That was a great college basketball game. Tennessee is a championship program. Rick and his staff, they've done a tremendous job. Their efficiency on offense was evident. There wasn't much we could do to stop them in the first half. They got great looks, and they controlled the game with their offense.
We were able to stay in range by making some shots and having some effort and energy plays. I think the pace of the first half may have had something to do with the fact we had a little bit more energy in the second half to extend and execute offensively. There were times where we didn't call timeout in the first half, when the game was beginning to get away from us. But I liked the tempo. I thought that, maybe, it could have a wearing effect on Tennessee.
Very, very proud of our seniors for how far they've come and how much they've worked to become competitive and be able to be a team in the SEC that would garner some respect amongst their peers. They did that. They've done that.
Our crowd, this is the second time that Dick Vitale has been in our arena this year. He saw a great game against Kentucky, and he saw a great game against Tennessee. And he has to leave here thinking this might be a top-25 college basketball program. Not just a top-25 team. Maybe it's a top-25 program. Wouldn't that be something?
But for those things to happen, you have to win in March. You have to win in tournament time. I told the guys before the game, win or lose, let's see where we're at. We won't be playing anybody any better than Tennessee in Nashville. Let's just see where we're at. And regardless of the outcome, let's get together, and let's go try to win three games.
You know, Grant Williams is a great, great player. Great competitor. Bone played terrific today. He obviously played 37 minutes. He's a real key. They played six guys very heavy minutes. We had just a little bit more bounce with eight guys in double-digit minutes and a touch more balance, which I think helped.
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Y’all have been asking when is Chuma going to do this, when is Chuma going to do that, and the key as a coach—and I’m not saying that at all critical, please don’t misunderstand me—but sometimes my job is to not put him in positions to fail. We all have seen him at times do those things, but he took over the game at times against Player of the Year type people in Schofield and Grant Williams, and none of us were surprised. Coach Barnes isn’t surprised; he knows how good Chuma is. But it’s been a great process to see.
The key to success is to do what you do. Jared, have eight assists and two turnovers and make shots. Bryce, shoot with a good efficiency and don’t turn the ball over. J’Von McCormick came in and gave us great, great minutes and made plays. Samir and Malik combined were very effective at the 3-position at times in the game—crucial times in the game. Great win for our program. Can’t thank our fan base and our students enough for coming out during spring break. They were treated to something special tonight.”
Jared Harper has been good late in games
“He’s had four great games. He just had four great games. In many ways, he put the team on his back, accepting the responsibility of a quarterback to have to make plays. He’s been exceptional. For us to be able to play against a really good defensive team like Tennessee and only turn it over five times, we played with some purpose. You have to. You cannot waste possessions against a team like Tennessee, as well-coached as they are. And to shoot 54 percent, 44 percent from 3, 76 percent from the line—we won the game. Tennessee didn’t lose it. We won the basketball game because of the quality of our play.”
Best ball movement this team has had?
“Yeah, that ball was flying. We had 16 assists, five turnovers, a lot of extra passes. It was contagious.”
Turned up the tempo in the second half?
“Yeah, the tempo was up, and we got rebounds and we ran. We’ve got speed and quickness that can get down the floor. It was a top-five win. Again, I’m just reflecting on the program. You have to do the stuff like that if you’re going to consider yourself a top-25 program. And then the only other thing, too, is that it’s so awesome to share it with friends and family. Dr. Leath after the game, Allen Greene, all the people that we’re working with, Coach Malzahn and Kristi, a lot of the other coaches that were there, my staff—it’s family. All those seniors and their families, all the kids. I’m very grateful for the support. We don’t win it without the building being like it is, and I’m very proud.
WHERE DO YOU THINK THIS PROGRAM/TEAM CAN GO IN MARCH AND BEYOND
"If we all guard and compete on the boards and hit shots and play together and get blessed, God's gotta bless us in so many ways. All you've gotta do is put yourself in position to let that blessing happen. It's all you can do. Work hard and put yourself in position to make plays.The more you do it, the more you become a top-25 program. And so, that's why history matters to me. Everybody in the country knows that Tennessee is a Final Four team. Everybody in the country now recognizes that Auburn is capable of beating, and in fact did beat, a Final Four team."
PLAYED WELL SINCE THE KENTUCKY BLOWOUT
"I would give my players and my coaches the credit for that, in the sense that resiliency within the framework of the locker room is all about relationships. It's my team chaplain. It's my assistant coaches Wes, Marquis, Ira, Steven, Chad, Mike, Ryan, the managers, Ian keeping it together. We started 2-4 because we had three games on the road and lost a home game to Kentucky. That's why we started off 2-4. Also, Austin was hurting early in the year. He went out after the third or fourth game, and probably leading up to that, never really hit his stride at the start of the SEC season. So he was out there playing through some pain, not playing as well. Plus the road. But I think we're 9-3 since that start in as tough of a league as there is in the country. So you talk about resiliency and mental toughness and confidence within the framework of the locker room.
We went on the road and we won at Georgia, we won at Alabama, won at Vanderbilt. You know, we’re 3-1 in our last four road games—for a team that can’t win on the road. You must continue to win to change perception."
Three weeks back, said the good news was y’all weren’t playing your best yet. Doing so now after going 5-1?...
“I would say we are playing our best basketball. Part of it is the quality of our opponent bringing it out. You don’t play your best basketball at Georgia, at Alabama, home against Mississippi State, home against Tennessee, you’re going to get beat. So, part of it was being in position to be able to do those things, and you know, guys stepping up. Going to their strengths and staying away from their weaknesses; that’s the biggest thing. What do you do? Go to your strengths, stay away from your weaknesses, and I think you’re seeing more and more roles defined.
Why not more Chuma on Grant Williams?...
“Yeah, you know, Chuma—I’ll make a shoutout. I’m going to ask the coaches in our league to please vote for Chuma on the All-Defensive team. It’s not an inappropriate request, because he’s not going to lead the league in steals or blocked shots or statistics that will say that. I ask my respected colleagues if they trust my opinion. He is a tremendous defender. He can guard Jordan Bone. He can guard Kira Lewis on switches, and Admiral Schofield. One of the reasons why he has a tremendous future in the NBA is he can guard any position on the floor. He has the size, the length, the foot speed to stay in front. He is always in the right place defensively. Always. Because he may not block shots or get a ton of steals, he may not be in people’s minds. I hope not. I sure hope he makes that, because he’s—he’s as good as I’ve coached defensively.”
So why not more Chuma on Grant Williams?...
“Either foul trouble—here’s why: Who would guard Schofield? So, in a sense—I actually started to make the change in a timeout, but then I would’ve had to put either Anfernee or Horace on Schofield, and that would’ve pulled them to the perimeter, and I didn’t like that. So, I’ll stick with Anfernee and Horace. I mean, Anfernee and Horace, down the stretch we got to get a rebound, we got to get a stop. Next time."
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