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March 20, 2019

Kevin Willard

Myles Powell

Michael Nzei

Quincy McKnight

Jacksonville, Florida

Q. Take us through the late-season push here to get to the tournament, and now you're finally here. What have the last few days been like coming from the tournament to now?
MICHAEL NZEI: At the beginning of the season, we had a goal as a team to try to get to the dance, so towards the end of the season, we had to give everything we had, so we had to do everything we could and play as a team and try to come to the dance. So we did that by winning the last couple of games and going into the Big East and making a run to the final.

Q. What was the toughest part of the last month or so? What's the most difficult part?
MYLES POWELL: Just having our backs against the wall and pretty much everybody doubting us. We knew what we had to do, and pretty much our season was on the line and we just had to believe in each other and just keep fighting, and that's been our story all year, just to keep fighting.

Q. What's this like, how is this different? You've been here before, especially you two guys, how is this different now that it's your team? What's changed or what's the feel from past years?
MYLES POWELL: For me it was easy following the four seniors. They did such a great job on and off the court of leading this program to the right direction, so I mean, now the spotlight is on all us three right here and it's different. But we're definitely ready for it, our coach has prepared us for it, and we've got each other's back.

Q. Myles, can you talk about that fight a little bit? How much of that comes from Kevin, and you talked a little bit about his toughness and how that permeates through the team.
MYLES POWELL: Just it being the Big East. Big East basketball, that's what it's all about. That was just a group of kids pretty much fighting for what they wanted, a championship. We were just out there battling. It was nothing towards Marquette. I mean, it's all love at the end of the day, we talk to those guys off the court. But when we step inside those lines, we don't have friends, and we were just trying to get to a championship.

Q. Kevin Willard, sorry, not Marquette.
MYLES POWELL: Coach Willard, he's a great guy on and off the court, but he definitely knows what he wants, and he has to push us to get to where we want to go. We just follow Coach Willard's lead, and he's been doing a pretty good job.

Q. You had that stretch about a month ago where you dropped three straight - to Xavier, to St. John's, to Georgetown, where you're very much going towards the bubble, if not the wrong side of the bubble. What changed after that to get you to where you are right now?
QUINCY McKNIGHT: You know, the Georgetown game was a tough one for us, losing in double overtime, and I think it was just our fight. We knew our potential, the games that we have won previous and non-conference. We had a good non-conference, and just those three games, losing those was tough for us, you about we knew we could bounce back and we knew we could make a run, and that's all Coach really pushed for, to make a run. Last year with the four seniors, we were kind of in the same predicament where we had to win a lot of games to make it to the tournament, and we just fight. That's what our motto has been all year, just keep fighting, and that's all we really did was just keep pushing.

Q. Myles, when we were in New York at the Big East Tournament, you obviously went on a tear there and you really embraced just everything that the tournament was, the sell-out crowds and the attention and everything. And I guess even though you've been to the tournament before, how much more are you looking forward to this opportunity to really putting your mark on this event?
MYLES POWELL: Like I said, the past two years I've been here, I pretty much had the seniors to lean on, so I was just following Angel's lead. But this year the guys are leaning on me for the emotional part, and just following my lead on the court. It's kind of different when everybody is following your lead.

Q. Obviously the last time out, Villanova you had a very difficult, very draining kind of game emotionally. How do you come back from that emotionally going after a stretch where you've just beaten in the last 10-day stretch, you beat a defending national champion, you beat a top-20 team twice and you lose by two to a national champion? How do you get back into something, into a routine where things are a little more -- where you keep the momentum going in the right direction but you also don't burn out?
MICHAEL NZEI: I think it's all about preparation. We have a great coaching staff that's worked with us all summer to get us mentally prepared for the ups and downs of the season. So the season is a grind, so sometimes you get down, you have to pick yourself back up, like during the Big East Tournament we had to play back-to-back nights. So it's just the toughness in us and the support from our coaches that kept us going.

Q. Q, I wanted to ask you, I know we talked about this during the season, but what was it like for you to have to change your game coming from Sacred Heart and sitting out last year? How was that mentally and physically to change your style to be less of a scorer and more of a distributor?
QUINCY McKNIGHT: It didn't really change my style. High school, my last year in prep school, I played point guard a lot, and then I got to Sacred Heart my freshman year and I played a little bit, but I wasn't coached as well as coach Willard has. We didn't have as good a coaching staff as we have now. And it's just preparation like Michael said. The year I sat out, I worked a lot with Coach Holloway, Coach Willard and everybody just worked with me. And then Coach Skinn came in this summer, Guys like that, and they just kept working with me. And Coach Skinn, he's a great point guard. He played professionally, he's a great point guard, great mentor for me.

And basically just being -- just, I don't know the word to explain it, just being able to adapt. We've got Myles, a guy who everybody knows can score the ball, and my guys, they just kept with me and just told me keep pushing and just fight really, and that's really what it was. I'm a good player and I think I'm real versatile, so I just focused on being a distributor over the summer and just working on everything, and I think that's really why I'm playing the way I am.

Q. It seems like you guys in the Big East haven't gotten a lot of respect nationally this year. What kind of an opportunity is this for you guys to change that narrative?
MICHAEL NZEI: I mean, at this point we as a team, we didn't get a lot of respect going into the season, but we're only looking at what we have within us, so we're just out here ready to prove and show people what we can do, so we're really just worried about ourselves as a team and just trying to get the job done.

THE MODERATOR: Just start us off with some general thoughts about the stretch run here and being back in the NCAA Tournament.

KEVIN WILLARD: Yeah, I'm really proud of my team, the way we've played really since February 9th. We've really been playing aggressively defensively. We've been playing great together. Myles Powell has been absolutely off the charts. But I think I've been proud of my sophomores. They've really grown up. Quincy McKnight has given us such a spark defensively. And our guys coming off the bench I just think have been so steady. We've gotten such great production, Shavar Reynolds has given us big minutes, Romaro Gill has really grown up. Jared Rhoden and Anthony Nelson, my two freshmen, I've been so happy with their development.

And we had three great games in the Big East Tournament and had a great shot to win it with the right guy taking it, and just really proud of getting back to this point four years in a row. It just shows you a lot about the character of the kids on this team and the leadership of Myles Powell, how much he's meant to this team and how much he's grown.

Q. You mentioned him when you were running down the roster just now, but how much have you been impressed and also appreciative of the way Q has kind of sometimes had to sacrifice his own offense to, number one, play so hard on the defensive end, always guarding the other team's best guy, and the fact that he's become so much of a distributor rather than looking to score the ball himself that often?
KEVIN WILLARD: Yeah, I think the most important development for Q is I think he's found a nice balance about when to score and when to be a facilitator. And it's hard. He works as hard as anyone I've seen on the defensive end. He takes a lot of pride in it. He takes up the challenge that he's had to play against Markus Howard, Phil Booth, the list goes on of the guys he's had to guard. I love the fact that he accepts those challenges and he looks forward to it.

Offensively I think he's really grown at the point guard spot, and he's a major reason why we're here.

Q. Kevin, you mentioned Myles, obviously, and you would have confidence in him I'm sure no matter what, over three years you've watched him and obviously this year in a much different role, but to see how he's played down the stretch carrying you and obviously in the Big East Tournament, I guess how much better does that make you feel, and I guess how much are you looking forward to seeing what he can do kind of just embracing the spotlight that's going to be on him?
KEVIN WILLARD: Yeah, you know, I saw, I think, last year going into the NCAA Tournament, I really started to see him gain the confidence that you're now seeing, and I saw it, and I think the older guys last year really kind of pushed him in the -- I thought he had a great NCAA Tournament last year.

The way he's kind of willed this team over the last two weeks, I mean, we've had a really stressful last two weeks, the two home games against Marquette and Nova, and then obviously the three games in the Big East Tournament, the way he's handled that, his maturity, his leadership has been phenomenal. You know, it's -- but more than anything, I think he really challenged himself to play at a high level, and sometimes it's easy to lead and sometimes it's great to be a guy that can pat someone on the butt and say "great job," but he has stepped up to the plate and he has played out of this world.

I think the way he has played with his confidence, that has trickled down to all the other guys, and they feed off him. He just deserves a ton of credit for the amount of -- as much as he's worked this year and as hard as he's played, he's just been spectacular.

Q. When you constructed the non-conference schedule, how much of it was geared toward this moment, and how did you know that your team was ready to handle that?
KEVIN WILLARD: You know, scheduling has become really difficult, and I didn't know about the NET when I did my -- I was going off the RPI when I did our non-conference schedule, so I wasn't quite sure -- when they changed to the NET, it kind of threw me for a loop because home losses really hurt you. The amount scored hurts you. I did a non-conference schedule because I looked at the league and I knew the league was going to be really good, but I thought it was going to be exactly the way it was this year. I thought it was going to be extremely balanced top to bottom. I didn't think we were going to have Nova 1 seed, Xavier 1 seed, Butler -- last year was, I mean, we were packed at the top. And so when I looked at the league in the non-conference, I really thought we needed to play some teams that were going to be from leagues that were going to really help our RPI, and that's kind of -- the way I looked at the non-conference schedule was I had a young team that I wanted to test, and I wanted to be Big East ready, and I thought that we needed help through the RPI with our non-conference schedule, strength of schedule, and that would be -- that would help get us to this point.

I still think it did. I think our non-conference schedule was phenomenal, and I think it helped grow this team and make them not only ready for this right now, but most importantly, for the future. I look at this team going forward, and I'm excited, just as excited about that as I am being here right now.

Q. Just to follow, do you think you'll continue to do that scheduling in the future?

Q. Do you know if you'll play Kentucky in future years?
KEVIN WILLARD: I don't -- I really don't want to play Kentucky again. (Laughter).

No, I'm changing our non-conference schedule. I think just looking at what seeds happen, where people ended up, it didn't seem like league schedule mattered as much as some of your losses at home or some of your point spreads. So I think I'm definitely going back right now and I'm looking at my schedule to see where I can balance it out a little bit more. I'm still trying to get a feel for -- because seeding is everything in this tournament. I mean, we're a 10 and Wofford is a 7, and I think they're -- they should be a 5 or a 4, looking at their schedule and who they've played and how they've played.

So I'm looking at it more or less -- I'm dissecting it. It will not be as difficult as it was last year. It'll be much more balanced hopefully.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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