MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Well, we want to congratulate Wilmington. What a hard-fought game that was. They’re really good. They’re extremely well-coached, not just in strategy but in effort and togetherness. You could tell right away. And we watched on tape and had a very good appreciation for them, but when you see them in person, you can actually see their belief in one another and their strength.
It’s really beautiful to watch. It’s more beautiful if you don’t have to play against them.
They’re really good. I mean, we beat a really good team today and a team that believed they were going to win. They believe they’re going to win because they’re — in this tournament you have champions come in the tournament. This team was a double champion in their league, which is a really good league, and in their tournament.
I thought they played harder and more together than us in the first half. I thought we were a little bit nervous, too. I don’t know, we just were not — we were not who we’ve been most of the year.
But in the second half, we were very, very good. I mean, really good. And we had to be because they were good throughout. I thought as hard as they played, we played as hard in that second half, and that was the difference in the game.
Marshall was spectacular in the second half. He was playing so hard that he had to sub out a few times, he was going so hard. We knew going against them that they were going to press us the whole game, try to wear us out, and we had to be strong with the ball. We were. We only committed 10 turnovers, and in trying to drive the ball instead of putting it out, we put them in a position to foul. And they have fouled a lot throughout the year because they play so hard, and then because we played hard, we were rewarded in that way.
Again, I’m proud of my guys. We won a big game today.
Q. Talk about your face mask.
MARSHALL PLUMLEE: Looking at the first half, there was no excuse for my play, face mask or not. I think it was more a mindset than anything else. But coming into any game, we have a great training staff, so I feel confident whatever bumps and bruises I take, there’s something we’re going to be able to do to make sure I stay on the floor and stay ready to play.
Q. For both of you, what coach said, did you feel nervous early in that game?
GRAYSON ALLEN: I don’t think we were necessarily nervous, but —
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: They were nervous. When is a kid ever going to say, no, I wasn’t nervous?
GRAYSON ALLEN: If you don’t win the game, you’re going home, so there’s a lot of pressure for both teams coming out. For us, I think as the game went on, we got into the game, and we started playing like the free and confident team that we’ve been all year. That’s what you need to do. You can’t be thinking about losing, thinking about oh, what if, what if. You just have to enjoy the moment and be in it.
Q. Grayson, you anticipated a tough transition game from them. Were they really even faster in the flesh?
GRAYSON ALLEN: They’re a very fast team, with the four guards that they have on the court for most of the game, they’re all fast, and so the guys who don’t have the ball are sprinting ahead. They’re really spacing out the floor. For us, we all had to get back. You can’t play one-on-one in transition like that because they’re so quick. If they see a lot of space, they’re going to get by you. So it was a team effort. All five guys had to get back and corral the ball and make sure we stop the ball, make them pull it out.
Q. Marshall, you had a monster second half. What was the key to your ability to break the press like that, and then you finish it at the end?
MARSHALL PLUMLEE: Well, fortunately, I had to play with some really talented guards who draw a lot of attention, and when they draw that kind of attention it leaves openings, and throughout the year I’ve gotten better at playing off them, the chemistry has grown. But I really have to give the credit to my guards.
Q. When you look up and you come out of a trap and you see Marshall put his finger up, do you kind of know we’re going to be okay?
GRAYSON ALLEN: Definitely, and some of the passes weren’t the most perfect. But thankfully, he’s athletic and he can go up and get it, so that’s an easy target. When we’re in a two on one situation like that, I have full confidence in him to go up and get it.
Q. Grayson, you guys go through this a lot, but you know that if you had been upset by UNC Wilmington, everybody across the country is going to say, well, how does Duke lose that game? What kind of pressure does that put on you, or are you so used to it by now that it doesn’t really affect you?
GRAYSON ALLEN: Well, I think we have that every game no matter who we’re playing. Coming into the tournament, upsets happen all the time, and so we know that we’re going against a great team. We can’t look at it as a 13 seed because that’s a really good team that we played today. If you just go by, oh, we’re a 4 seed, they’re a 13 seed, we would have come out and gotten blown out. We have to come in with that kind of mentality every game where we’re going to be in for a fight against a really good team, because all the teams in the tournament at this point are really good.
Q. The term big three is something that’s kind of thrown around more in the realm of professional basketball, but when you have three guys like Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram and Marshall Plumlee coming together at the right time like this, how much more difficult is that going to make things for all your opponents?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Well, we need all of them to play well. That doesn’t happen all the time. But Luke Kennard has come through. Matt Jones has been a very stable guy. I thought Derryck Thornton really helped us today, especially with all the pressure.
You know, Marshall is old, but then we’re young. These guys said they weren’t nervous, but only one of them has started in an NCAA game: Matt. And so Matt brings you stability. The other guys have not started. It may be Wilmington’s first — you asked about Duke. Brady doesn’t come back until he’s 42. Nothing against Bill and his — he does a pretty good job with them. But you have new guys, and so they have to be given a chance to grow together.
But we have two of the most talented players in the country in Brandon and Grayson. I’ve said a number of times in the second part of the season that our most important player is Marshall. When he plays well, we have a chance. If he plays just okay, then we don’t have a chance, and he was just okay in the first half, but he played great in the second half.
Q. Everyone obviously talks about the talent that your guys have, but you talked about how hard they play. How important is that, especially in this sort of a tournament going forward?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Well, you know, we have three kids who are 18 years old, so — I know they may be talented, but they’re 18. I heard about McDonald’s All-American. We won because we had a 23-year-old: Marshall. These other kids are developing players. And the NCAA, especially this season, has been old. Our league was old. There’s a lot of fifth-year transfers. Throughout the year we’ve had to play against — I’m not saying that Wilmington is that — they only have one senior. I’m just saying in general. So these guys have to get their experience. I mean, Brandon Ingram is 18. Derryck Thornton is 18. Chase is 18. That’s young. And I’m proud of what they’ve done, being such a young group. They need that leadership from Matt and Marshall, and they had it early from Amile. That’s one of the reasons losing him was a big blow to us. But we kind of reinvented our team, and it’s worked.
Q. Coach, you just mentioned how young Brandon is. This is his first game. How would you assess his performance in particular in his first NCAA Tournament game?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Oh, he was terrific. I heard Kevin say what they were trying to do to stop him. It’s good stuff. He gets that a lot. He’s able to make plays.
You know, we try to give he and Grayson a chance to be players and not over-systemizing it, and it’s worked, where they make good plays. Brandon is going to keep getting better. He’s a terrific basketball player, and when he gets weight, age, and even more experience, he’ll be a big-time player at the next level. He’s a big-time player here but not nearly what he will be in the future. You put 20 pounds on him and a couple more years, and — there’s no one like him. I’m not saying he’s the best, but he’s unbelievably unique, and we’ve tried to work with him like that.
Can I say two things? They were really good. I mean, I’ve been doing this — I think I’ve coached 115 NCAA games, and this team really is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Champion, heart, and the game was such a terrific game.
On a lighter side, I’ve done this a long time, so every once in a while between your questions, I get distracted a little bit. I’m not insulting you or anything. I do that because I’m 69. I’m just looking, I’m saying, I’ve got a lot of letters in my name. Did you ever look at that? I mean, how do you get — anyway. Those are just two random thoughts. Do you think senility is entering? You should say no.
Q. I was going to ask you about Brandon, but I’ll reword a different question. A lot of teams are probably throwing a bunch of different defenses against him this year because of his uniqueness. What did you see from UNC Wilmington in terms of how they tried to defend him and you guys in general?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Yeah, well, one of the things they couldn’t do to us that most teams do to him is post him. The best way to play defense on Brandon is to put him on the bench. When he hasn’t played well, he’s been in foul trouble. He was guarding a guard today, and that helps, and they could — they’re not — that’s not who they are. They try to get in on him and hopefully he gets a push-off or something like that. But in our league, we play against a lot of big teams. They try to post him or get him to be physical with them inside where he might foul.
The games he hasn’t played well in are the games he’s been in foul trouble.
Q. You mentioned earlier that Marshall is kind of your key player.
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: He is.
Q. You’ve said that before, and you could kind of see that when he fouled out with about two minutes to go. Can you speak to that, and can you speak to how Chase stepped up with a big block on their last final drive and how that might speak to his growth over the season?
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: Well, both things are good observations. Marshall, when he’s out of the game, up until about three, four weeks ago, there was a void. In the last three or four weeks, Chase has filled the void pretty well. Still not as good as Marshall, but it gives us a chance to rotate those guys a little bit. Chase is getting better, just getting better.
What Marshall learned today, I think, in the second half is not to pace. I think there was 17:08 left in the second half. He just played those three minutes, almost three minutes, and he was exhausted and he asked to come out. He’s never done that. That could be — our team is still getting better, so little things like that can make us better. If Chase can come in for a minute, and then if he’s doing well a little bit more. But if we can keep a fresh big guy in there who’s playing well, then that obviously helps us.