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January 7, 2017

Tom Crean

Bloomington, Indiana

Indiana - 96, Illinois - 80

COACH CREAN: Biggest thing for our team this week was not just to regain the health and energy and things like that, but absolutely stay locked into getting better and not get distracted from anything other than how much improvement can be made.

And I thought we did that. It's a long, long season and I thought our team actually made progress from Saturday to Tuesday. It just didn't show at the beginning of the game and at certain other times in the game it didn't show. But I mean that's how you have to measure it from time to time as a coach, and it doesn't always mean that the result will be the way you want it. But the most important thing was to not get away from what mattered most.

And I'm proud of the way that a young group of guys -- even last year's team, as old as they were took time for them to understand that. And it guarantees us nothing in the next game, obviously but it does show them that when they stay locked in, stay locked into the details, they do the things that need to get done.

We basically, in three days, have had one full practice where it was everybody basically doing the same thing. And the other two days were a lot of small group, very small group, two or three guys doing this, two or three guys doing that, together -- lifting, watching films, things of that nature -- together on the court, but really, really focus on skills and isolation of certain things with decision-making, segments of the game.

And I thought that that showed forth. So we need to continue to get healthier. I'm not going to belabor that point. It's not an excuse, it's a fact. I think we took some steps in that direction this week. And we want to -- we come out and talk about consistently, but it's all part of this.

We've got guys that are still navigating the fact that they went through some serious surgeries this season. And that's not why we're losing games in the past, but what it becomes it's all part of this process again.

So really proud of the way that they played. I thought everybody, obviously the start was great. I'll answer questions about individual players, but I do want to make a point about Zach McRoberts. He played 12 possessions. We scored in 10 of those 12. And they scored in two of those 12. And to be the biggest -- he's an example of what you want. Don't worry about what's said on the outside, don't worry about what somebody thinks, you worry about what you can get better at and you worry about how you impact the team.

And that's exactly what we want to continue to build forth in this program.

Q. 22 assists on 29 made baskets. Sense better connection, better movement?
COACH CREAN: I think the movement was better, yeah. I don't think the connection's been a problem, I think the movement's been a problem.

We still had moments where it wasn't as good today, no question about it. And especially with the zone. We've had zone offense and then we would stand a little bit.

And that wasn't what the game was giving us. The game was giving us cutting and movement. And that's where we're best anyways. And they did a good job with their zone.

But once we got the ball in the middle -- it's really a matter of reversal. It's a matter of it touching the paint, whether it's the post-up or against the zone, especially the free-throw line. It's about getting out to the other side.

And we were really, really focused -- maybe so much -- on not handling the ball as much, that sometimes we probably didn't get into the gaps we should have. But I thought the passing especially, really tried to harp on that.

We don't need to dribble all the -- is the cutting and the movement. The cutting got better as the game went on.

Q. Your perimeter defense, looked like you were locked in?
COACH CREAN: Yeah. Other than the start the other night, we've been pretty good there, too. They just made more shots. We didn't move as well as we needed to move early in that game.

And in this game we had really good movement. We had good energy defensively. Our deflections were up. We had 38 deflections each of the last two games. We had 37 at halftime. That is the story for me when it comes to defensively or when it comes to the defensive part.

So when you're getting activity like that, you know, we were able to score on the turnovers. And the charges were big. Those are certainly things that we've got to start doing a better job of.

And when you're not an all-out, creating a lot of turnovers off the ball pressure, off the double team, find them in other places. Sometimes it's a blocked shot. Sometimes it's a charge, things of that nature.

So I thought they were really good. And I just thought that the energy and the movement and the consistency of movement offensively and defensively was really good at the beginning and it carried off into the second half.

Q. Talk about how you set the tone. I think the first six minutes it was 15-0. What was working well there?
COACH CREAN: Well, we were aggressive defensively. I don't remember what the deflections were the first timeout. But the game plan, you know, challenging -- they got to the middle one time. I'm sure they had some shots they'd probably like to have back. I thought the team really battled. He's doing an excellent job with them. John is doing an excellent job with them.

It's a great example. Nobody goes away in the Big Ten. Nobody's just going to say, okay, it's over. Great example of that. We knew they were going to keep coming.

And our main focus was Hill, and he got a lot of free throws, especially late. The fact that we drew that charge on him was a real, real -- when we got that charge, I can't remember what the time of the game was, what the score was, I know it was early, relatively early -- that was big for us because we want to defend him a certain way.

And we did a good job. I wish we had done a better job on Jalen. At times they got loose, but we did a better job later in the game after they had that little run.

But at the beginning of the game, everything was clicking in the sense the ball was moving, we were connected defensively, we were getting out on the break, and we were figuring it out. Whether it was man or zone we were figuring it out with our cutting, we were figuring it out with the post up and we were getting good shots.

Q. When you talk about everything clicking, especially at the beginning, what changed? Maybe it was a little bit of you guys, maybe it was them. Just in terms of them maybe being able to --
COACH CREAN: I think guys were worried about fouling. The beginning of the second half? I think we had guys worried about fouling. We were doing our work early in the game doing. We were our defensive work early. And then I think, especially at the start, I think Thomas was worried about getting that third foul -- that was his first time he had foul issues at the end of first half. And obviously it carried in the second a little bit. But you can't play tentative because you're more likely to foul when you are playing tentative than when you're not doing your work early than you are if you're in position. And we didn't get down in the dig quite as quick.

playing tentative and not doing your work early, then you are if you are in position. We didn't down into the dig as early, but I'll watch the film I don't think anybody walked in here on the team, I'm certainly not saying we played some outstanding game. We played a really hard, aggressive 40 minutes against a very good challenger and a team that wasn't going to go away and a team that's well coached and a team that's got good veterans and knows how to play but our guys just continue to stay locked in and they never lost confidence, and I never saw that head drop.

And that was so important for a young team. I know you're not in the huddles. It's so important when you have a young team, they don't start having self doubt and talking to themselves, doubting and talking to themselves, saying it's not going right. We didn't have any of that.

That's a great step for us. As a coach I'm proud of that for them because you can coach it all you want, but it's got to come from them and that's the maturity that we've got to continue to build upon.

Q. What was it about that starting lineup that made it so important that they stayed on the court more than five minutes?
COACH CREAN: You watched it. I don't know, they played hard and aggressive. That lineup was a plus-7 the other night in the Wisconsin game.

We did it matchup-wise. I've said this all along, and I really believe it more so now than I even did when I thought it was going to happen. We had multiple starters. So this is not a team where, well, this is the starting five. I never thought the season, once Collin went out, I never thought it would be a team that would be five consistent starters. But we're building more into that. Now De'Ron is starting, that nature.

We put a lot of emphasis on Curtis and Devonte really isolating them this week even without, for a day even without Rob, James, and Josh in there, really, really help them get better with their decision-making, things of that nature. We've got to keep building our lineup.

You don't recruit guys to be backups. You don't train them as backups. You train them to become starters, even when they're not starting. And we're not a team right now that we just look at it and say, wow, we know we're getting this right now. Eventually I hope we get to that point. But last year's -- we don't have the experience to that yet. It's just not there yet. So did a nice job. But four of those guys were on it the other night when we had a bad start. It just is what it is.

Q. Question on Devonte.

Q. Is he ready at the point to run this offense?
COACH CREAN: At times. I think you saw a little bit of both. You saw it when it was simple, and then he tried to do too much. He's an aggressive young guy. I look back on it, he could have played on Tuesday. I wish I would have, if he had just gotten back. I wish I would have put him in that situation a little bit. And I didn't.

And I knew the way he's practicing, getting him in early and that's not to say Curtis didn't do a excellent job in practice. But Devonte, he's got that Yogi body. Not Yogi yet. But as far as in the sense of lower to the ground and he's strong. We just need him to keep the game simple. But he can put pressure on the ball. He's got quick feet because he has low center of gravity. He can make passes, has good feel. And he'll get better and better.

Q. In terms of Devonte, I noticed you giving him lots of instruction throughout the game.
COACH CREAN: I hope you would have noticed us giving a lot of them instruction. Not singling out just one guy.

Q. At one moment he was called for a foul, looked like you were simulating the play after it happened.
COACH CREAN: On the court? Yeah, he got stuck on the post. Going through the technique again of a "red", of a post run. It's just reminders not teaching anything new. I rarely run a new play. I rarely, with this team, draw up anything.

It's stuff we either put in that day or we've had in. But, yeah, but I would hope we're a hands-on coaching staff. I've got an unbelievable coaching staff.

I mean, I'm not sure how Tim Buckley got the scout away from Rob Judson. But they did a -- you may not want to hear it, but I'm never going to get tired of saying it: This coaching staff is incredible. The time that they put in and not just the work -- I mean, everybody works hard. I'm not talking about that.

It's the level of energy that they have. It's the level of truthfulness. It's the level of detail, demanding. And guys respond to that. And so I got a hands-on staff. I want them all coaching in the game. You'll never see me coach where guys have clipboards and not saying a word and telling me how good a job I'm doing. I don't need that. What we need is a bunch of guys that are hands-on coaches.

Q. Thomas had 16 at the half. I know you talked about him defensively. What really kind of worked for him, what kind of got him switched on after half, in particular I think he had six shots?
COACH CREAN: I don't even know. I thought he was really fundamental. I would just say that. I don't know on that. I wasn't worried about him at all and haven't been. He's getting better and better. Lost in the loss the other night was the job he did on Nigel Hayes. Because he never had a matchup like that. I'm not saying it was enough to win. Obviously it wasn't because we didn't win.

But for him to be in that position, he's gaining confidence and he's really, really learning how much the extra work matters.

And we've had a very good break in the sense of getting some stuff done. Obviously wish we had a better record over the last few weeks, we don't, but we've gotten better and we've got to stay on that, especially now as we get into back being under the 20-hour rule.

It all starts with his defense, just like it does everybody else. There's no -- James had the points he had because he had the assignments he had defensively. He didn't have a perfect game. He had some mistakes.

His guy scored some. But he played with really good intent. Those things come back and it makes your offense so much better.

Thomas is getting more fundamental around the rim. He's getting more fundamental on the drive and more fundamental on the 3. And he's getting better with his free-throw shooting. And then he's got to work that much harder tomorrow to keep that going.

Q. James comes up with one point shy of his season high?
COACH CREAN: I didn't even know that.

Q. What do you think he's got going?
COACH CREAN: Defense has got it going. That's what it is. It's defense. And we're moving him around on the offense. He's taking the ball out more now. And it's always a game -- you've got to get -- you want the work and their improvement to be energy. But you want to make some changes once in a while that help them get some freedom. And he's a big focal point.

I see now after this game where we can really, really make strides offensively. I'm not going to talk about it now because we've got to make those strides and we've got to bring it -- of all the games we've played as of late, I know we had a good offense. I saw more areas where we can get better over the next couple of weeks if we really, really stayed diligent with that.

But everything being said with that, it's all about how we defend. And guys are defending it. And their feet are really moving and they're active, you know, it was added bonus that we could create some turnovers.

But there's no reason we shouldn't be running out even on made baskets. And we get our energy from the defense and it's in practice, and it's obvious to them in practice and they don't always carry it forth in the game the way it needs to be but today was the day that really showed them that again.

Q. Question on Robert.
COACH CREAN: Defense got everybody going. It just did. He had a big assignment with Malcolm Hill. But defensive energy, awareness, movement. That's what it is. It sounds easy. I know it's not easy, but it really is that way. When you're locked into defending and rebounding at a high level, it's amazing what it does to your offense. And that's the best way we can possibly play.

Q. Question on Robert continuing to start.
COACH CREAN: He's got a plus-42 in the three Big Ten games, plus-minus. I'm not worried about -- all I want is that defense.

I look back at the numbers. Nick Zeisloft a year ago this time was two of 15 from 3 in the Big Ten. He didn't break out until the fourth game against Minnesota.

It's not about that. What it's about is everybody understanding that we have got to be really good defensively because it's a really good league.

When you play a Louisville, it's a really good team, and all those things really make us go. But we were very diligent and conscious this week of where guys needed to certain areas not only on the court but where they needed to get the rest and rehab, that nature, too.

And that's why I've said this before in here: I think, go back to last year's practice, we'll do this today. You treat the team the way you need to view it every day for where they need to be, where you see them going down the road. And I think that's -- we were able to get that accomplished this week. Now we move forward for Maryland.

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