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March 17, 2016

Kevin Keatts

Chris Flemmings

Craig Ponder

Providence, Rhode Island

Duke - 93, UNC Wilmington - 85

KEVIN KEATTS: Well, I want to start off by saying that I couldn't be more proud of a group of guys that have laid it out on the line for me for 33 games this year. We talked about it in the locker room, and one of the things I said to those guys is when we leave this locker room, I want you to hold your head up. I know we're all big-time competitors and we all hate to lose, but the effort that these guys have given me all year long is unbelievable. From the time that I took the job a couple years ago to where this program is now, I couldn't be more of a happier coach.

Give Duke credit; I thought they did a really good job, especially in the second half, handling our pressure. I thought it bothered them, but they didn't turn it over as much. They made some runs that I thought was the difference in the game. I felt like they got a few 50/50 balls that we didn't. I thought they broke the press on a couple miscues and Plumlee was able to get some easy baskets at the end. What a basketball game. Certainly I'm happy with our guys. I thought it was a great basketball game. I was excited to be a part of it.

Q. You guys played nearly fearless during the first half; that seemed to be the mindset of your guys.
KEVIN KEATTS: All year long we've really stayed in the moment and we never cared what the name was on the front or the back of the jersey of the opponent. I give these guys credit. They've stayed focused. A lot of times when you're playing against a high major team like Duke or you're playing one of the best teams in the country or more historical programs, they're up 10 before you play the game because your guys are nervous. I thought our guys came to compete, and I thought we did a great job. Unfortunately we just came up a little short.

Q. Talk about what it meant to you to play against Duke, one of college basketball's great programs, and then to play as well as you did.
CHRIS FLEMMINGS: Definitely means a lot. I mean, they're a great program, great history, defending national champs. I mean, it was a great honor to play against them.

CRAIG PONDER: Just to follow up on what Chris said, anytime you have the opportunity to play against a historic program, you really cherish the opportunity. For us to be playing them in the NCAA Tournament, it means a whole lot to us.

Q. Just talk about the challenge of guarding Brandon Ingram and how you felt that match-up went. You guys both had excellent games, but how do you think the match-up went overall?
CHRIS FLEMMINGS: He's definitely a great player. Tried to take away his tendencies; he was able to counter. So take nothing away from him at all.

Q. When you find yourself playing (inaudible) (inaudible)?
CRAIG PONDER: The way we play and our traps and stuff, sometimes you're going to give that up. That happens, and we expect it to happen, so it's not really discouraging. It's something we expect to happen.

Q. If both you fellows could elaborate just a little bit, Coach mentioned sometimes you look at certain names on the jersey and some teams could be, quote, down 10 before the whistle starts. Clearly you guys weren't intimidated.
CHRIS FLEMMINGS: It's another game, another opportunity to go out and play as hard as we can. We didn't work hard all season to just give up just because of the name. That's kind of our team thing. We're going to fight every game no matter who we're playing.

CRAIG PONDER: Our motto is pretty much we don't worry about the name on the back of our jerseys, and we don't care about the name on the front of yours. We just try to go out and compete every game.

Q. Craig, the last possession that you guys had, what was that like there when you had three cracks? What was the feeling as you're running through a chance like that?
CRAIG PONDER: You know, we just tried to capitalize and tried to tip one of those balls and hopefully it lands in our favor. Unfortunately it didn't tonight.

Q. Can you talk about how you managed the game in the second half?
CHRIS FLEMMINGS: Just staying aggressive, not really worrying about whether you get fouls. Just got to play as hard as we can regardless of whether we're getting buckets or not. Just play hard.

Q. Any differences, if any, you noticed between playing against an ACC power like Duke and teams you play in the CAA; what differences did you notice?
CRAIG PONDER: Guys had a little bit more height, a little bit more physical, a little bit more athletic.

Q. Kevin, you talked yesterday about size and the advantage that they would have. Their ability to get inside and get to the rim, how difficult was that for you guys just to counter?
KEVIN KEATTS: Well, I think it was difficult on the back end. If you look at Plumlee's number, he did a great job of certainly making free throws tonight, and he also made some dump-offs where he got a lot of dunks, but he didn't really hurt us when he threw the ball inside to them to score. I think the difference was at the end of the press when they were able to get by us. Most teams that we play don't have a guy where you can throw the ball up and finish, and he did a great job of finishing. And even when we fouled him, I thought he shot a great -- let me see what he shot. He shot 5 for 6 from the free-throw line. I think he's 55 percent going into the game, and we were banking on him to miss a few of those.

Q. Kevin, how did the foul trouble for those big guys change the way you wanted to play? Not used to seeing Dylan at the center spot and you had to do that late.
KEVIN KEATTS: Well, it hurts. Any time you've got a rotation and you've been used to playing some guys in different minutes and different spots of the game, when they get in foul trouble, it certainly takes your routine or your rhythm out a little bit.

I thought Duke was aggressive. We play an aggressive style of basketball, and certainly you're going to get some of those calls against you. But I thought it hurt us a little bit because we played some guys in spots we normally hadn't had to do all year long.

Q. Did you say anything special at halftime, anything different than you normally would, the fact that you're up three?
KEVIN KEATTS: You know, I just talked about staying the course. I know a lot of people are surprised, but being up three and possibly could have been up six at halftime, you know, we expected that. When we entered this game, obviously we have a lot of respect for Coach K and the program that he's built and the players that's on the team, but my guys expected to win the game. When I walked into the locker room at the end of the game, I knew the program was going in the right direction because nobody wanted a moral victory. Those guys were upset because we lost the game. So what I did is I just talked about the same things we talked about in every game that we played, staying the course, playing solid on the defensive end, doing all the right things.

Q. To follow up on that, I haven't done my research. I'm guessing you have no McDonald's All-Americans on your team. They have seven, I think. How do you play them like that? In terms of this tournament in general, you see that so often; how do you take what you have, good players but certainly not that kind of reputation, and hang until the end of the game that you could have won given a couple shots here and there.
KEVIN KEATTS: Well, you're right we don't have any McDonald's All-Americans. We do pass a lot of McDonald's when we go home (laughter).

Listen, that's a great question. There's a lot of parity in basketball these days, and when you build a program on pride and guys working hard, it gives you the opportunity to be in a game. I've said this all along, the difference between a high major player and a guy who's at the mid-major level, he may be a couple inches taller, he may be just a little bit faster, but these guys -- I mean, you've got to understand. If you ever came to one of our practices, we practice so hard every day. They really believe in -- you're talking about a team that's a championship team. Obviously we won the regular season, then we went into Baltimore and won a tournament championship against a very good Hofstra team. So when they entered the game, I didn't have to say much because they believed we were going to win the game.

Q. Coach, what was your approach to guarding Brandon Ingram? He's a 6'9" kid who handles and has a lot of skills not typical for someone that big. What was your approach coming into the game, and how do you feel like you guys handled yourselves with it?
KEVIN KEATTS: Well, that's a great question. Brandon is the toughest match-up that we've probably had all year long. What we wanted to do -- obviously they do a good job of running a lot of isolation plays for him, posting him up at the free-throw line. We try to take his right hand away, and if you look at it, Chris tried to take a couple charges. Obviously he didn't get them, but we wanted to make him go left and then once he got in the scoring area, we would come double him. But he's tough. When you cut him off he does a good job of spinning back. He's long. He can finish. He can shoot the three. He's a tough match-up. I thought our guys did a good job on him. I thought we did the best job we could do on him.

Q. What did that mean to you to see Craig play that way on this stage, just kind of your history and kind of seeing his career end him putting his best foot forward?
KEVIN KEATTS: Well, the question is -- that's a very good question because I told the guys in the locker room that I was so proud of them, I loved them, but I'm more proud of the fact that they sent Dylan and Craig and Kevin Hickson out on a good note. When you talk about Craig, obviously I know it's been documented he's a kid that played for me at Hargrave and I love him like a son. But just to have the opportunity for that kid to leave UNCW as a champion and play in the NCAA, it means so much to me. He was heartbroken because obviously as we talked about, he really wanted to win this basketball game to advance.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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