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March 8, 2017

Steve Pikiell

Deshawn Freeman

Nigel Johnson

Washington, D.C.

Rutgers - 66, Ohio State - 57

MODERATOR: We'll ask coach to make an opening statement, then we'll go to questions.

COACH PIKIELL: I lost my voice, so I apologize.

Just a good win for our program. It's an Ohio State team and a program that I have tremendous respect for. Coach Matta is a great coach. They got really good players.

I thought we played hard tonight. We've been in it every game. Really just proud of our guys. They fought all season long. To out-rebound a team like this by 16 rebounds just goes to show you, everyone chipped in today. Everyone gave us something. Everyone that checked in the game helped us win.

Just very, very thankful that these guys have jumped onboard and have worked hard to make this a good season.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the students, please.

Q. Deshawn, Steve mentioned on the call a few days ago that you have played so many close games, really hadn't until the Illinois game and now, managed to win some of these games. What was the difference tonight in finding a way to win this game?
DESHAWN FREEMAN: I felt like the guys pulled together more, you know, offense and defense. Most definitely defense. We was able to fight and get a win.

Q. Nigel, I know you grew up in the Virginia area. I was wondering if you had a lot of family and friends here tonight? You set a career high by setting eight free throws. Did you make a concerted effort to get to the rim?
NIGEL JOHNSON: Number one, I definitely had a lot of friends and family here. I'm only 30 minutes away from home. I had a lot of people come out.

For your second question, you said eight free throws? I wasn't really making an effort to try to get to the line. I mean, I was just planning and taking up the open opportunities. I had a chance to get to the rim a couple times. Ended up getting fouled. I went to the free-throw line. That was one area we struggled in all year. I tried to focus when I got on the line and make all eight of them.

Q. For either of you. The rebounding advantage, what was the key to that?
NIGEL JOHNSON: Rebounding, I mean, that's one area we've been focusing on all year. Before we even pick up a basketball over the summer, Coach Pikiell was drilling defense. As far as rebounding, one area we've been stressing all year. To come out today when we're in the tournament, when it means the most, to put a show like that on the boards, it definitely means a lot.

I definitely give a lot of that credit to our bigs, C.J., Deshawn, Dika, everybody. The guards to come out. Definitely shows a lot.

DESHAWN FREEMAN: It's just toughness, like coach said.

Q. For either player. The board in the locker room said 'new season'. Simple message, but what did that mean to you?
DESHAWN FREEMAN: I felt like when coach said 'new season', we 0-0. Win or go home. I felt like it brung us together.

NIGEL JOHNSON: To me, just like Deshawn said, everybody is 0-0. Nothing you did in the regular season really matters to this point.

Another thing is we've been talking about it. Since we've been in the Big Ten, none of our teams ever won a Big Ten tournament game. That was one thing we had on our mind before the game started. We wanted to be the first team to win a Big Ten tournament game.

Also 0-0 to me means, as we see every year in college basketball in March, anybody can be beat. We always say, Why not us? I feel like we went out today and made plays that way.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, fellas. You may return to the locker room. Good luck tomorrow.

We'll take questions for Coach Pikiell.

Q. When you look at the second-chance points, the offensive rebounding numbers, what do they tell you?
COACH PIKIELL: It was a huge, huge emphasis going into this game. They're big. They're athletic. We talked about it a lot. Relentless rebounders was our second key. I wanted guys to go for it. Again, they did a really good job. They were active. We subbed a lot of fresh bodies in. I thought that helped us, too.

I like that number. That's the big reason why we're here today with a win.

Q. For any program that's building towards something, there are certain milepost games, rites-of-passage games. Did we just see one for Rutgers?
COACH PIKIELL: You know, this team has really competed. We learned how to compete this year. We couldn't close out some games. But it's a process when you're building a program. It takes steps.

I think this from top to bottom is the best league in the country. I know everybody talks about other leagues. I look at Indiana, beat two best teams in the country in Kansas and North Carolina. They're a 10 seed. This is a terrific league. We got Rutgers going in the right direction. I'm very proud to be the head coach. It's a great university with great people.

Our team is trying to work hard to make this a real proud program. Just very happy for our guys. It's about them. They worked. They had a great practice yesterday. They came off that Illinois game, they lost six in a row, but they kept fighting.

Today, Nigel steps up and makes plays. Candido, who hasn't played a lot, steps up and makes plays. They fight. I'm proud of the fact they continue to do that. Hasn't always gone our way this year.

Q. The way in which the team won down 10 points early, correcting at the start of the second half, come out strong and take over the game, getting contributions from so many guys from the bench.
COACH PIKIELL: We're challenged offensively, so we do get behind in games, but we kept fighting. I like the fact that we made free throws down the stretch, too, in the game. We've been in that position before and haven't gotten big rebounds. We did that.

Again, we're playing a really good basketball team that's well-coached. You got to fight for every inch. We don't have a huge margin of winning and losing. It's not who we are right now.

We're going to continue to fight. Like you said, I was proud, every guy that stepped into the game helped us. That's what we need. We need 12 guys. '16 strong' is one of our sayings. We need everybody from the scout team to do a great job. Anybody that checks in, Candido, Nigel, Candido stayed the course, gave us great defensive minutes. We held a really good team to 57 points. That's a great number for us. Keep them in the 50s. We talk about the speed limit a lot, 55. To keep that team in that number is a good thing.

Q. Your first thoughts on Northwestern? Play them for a third time.
COACH PIKIELL: Terrific. I mean, Coach Collins has done an unbelievable job. They have very good players. It's a really difficult game, especially on half-a-day prep.

But our guys will fight. Again, I like their team a lot. They're playing with great chemistry. I watched them play a lot. They're on a little bit of a mission. We're trying to be on a mission ourselves. Expect it to be a great game tomorrow.

Q. Earlier in the season when you played at Maryland, after that game you spoke about lost opportunities due to free-throw shooting, how you want to do everything to kind of turn that around. As your free-throw shooting has improved, is it something as simple as repetition, or something you did in particular?
COACH PIKIELL: You know, I think the guys have been on their own. We've been emphasizing it obviously. We've been putting them in situations in practice to make them. We had the right guys on the line tonight. Free-throw shooting has been an issue for us. I came in the locker room, said, Take care of the ball, get the shot up.

They responded the right way. We took care of the ball in the second half, didn't give up opportunities. We don't have a huge margin for error. Every free throw is big. Every turnover is big.

We've been getting better the last seven, eight games in all those categories. That's what you need to do. I'm happy for the improvement. The guys have done that themselves.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much.

COACH PIKIELL: Appreciate your time. Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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