MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: The tournament is crazy, and you saw two games today where all four teams won a half. Thank goodness for us, we won the last minute of the second half. We knew going into the game, we’re playing a championship-level team and a team that’s old, extremely well-coached and together. Everything went unbelievable for us in the first half, but I didn’t think we ended the half well.
It was one of those halves where everything we shot went in. They had open looks. I think they were 1-11 from three in the first half, and we told — I told my staff at halftime, I said, you know, we have kind of like fool’s gold a little bit, in that we think we’re playing better defense than we are. Because their two wings are 40 percent three-point shooters, and they didn’t hit a shot, and in the second half they did.
And then Sherrod had a great game. The weight of the world was on our kids, and for a young group — Brandon hitting those two free throws is just a magnificent play.
There can’t be more pressure on him, and it’s a one-and-one, and we tip the ball in to make it a three-point. I don’t think they tipped it; I think we tipped it in. So it was one of those things where everything — okay, basketball gods, what else are we going to do here now? And they put Brandon Ingram on the line, and he came through.
So we beat a heck of a team. You can’t simulate that type of game pressure. And for our kids to respond — the 1-3-1 helped us immensely, and then to hit those free throws down the stretch were terrific. And we’re very proud of winning our 25th game and being a Sweet 16 team. I mean, that’s a heck of a thing for this group.
Q. Just talk about — is three-point shooting infectious? Luke hits two in a row, and the rest of the team just goes off on them.
GRAYSON ALLEN: I think for us, the three-point shot is something that can give us energy. And we do have a lot of shooters on our team where we can get hot like we did in the first half. Luke starts the day hitting his first shot, Brandon starts hitting his first shot, I hit my first shot. And it can go like that for us where guys can get hot, and I think as a team we feed off of each other when we’re doing that.
Q. Brandon, can you explain, as a player, what it’s like in that moment that Coach was talking about, what’s going through your head as you’re stepping to the line to kind of sink those free throws with pretty much the entire gym kind of going against you?
BRANDON INGRAM: What was going through my head is kind of going back to practice. Coach Scheyer yesterday made me shoot about 100 free throws from the free-throw line. I knew I was there for a reason. He put me in that position because I was going to be put in that position at the end of the game, and I just went back to my roots and tried to knock the shots down.
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: One thing about that, John did a good thing. He hit 67 in a row after going 5-10 against Wilmington. Keep shooting extra free throws. (Laughter). And keep listening to Coach Scheyer.
Q. Grayson, obviously you guys take a huge lead into the half. Your coach is obviously trying to make sure you keep that sense of urgency. Are the players talking to each other on the court amongst yourselves, trying to make sure that you don’t let up and allow Yale back into that game?
GRAYSON ALLEN: We were. We were talking to each other. But at the same time, Yale is a really good team and we knew they weren’t going to give up, so we knew they were going to make a run. It was just up to us to respond to that run, stay composed, stay calm, and keep playing our basketball. Start out the half, they came out hitting shots and, for us, we shouldn’t let the momentum carry and stop us from playing free and playing confident.
Q. Coach K talked about how, toward the end of the first half, he sensed a little bit of fool’s gold and you guys started to slow down. Did you guys on the court sense that, as well?
GRAYSON ALLEN: Well, he said it to us at halftime that those guys had gotten open looks, and they just hadn’t knocked down the shots. So in the second half, we couldn’t give them those open looks, and we did start to off the half, and they knocked them down. And so for us, we had to be mindful of that going through the whole second half, that those guys had just made a shot, and that gives you confidence when you make a shot. So we had to be mindful of where they were, and at the same time, try to keep Mason under control.
Q. Grayson, in that moment in the second half when there’s so much pressure and you guys are trying to hold onto the lead, how much does playing at Duke help you because you guys get everybody’s best shot every time. So in that moment, in that second half when everybody is kind of against you and there’s that push, how much does past experience of being at Duke and having that pressure constantly help you guys as a team weather the storm?
GRAYSON ALLEN: Well, for us we had to come together. I think it was pretty similar to the ACC Tournament when we had a big lead against Notre Dame, and Notre Dame came back, but in that game we didn’t come together. In this game, thankfully, we had that experience that we needed to come together as a team. Because playing against a great team like that, they’re going to make a run. They’re going to keep fighting, and they have guys who can really score the ball. So for us really coming together — we had a lot of huddles in the second half to just make sure guys were composed and just ready to play.
Q. As impressive as both Wichita State’s comeback in the first game and, certainly, Yale’s in this game were, it’s also pretty impressive — especially for a young team like yours — to not panic and not let that get away. Certainly from the perspective you’ve had — not that you’ve been on the comeback end that often — how impressive is it for a team to not lose its poise and lose the game?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: It’s a great point, and you’re right. Not just you, but everyone is going to write their articles, and you can say you blew a lead or whatever. Teams are — good teams are going to get on runs, and championship teams get on runs and win, and so Yale is a championship team. They’re 18-1 since Christmas. For us to weather that storm and have the wherewithal to be able to win, change the defense to 1-3-1 — what Brandon did on top of that zone was magnificent because he shaded Mason and gave the other kids a little bit more room. So Mason never — it wasn’t just the 1-3-1, it was how he was playing it. You can’t practice against that unless you have a guy who’s 6’8 1/2″ and a 7’3″ wingspan. So you’re absolutely right. I’m proud of our guys. I told them after the game, and at the last time-out, I told them how proud I was of them, because, especially in this tournament, teams lose those games. I mean, we see it — the tournament is only — once we get to 64, three days old. Are you kidding me? All the — all the — it’s incredible because people always believe in miracles during this time, and they don’t believe that they’re ever out of it.
What that produces is miracles, or the response, tough responses like we had tonight — well, this afternoon. I think Andy Katz asked yesterday how come there is so much parity, and I talked about championship teams. But also some of the teams that are — Yale is not this, because they’re a championship team — but it’s like free money, you know. And they don’t face that during the year. So they’re a championship team, and then they’re expected not to win. And all of a sudden, that combination produces something in a human being, and human beings that create this type of attitude, this miracle, I can do a miracle, I can hit a shot, we can win. And it’s magnificent. It’s magnificent.
What we have to do, because we’re expected to win no matter who we are — age or number of players — we have to be able to respond to that. And tonight, this afternoon — again, I keep saying — this afternoon, we were able to do that at the end. I’m very proud of my team for being able to do that.
Q. Obviously yesterday a lot was talked about Makai Mason. In the post game you two shared a couple moments. What did you say to him there?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Yeah, just what a magnificent year he’s had. I wanted him to know I do remember you, we just recruited Tyus. But we loved him. One of the things we loved about him was his relationship with his father. And it’s produced something deep, a love for the game, a belief in yourself to go along with his talents. That’s what I told him is you should tell your dad, thank you, because the two of you have been a great team to make you a great player.
Q. Coaches write keys on the white board before the game. Which of your pregame keys do you feel Duke won?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Just more points than them. That was the main thing. It’s obviously we didn’t rebound very well, but we knew we were going to get open shots. And we told our guys — a big key for the game was to be ready to shoot. And against Wilmington, Wilmington pressed, and they created this full-court thing where you were more catch-and-dribble. Yale plays good defense, but they give you a little bit of room. And although it’s good man, you’ve got to be careful where it doesn’t stand you up.
So a key to the ballgame was be ready to shoot, and our guys were. We did that extremely well, and it negated — we were able to overcome the rebounding differential as a result of that. And that’s what we have to do anyway. We’re not going to be that much better at rebounding. But when those three kids score, 67 of our 71 points are from three kids, so when Luke joins those other two, we become a little bit better.
Q. Would Brandon have had that confidence, do you think, to do what he did today earlier in the season, or is this a product of an outgrowth of experience at a young age?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Yeah, he’s continued to get better. He works all the time, and we work with him. We try to put him in situations where he can use his instincts. He’ll go and shoot on his own and whatever. I said, don’t just shoot. I said, like, try to — when you’re doing it by yourself — and we do it when we’re working with him — just create a shot, like you’re good enough to create shots. And then if you hit them, someone is going to say that I taught you that. And so we put that in his mind that it’s okay to kind of be you.
He’s gotten better and better. He deserves that. He’s not a plant that should be put in a jar. He’s a plant that should be allowed to grow, and he’s growing immensely.
Q. I believe it’s your 23rd trip to the Sweet 16. My question is, can you really appreciate this group for how hard they had to work to get to this one?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Yeah, I think I appreciate it more than anybody because I’ve said it since Amile went out that we might not make the tournament. Chase has started to play well this last month, but basically we’re a six-man team. Chase and Brandon aren’t going to be 19 until next September. They’re 18 years old. Derryck is 18. So I have an unbelievable appreciation for it. That’s why, Grayson carrying us a lot, and then Marshall Plumlee has been as valuable a guy as we’ve had because he’s played all these minutes. And when — he didn’t have a good scoring night tonight, but he played well.
Our house is on a cliff, and we hope it doesn’t rain. That’s who we’ve been. And so I really have an appreciation for that.
And you know, it’s not what the teams that I’ve coached have done. It’s what this team is doing, it being their moment. I’ve coached a lot of — I’ve coached more NCAA games than anybody. And I’ll tell you what, I don’t know if — probably shouldn’t watch me very much — but if you did, you’d see a very excited and emotional coach, who looks — not age-wise or physique-wise — like he was when he was the coach at Army. And that’s what each of my teams deserve from me and my staff is that level of commitment.
Q. You’ve talked throughout the year of the importance of face, of how you come off, on the court and off the court. Toward the end of the first half, when there was a 6-2 run for Yale, did you see maybe that was slipping a little bit for you guys?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Not so much the face, but our — Grayson was in a zone there. Like he — whoa — and when he hit the last one, he came back, and he didn’t know who he had, and he was in la-la land, and that’s what I saw. They got open, and then he commits that dumb foul. I mean, he fouled in the last — like what are you doing?
So it wasn’t like it was a face of neglect or scared or anything, it was just la-la land, like where are you, man; get back in the game.
It’s tough to change that. We’re young, and so we acted young. They’re old, and they acted old, and it produced that second half. They were good, though. They were really good. And then we helped them.
Look, I know that’s the last question. I want to thank the people here in Providence. What a great setup. I know there’s so many volunteers. This was a great site. We were treated unbelievably well. So again, thank you, and for all of you, we’ll see you in California, all right?