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March 17, 2017

Tom Izzo

Nick Ward

Miles Bridges

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Michigan State - 78, Miami - 58

COACH IZZO: Well, the game started out in an incredible manner for us. I don't sleep any nights worried about Nick getting in foul trouble just because of our lack of depth at that position. And he set not only a North American record but a Michigan State record. He got one, set two seconds. It had to be less than that. So I hope he wants to get in the record books for more than fastest foul.

But we were really shaky early. We turned the ball over a lot early. We responded like a bunch of freshmen, to be honest with you. We weren't as sharp as we needed to be.

Give Miami credit. They took it to us. And after that first seven or eight minutes, I thought we played some of the best basketball we've played not only this year but in a couple of years. We moved the ball. We guarded. We took a couple of things away that are strengths.

Our whole mantra was to keep them away from the paint and keep them out of there. I'm telling you Miami is hard to keep out of there. We shot pretty well against a very good defensive team, and I'm proud of these guys. I looked out there one time there were four freshmen, and I think four freshmen and Kenny Goins, and I just said, wow, you know, we're throwing a lot at them. But we threw a lot at them all year and I think they reaped some of those benefits tonight.

Q. Tom, I just want to ask you, you had to have gotten some leadership from somebody when you were under the ropes a little bit. Did you see anyone grow in that area?
COACH IZZO: I saw a lot of guys grow. I was too mad at Nick for him to lead there for a minute, but you know what he didn't pout. He didn't sit back. He kind of owned it a little bit, and those are all big steps, but Miles -- Tum Tum still does it. Miles did it a little bit. I saw a little more out of McQuaid, and Langford had some energy tonight.

So I don't know if it was one guy or collectively. I don't know. You tell me. You were out there. I wasn't out there. Is there anybody else I'm missing?

MILES BRIDGES: Tum Tum and Alvin.

COACH IZZO: Alvin. Yeah. I think Alvin did settle us down a little bit. I mean, we were just so bad with those very average turnovers. And Cassius after the first -- and Nick after the first stint, I thought those two guys maybe played as well in doing what we needed them to do as they've done all year.

Q. You've kind of questioned your own scheduling this year but isn't this the time of year it pays off?
COACH IZZO: I don't think there's any question. I mean, one of the talks we gave in the pregame was about this is a big game. But we played at Duke. We played Kentucky in Madison Square Garden. We played Arizona out in Hawaii. I mean, we've been on big stages all year long. And I think it hurt us some in the travel and everything, and but you'll have to ask them. I think they had confidence that they could play in a big stage.

Now, the first five minutes I questioned that, but boy, from then on I really felt that was a big part of, you know, they weren't intimidated. They weren't -- they didn't get down when they got down, what, 12, 13. I don't know what we were down. But yeah, I think it helped us some. I really do.

Q. Just for the players, can you address, what changed? What was the catalyst for turning things around for you guys at that point?
NICK WARD: Well, you know, our energy on defense how we up side -- we just played as a team really. When we feed off of each other, we're hard to beat.

MILES BRIDGES: It is our defense, like he said. We were getting big rebounds. We weren't turning the ball over. Once we stopped turning the ball over, that's when our lead went up and that's when we got our confidence up.

COACH IZZO: I'd like to add one thing. Dwayne Stephens, I have my assistants, each one gets a team and this one was Dwayne's and I thought he did an unbelievable job. We kind of threw some things at Miles where he had to help and what he had to do. So I'd have to agree with all of them. They followed the game plan. D.J. did a great job on the game plan, and I just kind of went along for the ride. It was good.

Q. Miles, can you tell me, on offense, you guys were having a little bit of trouble with their zone offense initially. I think you guys might have been looking to feed the foul line a little bit. Was that true and how did you finally figure out that zone?
MILES BRIDGES: We were looking for home run passes to start off and once we started moving the ball around getting into the middle we were getting easy layups and we were offensive rebounding, so that really helped us, too.

Q. Coach, you have some experience playing KU in recent years. What's your initial thoughts of this year's team? I know you were at similar sites with them earlier in the season?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, you know, Bill and I when he was at Illinois, you know, we're friends. We've been on the board together, and we've played them a lot. I mean almost every year -- not every year, but we're playing them in the NCAA tournament. We play them in the Tournament of Champions. We saw them in Arizona and I only saw a little bit of them tonight, thank God. I saw the good part when they were only up 4 with eight minutes left and then they burned UC Davis. But they got a good team, veteran team. They got all those seniors, juniors and Josh is a heck of a player.

But you know, we get to work again. I told my guys all I want to do is work another night and get a chance to go against one of the top teams. Hey, guys, we've played three teams that were No. 1 in the country, Baylor, Kentucky and Duke at one time. We played Arizona, got as high as 3. It's not like -- I think Kansas is a hell of a team, and I think Mason is an exceptional guard, and I thought Josh is playing at a very high level.

But we've played a lot of big teams all year. Maybe we can use this again, and yet, they're kind of playing in their own backyard. It's going to be fun.

I appreciate Bill. I appreciate their program and what they've done. But tonight I appreciate my guys. Nobody will know the year we've gone through. And for them to do what they did tonight speaks volume of the character of the guys I got.

Q. Tom, if I'm not mistaken, I think Nick Ward might have made some progress with the ball screen defense against Newton. I imagine you guys worked on that all week. Did you see some progress there in that area?
COACH IZZO: How long did we work on it, Nick?

NICK WARD: Every practice.

COACH IZZO: I thought Nick did a better job -- and then I'll let him answer it. I thought Nick, you know, we changed our ball screen for another time. We've been trying to make up for it, something Nick's struggled with a little bit, Cassius has struggled with a little bit.

I thought both guys did a much better job tonight, and I thought, again, my staff did a good job, and we got some time to work on it. What do you think, Nick?

NICK WARD: Well, you know, the coach really helped us, just helped with the ball screens, and it's just -- it was hard at first because we wasn't used to all the different types of defenses, but we gotta trust the process. Coach knows what he's doing, so we just really had to trust it.

Q. Tom, just in terms of the 40-plus NCAA tournament wins you've had over the years, there haven't been many when you've been on the road like that in the first couple of minutes. There may be one or two I can think of, Kentucky and St. Louis. Your first Final Four, you were a young coach back then against Tubby Smith. I know you couldn't draw on that at all, but did you have belief that this team was going to come back?
COACH IZZO: I did. I was worried about whether these freshmen would handle the big stage, even though they've been on one, it's still the NCAA tournament and the difference with now the Kentuckys and the Dukes and the Arizonas and the Baylors and all those and then our conference schedule, the difference now is it's one-and-done time.

But, you know, in a way, guys, we've been feeling like it's one-and-done time for about a month now because we had to win big games at Nebraska and some road games and beat Wisconsin at home. This wasn't a typical Michigan State road to the NCAA tournament, and I don't know. You know, I told these guys, I've had a lot of good teams, I've had a lot of great guys. I've never, ever -- and coaches say this -- had a team that has stuck together like these guys. And I think it starts with the two best players that are sitting up here are egoless and have adjusted with the seniors. The seniors, give Eron Harris some credit, too. He's hung in there with us all week and Alvin Ellis have accepted them and what a cool thing to watch happen, and I'd like to keep it going a little while.

Unfortunately, there's a buzz saw in front of us, but we've had that all year. Might as well do it one more time.

Q. Tom, can you talk a little bit about Josh Langford's game tonight? He seemed to really step it up there, especially early in the second half?
COACH IZZO: These guys would agree. In the second half he started looking for his shot and then, God, I wanted to kill him because then he had a couple shots he didn't look for, wasn't ready to shoot. And he's been shooting really well in practice. I think what you saw in him is maturation. As Nick said, the process. The process is you grow as a player and these guys have had to kind of grow on their own. There's not a lot of people around them to lead, and I think Josh Langford, these guys have been pretty solid. I thought Josh and Cassius took major steps in the last couple of weeks really, but tonight I'd say really, really. So yeah, Josh Langford was awesome. On defense, too.

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