NC State coach Kevin Keatts, players Markell Johnson, Torin Dorn, on win over Clemson in ACC Tournament
KEVIN KEATTS: So guys, what a great ACC game, especially to open up on Wednesday when you talk about a 12:00 noon game. I told these guys I don’t think they woke up until about 1:00 and we started to plan. We didn’t do a great job in the first half. I thought we played on the back of our heels, and consequently you look at it, Clemson jumped out to a 16-point lead at half, and we gave up eight three-pointers which traditionally we’re a good three-point defensive team. We talked about halftime, it wasn’t about X’s and O’s, it was about how much heart and desire and effort you would put into it, and I told them, I said, if you played extremely hard, we’ll come out with a win, and these guys were special. Markell, I thought he was tremendous down the stretch. He made big threes, and then obviously sealed the game by making two big free throws. But great win for us, and we survive and advance. Questions?
Q. Phil just announced that you guys had the second largest comeback in ACC history. What did you say during halftime to get your guys rallied to come back?
KEVIN KEATTS: Well, we were all disappointed. The team that you saw in the first half was not NC State basketball, and for us to get to this point and play that way we did in the first half, we wasn’t happy. So honestly, it was — I’m not a guy to yell all the time, but there was a little yelling going on, and give these guys credit. I thought they responded.
Q. Coach, I think my question similar to that, I was going to say, what was the message that you were able to deliver to keep these guys in a positive frame of mind to where they could mount such a gigantic comeback?
KEVIN KEATTS: We talked about play as hard as you can for 20 minutes and we’ll live with the results. That being said, I knew if we came out and defended the way we were capable of, then obviously we would have a chance to win the game. Like I told you, Markell made big shots down the stretch. I thought Jericole Hellens made a three for us down the stretch and Devin Daniels and I can point to every guy in that locker room that played for NC State and not for each other.
I thought in the first half we pounded the ball too much. We didn’t share the ball. We didn’t outplay in ball movement, and we cleaned that up in the second half.
Q. Markell, take us through the last 20 seconds or so when they had three fouls to give and were fouling you, and did you feel like the last foul was in the act of shooting, and talk about the pressure free throws that you had to shoot one at a time with like two minutes apart?
KEVIN KEATTS: Are you really going to ask do you think that foul was in the act of shooting? 100 percent it was.
MARKELL JOHNSON: Yeah, going back on that, I definitely think it was, and just going back on the free throws, I’ve been in a situation like that versus Virginia, and I just wanted to just give it back to my team for what I did in Virginia the first game, and that’s make the free throws.
Q. Torin, a lot of talk about bubble status and NCAA Tournament hopes. Did you guys think much about that going into today, about not losing a game that could really hurt you in Selection Sunday, or were you focused on that at all?
TORIN DORN: We don’t really try to focus on things like that, we try to let the powers that be handle that and we just play and focus on the next game next game next opponent.
Q. Markell, could you go through that final play? They had fouled you a couple of times and still had one more foul to give. What were you looking for there, and how did you execute that getting in there when they did foul you?
MARKELL JOHNSON: I was just trying to take the best shot as possible getting into the lane, and he just fouled me.
Q. Did you think they might try to foul you again with a foul to give?
MARKELL JOHNSON: Yeah, definitely. I was already thinking that in my head, that they might foul me again.
Q. Markell, at the 5:38 mark when you hit the three that gave you the lead, you smiled. What was going through your mind at that time? Did you know you guys were in it?
MARKELL JOHNSON: Yeah, I knew my teammates had my back from whatever, like from when I shot that three. They had my back the whole game, but they really boosted me. They really helped me. They encouraged me to keep going there down the stretch.
Q. Torin, for you to be from here and to be a part of a win like this in this building, in your city, what’s that like for you?
TORIN DORN: You know, it’s special being from here and being able to get a first win in the ACC Tournament and us being in a similar situation, being down and coming back and falling a little short in the tournament and being able to come back this year, falling down and being able to pull it off was good for our team, and it shows a mature team and a team that’s growing.
Q. For the players, you guys had to expend a lot of energy to come from 16 down to win this game. Now you have to turn around and face a top seed in less than 24 hours. Conservation of energy? What’s it going to be like for you guys tonight? And Coach, if you want to weigh in on this, as well, how do you keep your guys fresh for tomorrow?
TORIN DORN: We just turn the page and get ready for the next game, take all the necessary steps to get our bodies right. But this is something that we prepare for. We just practice extremely hard, and it’s kind of an identity for us, so we just get back and get some rest and get prepared for tomorrow.
KEVIN KEATTS: Yeah, I would say everybody is going to do through the same situation. Obviously Virginia has a bye that they’ve earned, a double bye, but when it comes to tournament time, I think we have a team that’s built for that. I’ve got nine guys that right now I feel like I can put in the game and be ready to contribute right away. What’ll happen is we’ve got to use some more guys and try to shorten some guys’ minutes.
Q. Earlier this week you talked about how you liked the tournament being in Charlotte and how you’d potentially like it to be in Raleigh. Just by the crowd and the ovation you guys were getting as you were making that comeback, what is your impression of the crowd and how they came out to support you guys?
KEVIN KEATTS: Well, let’s start off with this: This is the best tournament in college basketball. Everybody knows it. When I was growing up, I used to love to come to this tournament, when I was a prep school coach I would love to come to this tournament. Now that I’m coaching in the ACC, I don’t think there’s anything better than this.
I said those things because obviously I think this Carolina, the state of Carolina is where this tournament deserves to be.
Now, if it moves somewhere else, then certainly we’re going to go. But our fans were great. We travel well. We’ve got a passionate fan base, and that’s what I love about our fans.
Q. Markell, that time-out between the two free throws gave you some time to think. What was kind of running through your mind in the huddle and then by yourself while you were waiting to shoot that second free throw?
MARKELL JOHNSON: Really just making it. That was the only thing going through any mind, stepping up to the line, being confident and knocking it in. That was really it.
Q. Knowing the last game that you played against UVA, that game going into overtime, how much confidence do you have going into this one knowing the game plan that you had last time nearly worked?
KEVIN KEATTS: Yeah, you know, we say this all the time. I think styles make fights. But I think my team is very confident. Our last two games we were able to go on the road and play great defensively against Boston College, and we held them to 26.7 percent, and then we put together a great second half, obviously, today, and so we’re going in as a confident team. We know that they’re a very good basketball team. We respect — Tony has done a tremendous job with their program, but our guys are excited to play.
Q. Defensive rebounding had improved against Wake Forest and against Boston College today and in the second half especially, Clemson got a lot of second shots. They didn’t always make them, but they kind of prolonged your taking over the game. How do you shore that up for tomorrow?
KEVIN KEATTS: Well, we’ve got to do a good job. You know this because you’ve followed us all year. We’re not the biggest team, and so we have to do a great job of gang rebounding, all five guys gotta do a great job of rebounding, and that’s something that we’ve to clean up.
Q. What’s Eric Lockett’s availability for this ACC Tournament?
KEVIN KEATTS: Yeah, I don’t know yet. It wouldn’t be fair to say because he hasn’t practiced with our team yet, and so I couldn’t even tell you what type of shape he’s in.
Q. Torin, there were a couple more seconds today, but against Georgia Tech, the inbound pass, the receiver caught it with a good head of steam heading in toward his front court. Today Reed did not. Did you guys specifically try to keep that from happening, and could you go through your defensive mindset on that play?
TORIN DORN: Our defensive mindset was just to keep the guys in front and not fouling and force a tough shot like we did. I think that you never want to lose a game like that, but us losing that game against Georgia Tech helped us today, being able to clean those things up towards the end of games.
Q. Kevin, you made a point, it might have been even the Clemson game the first time, about the way you guys play, that you can be in any game, that this team could hang around with the style of play. I’m curious how much that helps you think in that situation today when you’re down big in the first half, that if they do what they do, you know that they can get back in the game?
KEVIN KEATTS: Yeah, I think this team is built for that. We don’t want to — I think somebody said that was the second largest comeback in ACC history. I don’t want to be in that position all the time.
Our guys’ mind and mental, they think that they can win every game. That’s great going in. We’ve only got four guys who have really participated in any postseason play, would be these two guys and then C.J. Bryce and Braxton Beverly. So I’ve challenged these guys to take ownership in their team and to will the other guys a win. But I like our guys. I like how hard we compete. There’s no quit in us.