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March 9, 2017

Steve Pikiell

Corey Sanders

Nigel Johnson

Washington, D.C.

Northwestern - 83, Rutgers - 61

THE MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach Pikiell to make an opening statement.

COACH PIKIELL: Thank you for staying around. Not the way I wanted to end it. Certainly wasn't the defensive team that we've been most of the year. Got to give Northwestern a ton of credit. They played at an elite level today, I thought. I thought they made our defense look bad, at times even when it was good. Coach Collins has done a great job. They've got great players. You can see why they're an NCAA tournament team.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the students.

Q. What was the main difference during that long run Northwestern had? What were they doing?
NIGEL JOHNSON: I mean, I feel like we came out with good energy. After a couple minutes, our energy kind of let down. They took advantage. They was hitting shots. Didn't miss for a while in the first half. They got the momentum going. They just stayed hot.

Dug a hole for ourselves. Had to try to fight our way out of it. I think that's what happened.

COREY SANDERS: I mean, basically same thing he said. We went on a drought. We didn't score, I think it was 11 minutes. If you're not scoring, you're letting people score at a high rate. That's what's going to happen.

Q. What are some of the positive things you're going to look back on this season?
COREY SANDERS: You know, just how hard we worked, how far we came. I think we did a lot of big things this year for Rutgers basketball. That was the goal. We're going to keep striving for that goal, move on and just keep progressing like I think we did this year. I know a lot of people seen that. That's the goal, just to keep progressing.

When I look back, I know we worked hard, played hard. That's the biggest thing about it.

NIGEL JOHNSON: As was just said in the locker room, we did a lot of things this year that nobody expected us to do. We did a lot of first things that happened at Rutgers. It feels good for us to be part of that team. We have most of the people coming back except for the two seniors. We have a lot to build off of. We have a lot of learning experiences we can grow and build from.

I feel like we can only get better from it. Keep making our team happy, keep making our fans happy, keep everything behind us.

Q. You were able to get a lot of offensive rebounds in the previous two meetings against Northwestern. Tonight not quite as many. Did you see anything different that you noticed?
NIGEL JOHNSON: I wouldn't say it was anything that limited our opportunities. I would say at some point during the game, we kind of got flat, wasn't really stepping on the pedal. They took advantage of it, playing hard, like it was their last game. We could have played harder from the get-go to make it a more competitive game.

I don't think it was anything they did to keep us off the offensive boards.

COREY SANDERS: Same thing he said. I would say our effort, but I don't think effort was really the problem. I felt like we was playing hard.

Yesterday we played like we had a choice. I think today was just kind of - I don't know - a lack of want for the game today. That's the only thing I can think of.

Q. The last time you played Northwestern, you held Scotti and Vic.
NIGEL JOHNSON: I think they took advantage of how we was in the middle of the first half. They got hot. When they got hot, felt like every shot they shot was going in. They took advantage of our lack of energy, I guess you could call it. They was just hitting big shots.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, fellas.

We'll take questions for Coach Pikiell.

Q. When you step back and look at the two days you had here, what did the program gain? What did they learn from this experience?
COACH PIKIELL: We've overcome a lot. 11 months when I took over the job, I watched them work out for the first time, we've come a long way.

We accomplished a lot of things. We got some respect back to Rutgers basketball. I'm very excited to be the head coach. I love the university. It's a great place. Building a new practice facility, great athletic director, a lot of real positive things going on.

Today we got blitzed by Northwestern. They're a good team. I thought we played hard. We didn't make shots. We didn't make free throws, those kind of things.

This has been a year we got a great staff together, taught a team that wasn't great defensively to defend and rebound. Got them to compete every night in a league that's excellent. Played the hardest schedule, our second hardest, whatever you want to call it, in the league. Able to do a lot of firsts; first road win, first tournament win, getting off to the great start in the non-conference.

Better days ahead for Rutgers basketball.

Q. What was your message to the team in the locker room?
COACH PIKIELL: It's always a sad day. I love basketball. I hate when we hang up the uniforms. But to the two seniors, they've been great. They've brought a lot to the program. Proud of them.

I think this team was the start of making Rutgers basketball a special basketball program. They've done it off the court and on the court, academically.

We're going to compete, be in games, play teams. We're not going to back down. I was just proud. They've done that all year long. No matter what the score was, they fought.

Again, tonight, we played an elite team that was playing at an elite level. We kind of got blitzed. Again, you saw some of our weaknesses. We're not a great shooting team, not great from the foul line. We turned the ball over a lot in the first half. A lot of things that caught us up all year came together in this game.

Q. What will you look for out of your players during this off-season?
COACH PIKIELL: I mean, it's a building process. We just started, so... I mean, we got to get better in every area. We'll do that. We'll start. We'll give them some time off. Then we have to improve.

You saw our weaknesses. But I'm proud where we're headed. Again, have a great staff. Work for a great athletic director. Building a new facilities. There's a lot of great things going on at Rutgers. I'm excited to be the head coach. We have a lot of work to do. I'll be on the road tomorrow. We'll keep working. Again, we'll be back.

Q. Based on where the program was when you took over last April to where they are today, did they meet or exceed your expectations of where you are right now?
COACH PIKIELL: If you were at my first workout when I met with my staff afterwards, I was very nervous about every game.

Yeah, we overachieved. I'm excited about that. We need to do that moving forward, overachieve.

Q. I know you have spoken about the improvement with the team. Is there something particular in the off-season that you're going to look for that you feel you need to bring to the program in order to compete better inside the Big Ten; better rebounding, better shooters?
COACH PIKIELL: All of those things. I was the fifth coach in 11 years. We have to improve in every area. We know that.

It's a great league. These teams are going to keep getting better. Great coaches, great rosters. We got to improve. We got to sit down, assess all of our situations, all of our pieces, weight room, conditioning, get them in the gym. The new practice facility is going to be awesome.

We got to look at everything. We got to improve in every area. We'll do that.

Q. You mentioned you have only two seniors graduating, most of your team coming back. How much does that help in improving in year two?
COACH PIKIELL: I mean, we'll see next year. We'll start in two weeks, improving, working on the weaknesses. We'll get everybody in a room, let them know what they need to focus on. We'll see where their heads are, too, in a couple weeks.

But it's a journey. I've been a part of these builds. I've been very confident we're going to build this thing, the right way. It takes time. We got to make a lot of improvements.

You saw the improvements we made. Moving forward here, we got to continue to do that playing in this league.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.


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