No wordy intro from me today, just an apology that this took so long to post. Thanks to Tom for taking the time to chat Thursday afternoon. More coming later tonight!
After coming so close to knocking off an upper-tier team this season, what does it mean to finally close out a big win on the road over a top team like this?
A few years ago, I probably would have been riding Charles for turning the ball over all the time. I just let him play through it and he had the confidence and he was able to make the plays at the end of the game to help us win. The way we won recently on the road—at Delaware, at Madison, at Towson early in the year—we won by double figures on the road and we found a way to go win another road game by double digits. We were able to build off those past experiences.
Is this the biggest regular season win for the program since the days of Loren Stokes, Carlos Rivera and Antoine Agudio?
I’m so bad with that stuff. [SID] Jeremy [Kniffin] would be a better answer. But yeah, the one that sticks in my mind is going to Old Dominion and they had a long winning streak when we had Stokes, Rivera and Agudio and we won at ODU. That was a great one. This was an important one for us because we wanted to have an opportunity to have a winning record in conference and this gives us that, if we win Saturday. And also, if we win Saturday, it probably makes us the hottest team going into the tournament.
The term we used before the game was ’40 minutes, our will to win.’ We can’t play 20 minutes against them. At our place we didn’t play the second half the way we’re capable of playing. Everybody stayed on task [Tuesday] and especially [with] the defensive effort in the second half. And [as for Jenkins] hey, look, that’s what the great ones do, take over a game when we need them to win.
The win might not have been possible without Halil Kanacevic’s performance, particularly in the first half. How impressed were you with him playing so well in such a big road game as a freshman?
We kid around: How scary is he going to be when he’s a senior if he can do that kind of stuff as a front court player as a freshman? I think him and Chaz might negate [each other] for Rookie of the Year and [Drexel’s Chris] Fouch might win it. I couldn’t only put one of them on the ballot. I’d rather have both of them be all-rookie team than have one of them win it and the other not be on the rookie team. He’s just—they’ve both been great.
How pleased were you with Cornelius Vines on defense and what in particular did the team do so well overall on defense in the second half?
I was very pleased with [Vines] defending Janning and doing a great job. Janning shot 3-of-13. And [Vines is] a different player and we’re a different team when he’s making shots early in the game because it creates such space offensively when they have to worry about him well beyond the arc. And that really gave an opportunity to Chaz to get into the lane and wreck havoc.
We really took it to another level defensively [in the second half]. We stayed disciplined, we didn’t bail them out of any possessions with silly fouls or jump shot fouls late in the clock. We made them beat us over the top and we really kept the ball in front of us.
Did you sense the momentum change when Chaisson Allen missed that free throw that would have given them a 62-61 lead?
I really thought when Charles missed the two [technical free throws] on the other end—I was like oh man, instead of us going up [six], we’re only going to be up [four]. But the worm turned after that.
Your goals are obviously not all met yet, but how proud are you of the team and your coaching staff in terms of how everyone has been able to turn this season around?
I’m very, very proud of them. The thing I said to them—and this goes from Van [Macon] to our GAs [graduate assistants] every time in staff meetings was ‘Guys, we’ve just got to grind it out. They can’t see that we’re rattled. We’re just going to grind it out and push them and good things will happen.’ And I truly believe that. Sometimes, as a coach, you kind of convince yourself of it. But I think this is as good a job as my staff has ever done. They’ve really done a wonderful job to get us where we’re at now. And hopefully that can continue.
3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Northeastern, 2/23)
3: Charles Jenkins
2: Halil Kanacevic
1: Cornelius Vines
Charles Jenkins 60
Chaz Williams 27
Halil Kanacevic 22
Miklos Szabo 21
Nathaniel Lester 19
Cornelius Vines 15
Greg Washington 15
Yves Jules 1