|Brownell, Groce postgame press conferences
Clemson Head Coach Brad Brownell
“First off, I would like to thank our fans. It was special to come out to Littlejohn today and see 10,000 fans. We appreciate those folks getting up early, going to church early and spending the day with us. I told our players before the game when I got here at 9:30, there was already a line at the gates and I had goose bumps on my neck because I was proud to see that kind of support for our program. I told our players I thought it was a great way for the fans to thank us for what we’ve been doing down the stretch. I think they appreciate how hard our team has played and how much we’ve improved. In return we thought the best way to thank them was to play hard today.
“I’d also like to congratulate Illinois. John (Groce)’s guys fight hard. I think they’re a lot like our team. They defend, both these teams fight and just don’t quit. They kept battling back. We had them a couple times when the crowd was into the game and we had them on their backs and they get up and make a play, whether it’s (Jon) Ekey making a three or (Rayvonte) Rice making a three. That’s a tough-minded, hard-fighting group to play against so that’s a good win for our team.”
On the Pittsburgh game affecting the end-of-game inbounds play:
“That certainly came to mind. We were trying to get it in, first thing. The one thing though, is that as athletic as K.J. (McDaniels) and Rod (Hall) are, they’re not great cutters. They’re strong guys and K.J. is more of a jumper than a runner. It is hard sometimes for us to get open. The great play, because we were trying to go to (Landry) Nnoko but they were fouling him and not letting him get the ball, was for Rod to get to the ball and tip it back in. Phenomenal, heads up play. Rod certainly made a great play on a difficult situation.”
On Hall’s game-winning layup:
“We really played well in the last three or four plays of the game. We told our guys if we get the stop, then we had a play called. But then we thought if we get a rebound and have an open court, then go play and trust Rod to go make a good decision. He got to the rim and scored and we called a timeout to set up our defense and then had a really good last stop on the last possession of the game.”
On Illinois’ final possessions:
“We thought about fouling. We had five fouls and a foul to give. Everybody thinks you’re a great coach if you use the foul-to-give. That’s the new masterful thing. But then the problem is that you’re at six and if they drive to the rim with a few seconds left and you foul them then they’re going to the line with a chance to beat you. That’s why we didn’t use the foul-to-give, if that helps explain that. We just expected drives to the rim or shots for Ekey. We actually went to a zone there at the end, for that last possession, a soft 2-2-1. And that time it worked.”
Illinois Head Coach Jon Groce
“Obviously it was a hard fought game. There was a great environment in here today. Great home court here, so I give the Clemson administration a lot of credit; it was a great environment for an early morning game. I would be remised if I didn’t mention Joe (Bertrand) and John (Ekey) and what they mean to me and our basketball family at Illinois. They exemplify everything we want to be about from their effort to their unselfishness and willingness to sacrifice. I’m going to miss both of those guys and I told both of them it was privilege coaching them. We look forward to always being with them as they move into the next phase of their life post-college.
“I thought those guys really battled and they didn’t reach New York City because of effort. We’ve been down double digits and came back and won, so I liked our poise and fight. In terms of the game, Clemson is very good defensively. They’re a top-20 team in the country on defense and Brad (Brownell) has done a great job with their team. At the same time, I think I would be remised to mention that we took 18 threes and my gut tells methat we will give their defense half of them, but I will be honest with you I think the other half there wasn’t anybody in the same zipcode.
“In a game like today if you just knock in seven out of 21 in and there might be a different result. Again, give their defense credit; we had six turnovers the entire game and none in the second half. I thought our defense was not very good to start the game, but our defense was very good the final 30 minutes. Again, give them credit, a great environment and game and we certainly wish them the best of luck moving forward.”
On advising against shooting threes:
“I don’t do that. I never do that, unless they’re bad ones. I do think we took two or three bad ones, but that happens. I don’t like to micromanage players because I don’t want them looking over their shoulder, but we did shoot two or three bad ones. I thought a lot of them were open and I think that was what they were giving us. Ekey shot a third of our threes. I wish he could shoot 15 a night. (Kendrick) Nunn and (Malcolm) Hill were both shooting right around 50 percent over the past 10 or 11 games. Malcolm had two that literally went in and out, but it happens. I don’t think shot selection, until the very end, was the reason.”
On the final offensive possession:
“Obviosuly (Tracy Abrams) made a lot of big plays for us throughout the year. Ray (Rice) got leveled off and pitched it to him with four seconds left; I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, he must have thought he was going to bury it. I wish he had drawn iron which would give you a chance to scramble for a rebound. It is what it is, it was his judgment and what he saw and I’m going to ride with him.”
On expectation of Clemson fouling on the final possession:
“We did, no question, because we knew they had one to give, but we were prepared either way with what we drew up depending on how we executed like we needed to.”