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March 20, 2016

Melvin Johnson

JeQuan Lewis

Will Wade

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma-85, VCU-81

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by the VCU Rams, Head Coach Will Wade and his student-athletes, JeQuan Lewis and Melvin Johnson. Coach, your thoughts on this afternoon's game.

COACH WADE: Well, I thought it was a tale of two halves. I thought the first half we were on our heels most of the half, and in the second half we came out and were ultra-aggressive and really played a good half of basketball, one of our better halves all year. It just took us too long to get into the flow of it.

We only gave up two offensive rebounds the he entire second half. We gave up nine in the first half to them. And we really pounded the glass in the second half, just didn't quite have enough. We battled back. I'm proud of our guys. We've been that way all year. We've been resilient and we've always just battled, battled, battled.

But today we ran into a great team. Unbelievable performance by Hield there down the stretch. Every time they needed a big basket, he answered the bell. He's just a phenomenal player. Best player I've seen in college basketball.

So I'm proud of our guys. We just didn't quite have enough.

Q. Melvin, can you talk about what you guys did well defensively against Hield for 30 or so minutes, and then what went wrong in the last ten minutes?
MELVIN JOHNSON: I think he just missed shots. In the beginning of the game, Korey and Jordan did a good job arriving on the catch, forcing him to take some tough ones. Second half they did the exact same thing, but instead the ball went in. I mean, he's a great player, so players make plays.

Q. Can you talk about the job Mike Gilmore did out there? He's someone who hasn't even gotten off the bench but on the brightest stage just went off.
COACH WADE: Yeah, I'm very proud of him. He's been through a lot. It's been a rough -- he started for us for the first part of the year, and then he went from starting to not playing. But he's kept an unbelievable team attitude. He deserves something good to happen for him, so I'm really proud of him. We need to build off this in the off-season. I'm thrilled for him. He really rose to the occasion today.

Q. The crowd was real, real heavy against you guys. Y'all seemed to thrive on that in the second half.
MELVIN JOHNSON: Yeah, it's fun. The odds were against us. It was a win-win situation. Everyone pretty much counted us out, so our backs were against the wall, and when your back is against the wall, all you've got to do is fight.

At one point I didn't even hear the crowd, and I told the guys, this is what we wanted to do. We wanted to have their crowd against them. It was quiet. Our little 100 fans were extremely loud. That's all I heard at one point. That's all I can ask for when the opposing team has 18,000 fans in attendance.

Q. You guys got so much out of the small lineup in the paint yesterday or the other day, and then obviously Mo and what he's able to do. But they handled you guys fairly well down there. What did you see them doing to counter what you guys wanted to do around the rim?
JEQUAN LEWIS: I mean, they're really big and they're athletic, so it was kind of hard with the match-ups. They did a good job of staying inside the paint.

COACH WADE: Lattin only had two blocks, but he affects so many shots when he's down there. His minutes have been down because of some foul trouble, but he played 28 minutes, and it's just tough sledding in there. Those guys who have followed us all year, we've just had trouble finishing down there. We did a lot better in the second half.

Lattin's a big-time defensive game changer for Oklahoma. If it they can keep him on the court, they can win it all. If they can keep him on the court, they can win it. I think he's a big X-factor for them. I told our team that last night and I still believe that. He's a high-level defender and really good anticipation.

Q. Coach and Melvin, for people who obviously never had to play a guy like Buddy Hield, can you explain what it is that makes him so tough to stop? You know they're going to him and he still scores.
COACH WADE: I mean, he can get his shot off in so many ways. It's what I said yesterday, he just reads the screen so well. We got tangled up a couple times down there and we switched out and he read the switch.

The other thing they do is, and they don't get enough credit for it, some of those kids, Spangler and some of those other guys, they set really good screens for him. They've got an unselfish team in the sense they set good screens, and they set them. Coach Kruger does a good job. They get so low and set them at such steep angles, it's really hard to maneuver through them, and he's going to have a little bit of space. If you give him any space -- we came off and trapped him there at the end just to try to make him give it up. But he's really good at reading those things.

MELVIN JOHNSON: I mean, he has the ultimate green light. So I mean, it's just hard to guard a player that makes shots consistently. I mean, it's easier said than done, but you've just got to arrive on the catch and hope he misses at times. Obviously he's logging a lot of hours in the gym because he shoots shots sometimes when he's not even looking at the basket. As soon as he touches it, he lets it go. So I mean, it's all in his confidence and I guess his work ethic.

Q. Melvin, sorry you just played your last game. You're very clear eyed and very strong of voice. I just wondered if you could talk about your career and what it's been like for you, how you feel now? And also, if you would, talk about what you saw in JeQuan this weekend and what you think he can do next year?
MELVIN JOHNSON: I mean, I think I had a pretty good career, a roller coaster ride.

COACH WADE: Great career.

MELVIN JOHNSON: A roller coaster ride. But just coming into this year, I really blocked all distractions, really locked in. And Coach Wade was there, and he was a big-time disciplinarian, making sure I was doing everything the right way.

I just told JeQuan in the locker room, please keep working. He's a big-time player, as you can see. Next year he's going to be extremely dangerous when he has the green light. And he's the leader of this team. He's going to be the voice and he's only going to continue to get better. So for the most part, JeQuan, sky's the limit, so I just hope they're back in this position next year and going even further.

Q. Will, they hurt you early with some pick-and-roll dunks. Did you guys -- were you hedging too much and you had to go back? It sort of stopped after that, so what happened?
COACH WADE: Well, we covered it wrong. They never throw it with the guy coming off the ball screen, so they always throw it ahead and throw it in. We were supposed to be denying ahead, but we didn't deny the pass ahead two times so they got it in. So they went through it again but we denied the pass, and they realized and we were trying to figure out what -- we've gone over it in scouting, just we got confused a little bit and we didn't do it.

But they don't ever throw it directly hardly. They did it one time in the second half they threw it directly. But we watched a bunch of clips. We watched all their pick-and-roll. We watched a bunch of their stuff. They always throw it ahead and in. We're supposed to deny the pass ahead because we want to stay with the ball, but we didn't deny it two times. But when we went back to it, we denied it and they went away from it.

Q. JeQuan, you had two outstanding games here. I know it's disappointing to come up short here. Could you talk a moment about what you'll now do to build on what you did here individually and what the team does collectively to improve upon next year?
JEQUAN LEWIS: We're going to take a few days off and we're just going to get ready to move on and get ready for next season. Not really much we can do.

Q. JeQuan, in the second half, you guys got into such a better flow. You almost had as many points in the first half -- I mean in the second half that you had in the first half at the 10:00 minute mark. What was the biggest difference for you guys coming out of the locker room in the second half?
JEQUAN LEWIS: I mean, our energy. When we came out in the first half, we were a little slow and going through the motions. But in the second half, I mean, we didn't come here to lose, so we had it in the front of our minds that we're going to put up a fight.

Q. Can you just say that this season, from wherever you were at back in December and to be here in OKC for the NCAA Tournament, could you say that this team is truly over- exceeded expectations?
COACH WADE: I'm going to say we had a very good year. I'd say we had a very good year. We were picked fifth. We won the regular season, co-champions, and we won a game in the NCAA Tournament. We'd have loved to have gotten to the Sweet Sixteen.

But I would say as a coach, you look at it and say, what is the max level of this team and how close did we get it to its maximum level? And I think we got it very, very close to the maximum level. That's a credit to our guys. That's a credit to Melvin, JeQuan, Mo, Korey, all those guys. But I would say this was -- coming into the year, not a lot of people thought we'd be here, and this is certainly not where we want -- we want to keep advancing in the future. But we've got to work harder, we've got to do some things better, and we'll get back to work. That's what we do.

Q. Coach, on what Melvin addressed earlier, can you talk about how your team handled the partisan environment?
COACH WADE: Yeah, I thought we were great. We've been really good on the road all year. We really thrived on the road, and our guys fed off that. We knew if we could get it close, I thought everybody would kind of get nervous in the arena and we could maybe flip it a little bit. But like I said, they just responded. They've got the best player in the country and he made huge, huge plays.

But our guys have been great all year and in tough environments, and we responded well today. It's been characteristic of our team all year. We were down 13 at UMASS at the half, came back and took the lead.

We were down 13 today at the half, came back and took the lead. We fight. We're tough, we're gritty. We fight. We fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. We just didn't have enough. We just didn't have enough. But our guys responded really well in a tough environment, really, really tough environment.

Q. Melvin, early or midway through the first half, it's 21-7, it was 15-5. You look at their starting lineup and they've got 7 points, 7 points, 6 points, 6 points and 5 points at that point in the game. Was that something of a shock for a team that has Buddy Hield, the National Player of the Year, 25 points a game, to see that kind of balance? Did that surprise you a little bit?
MELVIN JOHNSON: It is a demoralizing to an extent because coming into the game, of course, a lot of the attention is towards Buddy. And then his cast, Isaiah, Jordan, Spangler, et cetera, they all begin the half really well, and he didn't even score at this point. So we were just like, okay, Buddy eventually is going to continue to score.

But we're resilient. We kept fighting. We feed off Coach. Coach, he gets after us. He was extremely enthusiastic going into the locker room and we just responded.

Q. Coach, you talked about the crowd, but Jordan steps to the line for two there late and the crowd just roars. Do you think that was a factor at all with him?
COACH WADE: No, I mean, we made a bunch of free throws before that. I mean, you know, it's the way it goes sometimes. That's the way it goes sometimes. He'd step up and hit a front end of a one and-one a little bit before that. So I don't -- we've been pretty good at blocking that stuff out and hitting free throws. We have a breathing routine and some different things that we do. Just didn't knock them in.

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