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March 27, 2018

Rick Stansbury

Justin Johnson

New York, New York

Utah 69, Western Kentucky 64

COACH COACH RICK STANSBURY: Well, first off, give Utah credit. They made the plays in the last minute of the game that you've got to make sometimes to win games, and they stepped up and made their free throws and hit the big three to kind of give them a little bit of separation.

You know, these kind of games, it's a fine line, winning and losing. And again, we can all look back on different plays that we could have and should have made and we didn't make, or a call here or there. When you're playing good teams, you know, like Utah, this late in the year, all of them are fine lines. Like I say, give them credit making the plays.

But I'm also proud of our team. Like I said, we didn't win the basketball game, but it doesn't take away or diminish what these young men did this year. I'm all of proud for them. I know it hurts right now, three seniors, but these guys can all walk away and hold their heads up high. Western Kentucky won because of them and all three of them won individually, too. Proud for them.

And again, there's not going to be but two happy teams. Everybody is going to have this feeling. The team that wins in the NIT National Championship and the team that wins the NCAA Championship.

Right now, I guess there's six teams left that's going to have this feeling, and that's it. Again, we're not going to let this feeling take away what these guys accomplished this year, and all of proud of them.

Q. What did you see on the last play with about 40 seconds on the drive?
JUSTIN JOHNSON: Coach, we scored on the play before. Coach puts the ball in my hands to make a play, and I don't think it's a charge. That's about -- I thought it was going up. I thought he slid under me. I had already left my feet.

The call, you can't change a call. We still were up one, and you get a stop, you still have a chance to win a ballgame.

Q. I know it's obviously fresh on your mind with the loss, but can you just sum up just how much your career has meant how, these four years, how much you'll remember these for the rest of your life?
JUSTIN JOHNSON: You know, I wish I had another year in a Hilltopper uniform. This year has been by far the best year of my career. I mean, coming here four years ago, if I had the chance to come here again and go through the same thing, I would do it over again.

It's been nothing but good to me, even with the ups and downs, I've loved every minute of it. And like I said, I wish I had redid this year and had another year with the same group of guys in that locker room. I've made best friends for a lifetime in that locker room this year, the fun we've had and the memories we've made. Like I said, you wish you had one more go around with those guys.

Q. You got off to such a hot start, 18-5 and offensively things were clicking. Did they do anything differently to slow you down? What were the offensive struggles after that hot start?
JUSTIN JOHNSON: They stayed in the zone pretty much the whole game. Nothing really changed. Just we missed some shots around the basket and we took too many threes early in that game. You know, we got kind of out of rhythm a little bit. We let the offense affect our defense in that second quarter when we had that lead, and then we had a couple costly turnovers that led to easy baskets for them.

You know, but nothing they did really sped us up. They stayed in that zone the whole game until probably about the last couple minutes.

Q. I think I recall you saying once that you wanted to leave this program in better shape when you came and when you left. Do you feel like you've done that, especially after this season?
JUSTIN JOHNSON: That's one thing I told Coach, too. In years to come, I still want to be involved with this program, when I'm back in town and everything. That was my goal when I came here. You know, you want to leave something better than you found it, and leave an impression on it. I hope to have done that and help those young guys in that locker room, along the way, whether it's in life or basketball.

You know, I hope that I'm leaving it in a better spot.

Q. Seemed like the last few minutes, guys had trouble with the shots. What was the offensive break down at the end? It was right there for you it seemed like.
COACH COACH RICK STANSBURY: Well, everything gets magnified towards the end. You can go back -- one of you guys asked a question early. Sometimes when you shoot a lot of threes and make some, it can be fool's gold a little bit. That's not our strength.

You know, we shot some threes early, made some, got some separation, and probably fell in love with it a bit too much early and shot too many threes. That's not who we are.

And again, you know, the game probably in that second quarter is when they made that run and got back and tied it backup. Again, everything is magnified towards the end. You know, but toward the end, all these plays you look back on. There's always some fouls that you don't need to commit that leads to bonuses, two shots, and there's always going to be plays throughout 40 minutes that you're not going to like the call.

But that's where it is. It comes down; winning and losing is a fine line. If one of those plays goes the other way, you know, it may be different. And give them credit. They made those plays and they made the two free throws on that foul and you know, 4-man steps out and majors a huge three. He was 1-for-6 till he makes one, and so he stepped up and made a timely one.

We didn't do a good job -- the wide lane is probably not to our advantage against the zone because it stands our post guys away from the basket a little bit farther. Dwight needs to be around that rim as close as he can and it probably affected him some.

But still, with all that, we didn't shoot it great, Darius goes 1-for-10. Darius goes 1-for-10, Taveion goes 3-for-10, and we still, under a minute to go, it's a one-possession game and that probably hurts more than anything because we know there's a lot of plays we could have gotten that we left on that floor that we didn't make. But again, Utah is a very good team, and they are not the No. 2 seed for what they have done for no reason. They jumped up and made some plays.

Q. How much were these last two and a half weeks and what you did in the NIT something that you can really build off of and take into next year and beyond?
COACH COACH RICK STANSBURY: You know, we always want to be on a platform where you're competing for championships and creating some excitement. I think the biggest thing, besides the experience these young men have had, I think it's just not for them but for our league. I think people look at our league again and understand how good our league is, and our whole university, Western Kentucky. You like seeing that town turned upside down with excitement. That's the way it used to be. That's the way it needs to be. That's what it's about.

You love to see the excitement of coming here and playing. Everybody benefits from that. You know, we want people feeling good about Western Kentucky. We want to believe when we get off that bus to come here and play, we've got a chance to win, and that was the belief. That's what you want as a coach and as a player.

Now, doesn't mean you're going to win every one of them. All you can ask for is an opportunity. We had an opportunity tonight; we didn't finish it off. Utah finished it off. Like I said, there's going to be two happy teams; those two teams that win a national championship. Everybody else is going to have some disappointment.

But we are not going to let any disappointment, after we can reflect just a little bit, take away from what this team accomplished, the kind of people they were. They are sure not about a W or an L. I have some high-character guys, like Justin said, that have fought, overcame a lot of different things and put themselves in this position.

And again, there's eight teams left in America playing, eight teams. And Western Kentucky is one of those eight teams. You know what's good about it? We're disappointed. We're disappointed we're still not playing. I like that. I like that. That means there's some expectations, there's some feelings; how good we are and how good we can be.

Q. Can you summarize what Justin has meant in the two years you've been here and the four years he's been here in his career?
COACH COACH RICK STANSBURY: You know, again, last year, didn't know what we had, and you guys understand the situation. Kind of what we had last year. You know, coming back this year, kind of a whole new group. You know, we didn't have Justin until August the 5th, as you guys know. And like I said, he was 30 pounds heavier and had a bum knee.

But the one thing he's been able to give us because of his character is great leadership. You know, when you get guys lead by example -- and he's really changed who he was when I first got here. You know, I think his first year, it was hard for him to really lead by example because he probably took a shortcut as much as he could.

But he matured through that. He grew up through that and he got better through it. When you get your best player being one of your hardest workers every day, then you've got some leadership.

And when you got good people then around him, you get them to follow a little bit. That's kind of what this group was. Let's start with Justin. I put a lot of confidence in him and he never took advantage of that because he's a high-character guy and again, you know, just what he accomplished tells you just how good a player he was.

We all can see -- I remember this. His first two years as a player, I think he made one three-point shot and everybody said he got lucky on that. Threw it in against somebody. But he deserves a lot of credit for getting in that gym the last two years, made 40- or 50-plus each year and that's a huge improvement, and that's enabled him to be a better player, it's made our team better and it's helped him long-term, too.

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