was giving them. A couple of times we didn't, but for the most part we did.
Q. Can you talk about getting to the Sweet 16. Does it feel like a significant moment in your four years going back on to the national scene and now you're back in with the 16?
COACH CREAN: Oh, absolutely. There's no question about it. And as I said to them, again, you know, the way God has brought us all together and touched everybody's life, everybody is better for what they've had to deal with. The seniors. It doesn't feel like that at the time when you're going through all this. But we're all going to be better off for it.
To have them have this happen for them because of the way they've earned it, the way they've continued to get better. And I know coaches can it can sound really corny when you talk about believing in one another, but I sit and look at these guys, and I'm looking across at them in that huddle and it's a great feeling. It's hard to describe. But it's a great feeling to be around young men like this that they do really want to see each other be successful. They know they're a team. So they've earned their way in.
Did we have days where we wondered if we would get to this point? I would look back at this and say that there were a lot of disappointments, but nobody in our program that's with us to this point ever got discouraged. And there's a huge difference between disappointment and discouragement. And sometimes they can look alike. But disappointments are inevitable, and discouragement, we just never got there.
And our guys really when they talk about the offseason, they know what they put into it. All college basketball teams work really hard, but these guys have had to come from a long way, a long way, and I'm proud of them.
Q. When you guys were down nine, did you know defense was what was going to get you back in the game?
COACH CREAN: You don't know, but you hope. We can guard and the guys were so locked into how we were defending. And we did it even at the end of the game. We went into a 55, which is all switching.
Would we have done that with Cody in the game a month ago? Probably not. But you say, you know what, you're a great basketball player, go out there and be a great athlete. And he was.
When you've got comfort with one another, and they're looking at Cody, and we haven't done a lot of switching with Cody, and Cody is in the game and they're saying 55, there's a lot of belief. You're trusting your teammate to help take care of it.
Because what happens sometimes in defense, especially end of game situations, is you don't want to make a mistake, you get hugged up on your man, you don't call out a screen, you want to do your job. When you're switching and you're playing zone it's a team job. Our guys understood that. And I thought our team defense was tremendous for most of the second half and especially at the end.
Q. You said that you started seeing the game through your players' eyes. Can you elaborate on what that means and how that started?
COACH CREAN: I don't know if it's seeing the game. I think you see the results. We're coaches and everybody around them, we've got a plan and we do that and we work at it, but if they're not locked in, the buy in is nobody gets to this level and this tournament without a great buy in.
But being locked in, that's what it's all about when you look at them and they're out there doing what they've been taught. More importantly than that, they're doing it with a resolve and a toughness and a will that's just incredible. And to me as a coach when you see that, the greatest thing for me in the past used to be to go on the road as a coach, and be in that locker room, that visitors locker room and you see your team before and you just felt great about the way they were ready to go. I think it's transforming.
When you're in a timeout, when you're in a huddle, when they're looking back at you and they're talking to one another and they're talking about that game, and it's a tough, hard nosed game, there's no feeling like that.
Q. Considering the defense your team played down the stretch, what's going through your mind on that final possession and on that final shot?
COACH CREAN: Well, trust the defense. Trust the defense. It's a two point game. And we made the decision we were switching everything and we were going to live with it. And if we got beat on a play, well, we were going to hope we still had enough time to come down and score. We spent a lot of time on late game situations.
The smartest thing I did the entire night was not call timeout on the miss and let Victor run with it. Because again, we had a downhill move. He was coming with the ball. And he had done some great things tonight and you guys got to see how special of an athlete he is at getting to the rim. And it didn't go, but Will was right there and he knocked it down.
Great confidence in our players. And as a coach that's a transformation, when you feel like you don't have to make that call. And again, some of it was respect for the VCU defense, and not have to inbound and get it up court against them. He's got a lot of defenses in his bag that he can go to. It worked out very well. We got a great shot.
Q. Beyond the result what are you most proud of with this team?
COACH CREAN: Oh, I don't know. We're not done. So I'll have the reflection of that when it's all said and done. But I would say this, they just continue to improve, mentally and physically. And when you start to quantify inside your own program mental and physical toughness, they're really moving forward.
So I guess in answer to your question, I would say that how they continue to understand that getting better is the only way to really keep moving on and they're doing that.
Q. You guys had 22 turnovers, do you attribute that to just sloppy play on your part or stellar defense on the part of the Rams?
COACH CREAN: I contribute it to a great basketball game. We were on the attack. I'm not going to call it sloppy play. We had some mistakes, but they had a lot to do with that, they're an excellent team.
Q. In some ways when you look at what VCU was able to do last year, what they did in the opening round, they sort of in some ways seemed almost like a team of destiny. Did you feel that at all and what were you able to do to stop that in its tracks?
COACH CREAN: What I witnessed was a really, really aggressive, athletic, tough basketball team that was well coached. Those kind of thoughts, they don't really go through your head when you're trying to help your team attack the pressure.
COACH CREAN: Tremendous. That was we needed momentum. And Christian did a great job. We'd had the intentional foul call. We weren't playing very well. We weren't attacking the press. We made a couple of mistakes. I was upset and Christian just he brought momentum back to Indiana. And again, it was we're playing time and score with him a little bit after he got the second foul.
I'm not against putting a guy in with two fouls, but really, you're trying to figure out how the game is being called. We certainly didn't want to start the second half with him with three and Jordan with three.
But the bottom line is he made big shots. He has worked so hard to be a great player. He has worked so hard on his shooting and his ball handling and his defense. And he guarded the point guard most of the second half. This guy is going to be a fantastic player long after he's gone from us. He has got versatility right now. He epitomizes what we're trying to do with building our program. Versatile, multidimensional two way players, and he's really becoming that.
Q. John Calipari said a couple of weeks ago he thanked ESPN for showing the Watford buzzer beater over and over again and angering his players. What is that like?
COACH CREAN: It goes in every time. Every time. It never changes. And you know what? He tweeted, I tweeted something back. The value that that brings our University, brings our fan base to have that out there, it's fantastic. It goes in every time. And there's still a hand up in front of him. There's still a great pass from Verdell, there's still a great screen from Cody Zeller. Every time it goes in.
COACH SMART: Proud of our guys. Really battled, played hard. I thought we did a much better job defensively in the second half. But then again, so did Indiana. You've got to give Indiana a ton of credit for the way they battled.
We took a lead, I think we were up as much as 8 and they really fought back. Cody Zeller, some huge, huge plays down the stretch, which was a big difference.
The shots that we got late in the game, I feel good about those looks. I feel good about the guys that were taking them, they just didn't go in. And that's basketball, sometimes that happens.
But, again, I'm proud of our team. I really believe that not so much relative to what we thought, but relative to everyone else's expectations, this team had an unbelievable year, and really overachieved in a lot of ways.
Really, right now I feel for Bradford Burgess, our only senior, as this is obviously the last game of his career. And it sucks to end it this way. But you're talking about one of the best players ever at VCU and a guy who, even though his career is done with us, has a very bright future in the game of basketball.
Q. Could each of you talk about your part in the last possession and what you were looking for and then what you ended up with?
DARIUS THEUS: Well, came off the drag, Zeller had switched out to me. And we worked on it every day just to attack the big. When I attacked him, Rob stepped in and Rob had a wide open shot. We take that shot any day, it just didn't fall tonight.
ROB BRANDENBERG: Yeah, basically what Darius said. Darius did a good job attacking the switch. And Darius put a lot of pressure on defense, and my man sagged off of me. Darius made the right play, we work on it every day, hit me for a wide open three, it just didn't go in.
Q. Can you pinpoint what Indiana might have changed in the second half to slow you guys down?
DARIUS THEUS: I wouldn't say too much slowing us down, but they just made big plays down the stretch towards the end of the game.
And I give credit to Zeller. He made a lot of big plays down the stretch, down the stretch towards the game. We had a good run going, but we just couldn't sustain it and they just made big plays.
Q. Did it catch you off guard at all that Sheehey was actually going to shoot and that he wasn't going to pull back and hold for the last possession?
DARIUS THEUS: Yeah, it was surprising that he shot it. But he's a great shooter and he was wide open, so why not take the shot. But that was a big play for him. And credit to him knocking down a big shot.
Q. I know it's a little difficult right now, but how long do you think it will take you before you appreciate where you guys were as a team in November and where you are standing today?
ROB BRANDENBERG: It's tough to talk about right now just because this loss, this really stings. We were right there, but we didn't make enough plays. But once time goes on, we'll be able to look back and appreciate each other and appreciate the season we had. I'm not sure when that time will be, but it's going to take some time.
Q. What made Indiana such a good team tonight? What qualities did they have that present a lot of challenges to teams?
COACH SMART: Well, first of all, they're very well coached. I think their game plan is very well conceived. They ran some good stuff.
And then I thought they had a lot of guys that stepped up and made big plays; Christian Watford with the four 3's he hit, I think it was three in the first half and then one early in the second half, those were daggers. We were playing really good defense and we were there, just not there enough. And he stepped up.
When you combine a good system, a good attack with very good players, that's how you get a dangerous team. That's what Indiana is. I thought late in the game, the last four or five minutes, Cody Zeller, he said, I'm going to make plays. And he really did a good job, first of all, catching the ball where he wanted it and then making plays and getting to the basket and either getting to the line or finishing.
Q. You just talked about it with Cody Zeller, I think he had ten points in the first like 13 minutes and you guys held him to 6 points the rest of the way. Is it just like bearing down, is that how things changed there in those final minutes with him?
COACH SMART: I thought he was terrific at the end, actually. We tried to do everything we could. He's a good player, you're not going to hold a guy like that scoreless.
I think the key for him at the end of the game was he was able to catch the ball right off the elbow. And that's not something we typically allow big guys to do. We've got to do a better job denying that. When he caught it, he made some great plays, he put our defense in a tough spot and got to the rim and that put us at a disadvantage. He's a good player.
Q. Obviously you turned down an open three for the win, but was the goal to go for the win instead of trying to force overtime?
COACH SMART: No, not necessarily. We just wanted to get a good shot. That's a play that we run in those clock down situations all the time.
I told the guys in the locker room they did a phenomenal job of executing. But it's not surprising. This team all year long has more than any team I've ever been around, has done a phenomenal job of trying to do what we asked them to do as coaches. We're not perfect, but the guys really executed the plan in that play.
Rob got a wide open shot in front of our bench. I'll take that shot again every day of the week, it just didn't go. And Troy's three point shot the possession before that just didn't go. We were 9 for 30 tonight from three, which is more 3s than we normally take. But most of them were very, very good looks. And we just didn't make enough.
Q. If somebody had told you before the game that you would force them into 22 turnovers for 23 points would you have bet the farm that you would have won that game?
COACH SMART: Yeah, it depends on the other factors in the game. They shot 67 percent from the field in the first half. So even though we turned them over ten times, they made two thirds of their shot attempts if we didn't turn them over.
Yeah, definitely if we knew we were going to force them into 22 I thought we could turn Indiana over, I thought it was something we could have success with. But that's not the only element of the game. You've got to sustain your half court defense, which we did not do very well in the first half. We did a better job the second half. And then you've got to put the ball in the basket. We only scored 19 points in the second half and obviously that wasn't quite enough.
Q. The players are usually resilient, they bounce back fairly quickly. How long will it take you to get over this game, not just thinking about this was the game that sort of got away, one that you could have had that got away?
COACH SMART: I don't know. A long time. I don't deal very well with losing. But it's part of life. I told the guys in the locker room afterward that we're not going to feel sorry for ourselves. We're not going to say woe is me.
For everyone on our team, except for one guy, this is an opportunity to learn and improve. Like you mentioned, we had our chances in this game.
I'm not so sure I guess you could say it's one that got away. I wouldn't characterize it that way, I would say Indiana made some big plays down the stretch and we weren't able to make some shots.
But as far as how long it will take me, forever. I don't get over games like this. I didn't get over the Butler game last year. You've just got to move on though. What's done is done, just like the other day we won and move on.
Q. Did you and Tom have kind of a heated exchange during the long delay, and at the end it looked like you guys had a warm exchange? Could you tell me what was going on there?
COACH SMART: No, we didn't have a heated exchange at all. It was nothing.
As far as after the game, I just congratulated him and told him that I think he's got a great team and he does an unbelievable job. He's someone that I think his head coaching career kind of coincided with me getting into coaching or the other way around. So when I first got into coaching he was a new head coach at Marquette. He's someone that I've always followed and admired.
And this is the first time, obviously, that I've got the chance to coach against him as a head coach. I just wished him luck.
I think Indiana deserves a lot of credit for the guts they showed at the end of this game. They could have quit, but they really, really battled. They fought through some adversity. And they won the game. And that's what you have to do to advance this time of year. And I think that's a testament to the players, but also Coach Crean and his coaching staff.
Q. You guys scored four points in the final 12:30. Other than just missing good looks, was there something you did or they did that sort of helped the offense dry up there?
COACH SMART: I'm sure we'll watch the tape and see certain things that we could have done better. It comes down to being able to put the ball in the basket when you get certain opportunities. I think we got some good looks I know we got some good looks that I certainly would take again.
There were a few possessions that we where we didn't execute particularly well, where I think there was one shot clock violation, there was a couple other ones where we didn't get great looks at the end of possession. Yes, a lot of that has to do with Indiana and their defense. I thought they really bear down.
But we're a good offensive team. We're not a great offensive team. We haven't been all year. We've gone through stretches where we have lulls. It's not for lack of effort. It's a combination of two things: No. 1, the ball maybe not going down as much for us; and then No. 2, the other team putting together some really good defensive efforts.
Q. I can't imagine there's anyone else who would have won at the foul line with just under a minute left than Bradford and those shots didn't go down. Will you say anything to him to comfort him? What will your words be to him?
COACH SMART: You know, words are hollow after a game like this. There's not a lot you can say. But I told him, I told the team in the locker room how proud I am of Brad. He's one of the best players ever to play at VCU. He's had a record breaking career. And I also told him his future is very, very bright. Even though his days playing at VCU are over, he's got a lot of basketball left to play and he's somebody that we're never going to forget.
He really held our ship together all year long. And he's reason No. 1 why our team got better and better and better all year long.
Q. Given where this team started at the beginning of the year with so much turnover from last year, losing four players five players with Toby Veal, how much of a success do you consider this season, given where you started and how much promise you think this group has moving forward?
COACH SMART: It's hard to call anything a success after a loss. So I think that's probably a question that's better answered a week from now.
We're 29 7. We beat a terrific Wichita State team, we won our league tournament. Relative to other people's expectations, not mine or the team's, but what other people thought I think we overachieved. We go into every single game expecting to win and expecting to advance and we didn't do that today. So it stings. It hurts.
But I do think, yes, overall the season, it was a good one and it's one that we'll look back at and feel good about the progress we made as a team, that's probably the biggest thing.
As far as the guys coming back for next year, this should be an unbelievable motivator for them. They should be they should have a picture in their room, maybe I'll give it to them, of the scoreboard or maybe of one of the last second plays in this game to motivate them, to help them understand all offseason long, we want to get back to this place, but we want to advance. We want to go further.
After tomorrow there's only 16 teams left in the whole country. So you're talking about pretty rare air. But I think if we continue getting better and we improve and we make progress we'll have the opportunity to be successful once again.