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“Well, when it was 13-2, I wondered who would be mad at us the most: CBS, our fans, or whoever else was tuned in watching the game. But at half time, after what I thought was a non-typical half of basketball for George Mason, we talked about how well and how consistent we had been executing game plans all season long and how I the first half was not a clear representation of our team. I just asked these guys to clear their minds pretend that the first half was a game and that one was over and we had a new game to place and just take the court with the slate clean and go out and execute like we’d been doing all season long. They did it from the opening seconds of the second half. We forced a couple of turnovers. We immediately got back in the game, gained some momentum, gained some confidence. At their first timeout, I could see it in our eyes we had recovered from that disastrous first half.”
Talk about the switch to the zone in the first half
“We’re not a zone team. At a team meeting just before practice in the week between the CAA tournament and Selection Sunday before we even knew we were going to be playing, I talked to the team about the pressure that higher seeds feel and the difficulty sometimes they have shot-making. I told them a story about when I was an assistant at the University of Virginia in 1984, we were a man to man team forever. Without even being a zone team, we put in a 1-2-2 in one day and then played it right through the tournament and it got us into the Final Four. So, I told our team, if we get into the tournament, it is likely we will have to play a higher seed and if we do, we might want to use the zone. We might need it for just a certain segment of the game. We went through it, but we only did it for like two days and put it on the back burner. And then last night at the staff meeting, the coaches said, `Hey, this might be one of those times. We might want to put it into the game plan and let the guys know that if they get their system working...if we go to the zone, we’ll just change the tempo of the game for a few minutes and that’s what happened. We needed something to just stem the tide. It worked for a while. In the second half you’ll notice, we only played it for sure one possession, maybe two.”
At halftime, did you have to tell them what they were capable of in animated fashion, and did you think they would respond like they did?
“I sat like I am like right now, speaking like I am right now. More like the teacher talking to his students about an upcoming test. I said to them, `You’re so well-prepared for this and you’ve done it so consistently well for a very long time, there is no reason that we shouldn’t do it again.’ The important thing, though, was to put the first half out of our mind and to totally focus our energies on the second half. We’ve got to get started from the opening possession. It’s Carolina’s possession, we’ve got to go after them in our scramble and get ourselves going. And that’s exactly what happened.”
On getting in to the tournament field
“We had a group at my house to watch the Selection Show. Before the show ever began, I basically put together our resume, and I said to the team, `Listen, you’ve won 23 games, you’ve won more regular season games than any other team in George Mason history. You have been voted into the ESPN/USA Today top 25 for the first time in school’s history and only the second time in conference history. You tied the conference regular season wins record with 15 conference wins. You went on national television and beat the Missouri Valley champion Wichita State on their home court in a great game that everybody saw and gained a lot of recognition for it. Your RPI overall is 26, and your non-conference PRI is 18. You played the 50th toughest non-conference schedule in the country. Whether we make this tournament or not is not how we will determine how good we are. No one else will judge ourselves. Only we will be able to look in the mirror and know that we tried to be the best that we can be. And, that if we are selected to the NCAA tournament, we’ll be given the opportunity to prove ourselves in front of the entire nation. When opportunity knocks, open the door.”
On shutting down Tyler Hansbrough in the second half and managing the clock
“You’ve got to know that he’s absolutely an incredible basketball player. His size, his strength, his agility, his scoring ability around the basket. He finds open men. He defends. He’s a beast on both backboards, but one of the things this team has been able to do is really dedicate itself to playing great team defense. Make him [Hansbrough] work for everything he gets. He’s going to have to earn it.
“The history of our program is we don’t do that. We led our league in scoring last year and finished sixth in the league. I said, `Guys, if we don’t do a better job [defensive stats], if we don’t dedicate ourselves to improving in that area, we’ll be right back in the same place a year from now.”
On the play of Sammy Hernandez
“Oh my goodness, and he would have stayed in but he got knocked unconscious. He’s unbelievable. He came over to the side and said, `Don’t take me out. Don’t take me out.’ And then he passed out. Sammy is a gamer. He was born in Florida, lived in Puerto Rico, came back to Florida. Got his education there. He’s been an outstanding young man on and off the court. He wants to play so badly and he’s got these two studs in front of him. He came in the first half and was incredible. Went to the boards, scored two quick buckets. But he has one weakness: he doesn’t get back very quickly defensively and I’m on him. I tell him, `If you don’t get back you’re coming out.’ He scored two quick buckets and I took him out and he said, `Coach!’, and I said, `What didn’t you do?’ And he said, `My fault, my fault.’ He just did a great job. He’s got a huge heart.”
Did your experienced players bother their youthful players?
“I look at things a little differently in terms of...Tyler Hansbrough’s a freshman? He doesn’t play like one. I think us having experience and confidence in ourselves, where we’re not listening to the so-called experts and prognosticators as to what they think’s going to happen. We have the ability to only be who we are. If that’s not good enough, so be it. We know what we’re capable of doing. If we control the things we can control, our effort, our attitude, our commitment to each other, our commitment to the game plan, then, hopefully, things will turn out in our favor.”
Would you call this an upset?
“I read something in the paper today. I’m not sure who said it. I can’t remember now but they said, `In this tournament there are no upsets. There are just good teams, playing hard, playing well.’ I would like to think that that’s true because the college game has changed dramatically over the years. Quite frankly, there is a lot of parity in the country now. I think the committee showed its wisdom and knowledge about the college game. I think the experience that Jim Nantz and Billy Packer has works against them a little bit in the Selection Show. They’re brilliant guys, and I’m a big fan of both of them. But their experience remembers all those great athletes and teams and future pros. They think it is the same. It’s not. Ask them how many times they saw George Mason play this year? Definitely not in person. Probably didn’t even watch any video on us, so they had no idea going into Selection Sunday what George Mason is all about. You don’t want to judge on a weekend how a team performs. You want to judge, in my opinion, on the body of work the team has done in and out of the conference. But for the NCAA tournament, if you don’t prove yourself in the non-conference and all you do is win at home in the non-conference and all you do is kind of split your conference, that doesn’t say enough in my opinion about whether or not you are deserving.”
On people saying that GMU didn’t deserve to be in the tournament
“We watched them say those comments. It kind of hurt us. We thought we deserved to be in the tournament. That’s their job to make those kinds of comments.”
On forcing turnovers
“We knew they were a young team and all season they have had some problems with turnovers. Coach L told us last night in our meeting. We wanted to force them into making some decisions. We talked again at halftime and when we came out we got some turnovers and converted them into easy baskets.”
“We pride ourselves on defense. That comes first. Defense is first. Our offense is predicated off of our defense. They scored 18 points in the first two minutes it felt like and then they scored like nine the rest of the half. We just pride ourselves on the defense.
On a late layup
“I was trying to post feed. Coach L told me to attack that’s all I needed to hear.”
On Tyler Hansbrough
In the first half we just weren’t contesting all of his shots. Second half we came out and were contesting all of us shots. That was our main goal to contest his shots.”
On being down early
“The game of basketball is 40 minutes. When it was 16-2 there was like 12 minutes left. We knew we still had time. We had to get back to our game plan. When we were able to get with our game plan. We were able to play better D and come out on top.
“At halftime coach said to be more aggressive. I just wanted the ball, just wanted to go up strong. We could get them into foul trouble if I went up strong.”
“Coach told us when we got into the tournament teams like that-Michigan State, North Carolina-they are supposed to beat us. With that on them that is a lot pressure is on them. They have to make shots, the pressure is ton them. Fortunately for us we came out and played the way we have been playing all year and we got the win.”
On the three-pointer with the shot clock winding down
“It was just one of those things. When the shot clock is going down I like those moments. To be able to create a shot. I didn’t really think I had a shot. I thought I shot to hard and it glass.”
On hitting the last free throws
“I love those moments. Free throws. We practice them every day and you just have to shoot them, with or without pressure. Any one of my teammates would have knocked them down because we wanted so badly to win this game.”
On playing Wichita State
“It’s pretty ironic. They have been talking about the MVC all year nobody has said anything about the CAA. It’s hard to believe now both of those conferences are in the sweet 16. A lot of people counted both ball clubs out. It’s a great feeling. I know they think it is revenge for them, but it is also home for us.”