Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams, players Ahmed Hill, Kerry Blackshear Jr., on win over Liberty
Q. Congratulations. For the players, Ahmed, you especially seemed very happy there at game’s end. What was going through your mind when you won that game to advance to the Sweet 16?
AHMED HILL: I was just thinking about all the hard work that we put in during the offseason and all the adversity we went through during the season with losing J. Rob and other players.
I just was excited that me and this group of guys get to play again. We didn’t want it to be the last time we were together. We feel like we’re a special group, and we just want to prolong our playing time together.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR, JR.: For me, I just thought about all the people who have been a part of the program, people who helped me in life both on and off the court. This moment is so big for us, so big for everybody in this program. I thought of Ernest. I thought of Devin Wilson. Thought of Coach Reynolds. Thought of Bibbs, just all those people who helped us get to this point. It’s been a long journey. So I’m glad to be here.
Q. For both you guys, what was the difference defensively in the second? You really seemed to lock down defensively in the second half. What was the difference there?
AHMED HILL: I just thought we came out with more energy. First half I thought we played defense, but we kind of was just “eh.” I think when we picked up the intensity and kind of talked to one another, we began to move better, faster, sharper, mentally, and I think that was the difference.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR, JR.: I think Med’s energy was a big start to how we started the second half. He’s our engine on both ends of the floor, and I think he did a really good job of extending pressure for them. And they took a couple of tough shots to start the half, and I think that’s what sparked the run and that’s how we started scoring a little bit more.
Q. Kerry, you guys held them to four offensive rebounds. Seemed like the second half every time they put up a shot you were holding them to one shot. What would help you guys do so well on the board in terms of limiting them to one shot so much of the time?
KERRY BLACKSHEAR, JR.: Limited paint touches helped us. When they’re not penetrating us and getting us in rotation, we’re able to all be in position to rebound. Our guards did a really good job of rebounding. Ty did an outstanding job especially in the second half, just going and getting it on both ends of the floor. I think just staying out of rotation helped a lot.
Q. Med, a few minutes left, you guys are clinging to I think a six-point lead at the time. Inbound pass from Justin Robinson. You slipped inside Scottie James for an alley-oop layup there. Got the foul, got the lay-up, got the free throw. How critical was that to go up nine at that point and give yourselves a cushion?
AHMED HILL: That was huge. That was kind of like a little thing that we kind of see if the man is not looking, kind of just throw it up. And thanks to God I got an and-one and the ball went in. I just try to bring as much energy as possible, and I start yelling, and I knew it gets the guys going. So that’s all I tried to do.
Q. For both players, in what way is your team a reflection of your coach?
KERRY BLACKSHEAR, JR.: I think it starts with his consistency that gives us energy on and off the floor. I think he’s dedicated to teaching us, and I think we got a group that’s dedicated to learning. And I think that extends to the floor.
AHMED HILL: Yeah, how to say that is just he always teaches us life lessons, no matter what. After the game, he taught us another life lesson, and it’s just not basketball. It’s just, you know, he teaches us every day. Every time we’re around him he teaches us, and he’s always in the gym lifting. He’ll see us, he’ll yell at us, tell us, I’m in there.
Guys just work. He’s a worker, and it kind of just wears off on us, and when the freshmen come in they see it all, him working out and other coaches getting in the gym working out as well. So I think our program is built on the right culture of blue-collar guys that just want to work.
Q. Congratulations on punching your ticket to the Sweet 16, guys.
AHMED HILL: Thank you.
Q. Yesterday Liberty was able to put up 80 points against Mississippi State, and today you held them to 56. What was your defensive game plan, and how do you control the pace of the game so well?
BUZZ WILLIAMS: That was the best question asked thus far, Max. Congratulations. You’re on your way. Competition is not too tough.
AHMED HILL: I think we just wanted to limit paint touches. We want to limit them from getting to the rim and make them shoot long contested threes. In the first half, they hit a lot of shots. And as a program, you kind of want to just deter from that, and we kind of looked at each other like what’s going on. Thanks to our coaches, they kind of made us stick with the game plan. And in the second half we just tried to do our best and get a rebound.
Q. Congratulations on the win again. How excited on a scale of 1 to 100 are you guys about advancing to Sweet 16?
AHMED HILL: 500.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR, JR.: There’s not a number for that. It’s crazy. Just excited to be there.
Q. To follow up on that now you’ve got Duke again, when you beat them the last time last month, you didn’t have Justin. They didn’t have Zion. Just the competitor in you, kind of get your juices flowing with the idea of playing Duke with Zion this time?
KERRY BLACKSHEAR, JR.: He’s a really great player. They’re a really great team. With or without him they got five really good guys on the floor. And we got J. Rob back, so that does so much for our team. We’re excited to have an opportunity to play them again, especially on a neutral site in Washington, D.C., and it’s Sweet 16. So opportunity to get to the Elite Eight.
AHMED HILL: Very excited just to play.
BUZZ WILLIAMS: Perfect answer.
Q. At the end of the game, everyone seemed to have a different reaction. Alexander-Walker just kind of stood to the corner, didn’t really — he just looked shocked. Hill, you were jumping up and down. Can you just describe what you were seeing on the floor at the end and what you’re thinking through your mind right now?
AHMED HILL: I think it’s different emotions for every other player. My emotions was I’m just excited to be able to play again with these guys. I’m a senior, and just all the work that has been put into the program just seems to be pouring out, and I’m just really excited to be able to be a part of this program and continue to play.
MODERATOR: Okay. Great. Thanks, guys. We’ll excuse Ahmed and Kerry, and we’re open it up to Coach.
Q. Buzz, the last few seconds, J. Rob dribbles over to you, you guys are sharing a smile and a few words right there. What did you guys say to each other?
BUZZ WILLIAMS: Just that I’m so excited for him. To miss 12 games as the all-time leader in assists, and there was never any assurance that he was going to be able to play again. Obviously we were all hoping that, but he hasn’t played since January. And for him to be able to come back on this stage and obviously be a part of winning on Friday and then to continue our season, just thankful, thankful for my relationship with him. Thankful for my relationship with his parents, thankful for how all of this has transpired.
Regardless of how it plays out, right, he was able to end his career in this manner is so much better than him sitting over there in civilian clothes.
Q. Coach, how special is it to you to make it back to the Sweet 16 for the Hokies, first time since 1967? I mean that’s like 52 years ago. Gotta be a pretty big accomplishment, I imagine.
BUZZ WILLIAMS: Do you think in 1967 that when they won two games that they called it the Sweet 16?
Q. Probably not. I don’t remember.
BUZZ WILLIAMS: I think it was a 32-team tournament back before I was born. Is that right?
BUZZ WILLIAMS: Only 23 teams went.
Q. They went two games to get to the Elite Eight.
BUZZ WILLIAMS: But you’re saying only 23 teams went to the tournament?
Q. Yes, sir.
BUZZ WILLIAMS: And so which team didn’t play in the first round?
Q. There were a bunch of byes, because they had to win two games to get to the Elite Eight.
BUZZ WILLIAMS: Interesting. I didn’t know that. Awesome. Much respect to those in 1967 that did it. We’re glad to join them.
Q. Buzz, just to follow up on that, you’re used to getting to this round with Marquette, but to get this school to this point, to get this group of guys to this point, how satisfying is it to you that you’re able to experience this with this school and this group of guys?
BUZZ WILLIAMS: Yeah, incredibly satisfying. Not because of me. Whatever has transpired to this point, regardless of where I was employed, it was always the people. Right?
I think just listening to those guys, and if you were at a press conference at one of the other Sweet 16s we were a part of, I don’t know that they would be as polished as K and Med. But the message would be the same.
It’s just the things that you learn at vacation Bible school. Right? This is the church, this is the steeple, open it up and there’s the people. And anytime you have success, it’s always the people. And it’s the people that never get their nameplate. It’s the people that are putting in the same number of hours and sacrificing relative to their lives the same things that those of us that do have a microphone get to.
So very humbled, overwhelmed with gratefulness. Difficult to articulate how you feel, but to be able to continue to have a chance to play is an unbelievable feeling in the last week of March, for sure.
Q. What was the lesson you taught your players after the game?
BUZZ WILLIAMS: Yeah, there is a lot of give and take. I think they make it sound like I’m doing all the teaching. What I wanted to teach them is what I learned from them. You can Google it. There’s been unbelievable number of things that were out of our control that have transpired over the last — even since last July, not just the season, just categorically, chronologically. And I wanted to teach them what I had learned from them.
But it’s a lot of give and take anytime I’m trying to teach them, because I want to make sure that they understand. The message was clarity of purpose brings perspective. And the lessons that I have learned from them have brought so much clarity to who I need to be as a husband, who I need to be as a father, who I need to be, not necessarily as a coach, more so as a leader.
I’ve just been so inspired by how they have handled things that they couldn’t control. And to be able to see all of it come to fruition has scarred my heart forever in a good way. And I think maybe because of my immaturity I wasn’t as clear on some of the things that are most important, and these kids, slash, their parents, have taught me that. And so that was the lesson.
Q. Coach, how did you get your team motivated coming into this tournament after losing in a heartbreaker to Florida State in the ACC tournament?
BUZZ WILLIAMS: It wasn’t hard. I don’t have to do a lot of motivating. I don’t say much prior to a game, particularly in the locker room that would be deemed motivational. I’m very linear in how I think. I understand that I function with emotion, but when it’s time to work, I think I’m very linear. And so what I told our guys after we got beat by Florida State, I thought it was the best loss since we’ve been here.
I think Florida State is incredibly good. And I had written on the board that it would be a 45-minute game. I had written on the board the five things that we had to do in order to have a chance to win, and I remember telling them at the end of regulation, guys, you seem shocked that we’re playing another five minutes. I knew it was going to be another five minutes because that’s what it had been the previous week when we played at Florida State.
I don’t have to motivate these guys. They want to play. More importantly, they want to do right. And similar to what Med said, they’re workers by nature, and so I don’t know if that answers your question, but it wasn’t hard.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach. We’ll end it there.