“We can make this short if you want to because I’ll just say I don’t know, I don’t know and I don’t know. Now if you have any question that can be answered by that it’ll really be something. We’re as happy as we can possibly be. We’re 179 degrees away from where we were after the UAB game. Tuesday’s practice was really good. I still chewed them out during the course of practice. Last night when we got here, first time ever we made them continue looking at the tape of the UAB game for almost an hour last night. I told them at that point then the UAB game was over with. We had already given them the scouting report on Michigan State but we emphasized Michigan State today.
“We were really good. I’ll just tell you that’s the way I felt. We were active. We were disciplined on the offensive end. We were active on the boards. We were aware of what was going on offense, much more so than we have been. Rebound battle, when you’re playing Tom’s (Izzo) team it’s always a big time battle. I believe rebounding is extremely important and I think he does as well. I will have to think after the last 10 years, Michigan State and North Carolina have been two, at worst, of the five best defenses in the country for a 10-year period. We wanted to emphasize that.
“They’re a really gifted team but we were very fortunate tonight. That’s the bottom line. We made some shots we haven’t been making in the first half. That gave us a little confidence. I told them the same thing at half time today that I did against Louisville. We were tied both times and I said, ‘We didn’t play great but we can play a heck of a lot better in the second half.’ You look down our chart, we have five guys in double figures. We had a lot of guys that were involved in it. Outrebounded them 49 to 38. We shoot 52 percent in the second half, they shoot 31. Tom’s club missed some shots that they normally make and we defended around the rim.
“That’s one thing we’ve been doing better this year, blocking shots than we did last year. Brice (Johnson) and Kennedy (Meeks) gave us a big lift off the bench offensively and I think both of them were even better defensively than they have been. I just thought that J.P. (Tokoto) and Nate Britt really stepped up. It wasn’t just the Marcus Paige show today. I thought the first three or four minutes of the second half was crucial and he had either five or seven points early in the second half. We got it tied and Brice got two baskets in a row and then J.P. got a couple there as well. We didn’t exactly set the world on fire from the free throw line but we made enough and got a couple of stops on the other end.”
What did you learn about your team tonight?
“Who knows. You would have thought after the Louisville game I would have learned a lot then and I learned that we could go to UAB and play poorly. But UAB really wanted it so much more than we did. Today Michigan State did not want it that much more than we did. I think that want to is always something that has been extremely important to me.
“You know, again, you can’t tell in college basketball what’s going to happen. I mean I looked out there today at one time I had three freshman, a sophomore and a junior on the court. We don’t have a senior traveling with us. You know kids are going to do wacko things and you hope you do enough good ones on game night.”
Comments on J.P. Tokoto’s performance:
“I thought J.P was really active and I said on my radio show the other night, defensively he didn’t play very well against UAB. Everybody thought he played well because he scored but he didn’t play very well defensively. Today I thought he did a lot of things that were really good. He rebounded the ball, 12 points 10 rebounds, six for 10 from the floor. The biggest things with him is he’s so athletic and when he’s into the game mentally and being very cautious with his shot selection and being very cautious with the basketball and not turning it over then he can really help you in so many ways.
“We’ve got to get him to focus on that but again it’s a tie score and Brice scored twice in a row and J.P. scored three in a row. I think those were big for us. I was a little concerned at the end, his shoulder had gotten hurt. He’d gotten elbowed in the head so I was going to keep him out there for a couple to see if he’s alright and the lineup that we had in was doing really well and yet J.P. was one of our biggest cheerleaders on the bench during that time as well.
“I did not keep him out because of free throw percentage. I will make substitutions like that and I always have but it was just when I took him out the group that was in there was really doing very well and he understood that. He was excited about our team.”
Has the mood of the team been up and down like their play on the court this season or more even-keeled?
“It’s been more up and down but kids, bad things happen and they get rid of them in a half hour. Coaches, we live with UAB with 72 hours or however long it is until the next game. 18, 19, 20 year olds get rid of bad things a lot quicker. They enjoyed the Louisville game. They didn’t enjoy the UAB game. I did not allow them to do it a lot of the time but I wasn’t with them all the time. You can’t just depend on their emotions. You’ve got to keep pushing them to try to do it all of the time.”
Have you ever been a part of a team with this many wild swings of momentum?
“I have no idea. I’m old. God almighty guys, this is 26 years as a head coach. I couldn’t go back and see. I have no idea. I know we’ve gotten killed a lot of times and we’ve beaten the crap out of a lot of people too. I’d hate to think it’s been worse than this. I hate to think there’s worse than this.”
In both this game and against Louisville, you jumped out to a lead early - how important was that?
"Every part of the game is important. The other day everybody said the first part of the second half against Louisville was important; I didn’t think that at all. Today, I thought that the first part of the second half was important. We tried to take their crowd a little bit out of it. At home, I just want to play for 40 minutes. I’ve never been one of those guys to choose one part of the game. We made some shots early in the game. Nate (Britt) made a big shot, James Michael (McAdoo) made two jump shots, Marcus (Paige) wasn’t making anything in the first half. It was good to go into half with Marcus Paige with two points, and that was important to us as well because everybody thinks we’re so one-dimensional. Second half, I was mad at the end when we scored and didn’t sprint back on defense with six seconds left to play."
It looked like you guys played with more energy than the home team tonight. Do you agree with that?
"I can’t speak to Tom’s team, he’ll have to answer that. There’s North Carolina, there’s Duke, Kentucky, Indiana, that have been great for 100 years. Jud Heathcote and Magic Johnson made this place and Tom Izzo has just done an unbelievable job for 19 years. He’s taking it to another level and maintaining it. If you look at what he’s done for 19 years as head coach, it’s hard for anybody to match that. I can’t sit up here and try to evaluate his team. He’s one of the great coaches, you can ask him that."
How do you explain your success against Tom Izzo?
"My players have played better on game days than his players have. That’s the bottom line. I’m not a better coach than Tom Izzo by any means. Just on that one game day, my teams have played really well. Sometimes, we’ve had more talent too. I mean, in 2009 I was dumb enough to beat them in the regular season by whatever it was and I told our team we’d beat them more in the finals. I got some people in Detroit mad at me because I said I didn’t care that much about the state of their economy, let’s let it suffer for another day. I’ve got some coaches that I have a great deal of respect for that we have great records against and I’ve got some coaches that kicked our tails."