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March 14, 2023

Jeff Capel

Jamarius Burton

Guillermo Diaz Graham

Nelly Cummings

Dayton, Ohio, USA

UD Arena

Pitt Panthers

Media Conference

Pitt 60, Mississippi State 59

THE MODERATOR: Coach, what this means and this win and the fight from your team here tonight.

JEFF CAPEL: Well, first and foremost, what a great college basketball game in an amazing atmosphere. I want to give a big-time thank you to the fans here in Dayton. You can see that they love basketball. Really want to give a huge shout-out to our fans that made the trek here to Dayton. We felt them. They gave us energy when we were a little bit tired. I thought they willed that shot, those last two shots from Mississippi State not to go in.

Really proud of my team. We showed toughness, resiliency. We were who we've been all year, and it wasn't pretty, but it was beautiful. We just feel so grateful, so thankful, and so excited to be able to advance and get to Greensboro.

Q. Jamarius, walk us through what was going through your mind ahead of that game-winning shot?

JAMARIUS BURTON: First and foremost, I just want to thank God. It was a tough game. These guys were continuing to fight. When I had the ball in my hands the last 30 seconds or so, I just told myself I was built for it, and I just got to a spot and let it go, and I had complete confidence in myself. That was pretty much everything that went down.

Q. Guillermo, what was it like tonight batting in the paint with Tolu Smith? How did that go down for you? How are you feeling right now physically?

GUILLERMO DIAZ GRAHAM: Man, I'm exhausted. That was a hell of a fight. He's a really good player, and he was trying to attack me every time. Of course he's bigger than me. Just fighting, he's bigger than me but I'm going to fight more than you. It's exhausting, but we won, so it was worth it.

Q. Guillermo, with Federiko's knee injury, when did you find out you would be getting the start? Walk us through that process of getting ready for a matchup like this knowing that you would be without a key guy like Federiko?

GUILLERMO DIAZ GRAHAM: I knew it when we were in shootaround because I was in the starting five. You're always ready. You've always got to be ready to step in and help the team. And hopefully for next game, Feddy can be back so he can experience this thing, too, because he was part of the whole year, and now he couldn't play the first time. But I'm sure he's going to be ready for the next one.

Q. Nelly, coming into the game, you said that on a national stage you guys wanted to go out there and show you're a tough team, a together team, an experienced team who's going to battle together through adversity. How good did it feel to demonstrate that on a national stage?

NELLY CUMMINGS: It definitely felt good. We've been doing it all year long, so it was just a testament to our work all year, and I think everything came together for us today for sure.

Q. Guillermo, what was your feeling when you got that block in the final seconds there? I saw you roar towards the crowd. What was that moment like?

GUILLERMO DIAZ GRAHAM: Just all the energy coming out of my body. I did a block, I don't even know how, with my left hand. I usually don't use my left hand. And I blocked it, and I knew it was a big play, so I just let the energy go out. It's not that good, but I got it locked in back to the two seconds left, but I just couldn't contain it inside me.

Q. Guillermo, you had that big hug with your brother after the game. What's going through your mind and what's that moment like for you and your him?

GUILLERMO DIAZ GRAHAM: Just after the shot clock sound and he come to me and hug me, all the emotions I've been feeling during the game. I've got to keep my face straight, all the emotions at the end. When I hug him, they just come out, and it's a great feeling.

Q. J.B., with the foul trouble you had in the second half there, you spent a lot of time on the bench there. How did you re-collect yourself knowing that you have a moment to go back in and produce in those final minutes?

JAMARIUS BURTON: Yeah, for me, I was just talking to God most of the time, being engaged with my teammates, encouraging them the whole time, and just understanding that I'll have a moment and have a chance of getting back out there and making an impact for the team.

Q. You're part of the first Pitt team to win a tournament game since 2014. How does it feel to cement yourself in that way? How does it feel to get this win?

NELLY CUMMINGS: I think it feels good. We're definitely excited about that win and going to enjoy it today, but our work doesn't stop here. We're a hungry team who's ready for whatever challenge in front of us.

GUILLERMO DIAZ GRAHAM: Yeah, I think the people of Pittsburgh deserve this. They're really great. They come all the way here to support us, and I feel like they deserve this feeling again.

Q. Jamarius and Nelly, you guys were 8 of 13 in the first half from three and then you only took six from three in the second half. What were they doing to try to push you guys off the three-point line, and how much did you guys talk about needing to switch up your game to adjust to that?

NELLY CUMMINGS: I think they kind of stayed with shooters a little more. Every team is going to make adjustments at halftime, so I think we had to make the same type of adjustments and realize what type of game we were in and take what the defense was giving us.

JAMARIUS BURTON: I agree. We've got some lethal shooters on our team and the attention that they bring -- I remember at point in time, when Blake was setting screens, they didn't want to switch, they wanted to stay with him. And sometimes we exploit that mismatch with him at the 4 setting those screens, because you've either got to stop the ball or stop him.

They did a good job taking him away, but he made a big one down the stretch for us, and we just continued to take what the defense gave us.

Q. Nelly, I think it was a one-possession game for like 26 minutes in a row. What's it like to be in that for such a long stretch where no one can really pull away?

NELLY CUMMINGS: It's a dogfight. Coming into this game, we were prepared for that. But when you're in the dogfight it's a lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotion, a lot of attention to detail. And I think today we did a really good job of that and staying on task and understanding our assignment.

Q. What was the message about the rebounding after halftime? They dominated the offensive glass and the overall rebounds. Then you guys -- they still won the rebounding battle, but you guys mitigated it to a point where you guys were able to keep fighting back. What was the talk coming out of the locker room?

NELLY CUMMINGS: Yeah, without Federiko, we knew we had a challenge ahead of us regardless, so I think all of us rallied around that and really gave it our all. Everybody crashed the glass. We call it gang rebounding. We all wanted to attack it and everybody get a rebound to lighten the load on G.

JAMARIUS BURTON: Going into the game, we understood that they were a good rebounding team, we understood that number one got about four offensive rebounds a game, so we knew that was a point of emphasis going in. And they was dominating the boards, like you said, in the first half, but like Nelly said, if we really want to win, we've got to gang rebound and get the stops necessary.


Q. It seemed like there was a consistent plan whenever they tried to feed to someone against Guillermo down low. You were coming to help and you had a plan of attack. You only had a couple days to talk about this plan and not knowing Feddy wouldn't play until late. What went into the preparation to execute that plan and keep executing it for 40 minutes?

JAMARIUS BURTON: I would just say it was scouting report. Coach did a great job putting us in positions knowing where they were going to be feeding the ball off of their plays and execution. And for us, we just wanted to be there for our brother. We understood the type of battle he was going to be in, all-conference type of guy, that he was going to be going against, so we just wanted to have his back out there.

NELLY CUMMINGS: And the attention to detail we had to have to maintain that throughout the game was something that we talked about as soon as we found out who we were playing. As soon as we seen the matchup, we knew we would have to be locked in defensively. Being that Federiko wasn't playing, we just understood the assignment and really just followed it.

GUILLERMO DIAZ GRAHAM: Yeah, we knew they were going to come at me, and I just had my team behind me to help me because I was at a disadvantage, but they helped.

Q. Jeff, I know you said you're proud of your guys, but you've challenged them on defense and detail. What's your overall feeling as a coach who's mentored these guys all season long with the defensive effort they gave this game?

JEFF CAPEL: Just really proud of them. They fought. They were tonight who they've been all season long. Tough, resilient, unbelievably together. I mean, for Guillermo as a freshman to start in the NCAA Tournament and play 37 minutes against an all-conference player that's a graduate, that's a grown man, and to stand up to him and to fight throughout and then to make that block at the end. For Jamarius to be sitting for as long as he sat and then to want the ball in that moment and to be able to deliver. For our team to be able to defend this team and hold them under 40 percent shooting. I thought one of the main stats is that we defended really well without fouling. They only shot seven free throws.

I think Smith had been averaging about seven free throws a game himself. So for us to be able to do that and to be able to grind out a game like this, I'm really proud of everyone.

Q. You said you were thankful for the chance to come here to Dayton, and you definitely had a lot of fan support, it looks like. You guys being a few hours away from home, would you say that played an aspect in that considering a lot of teams the next couple days will be flying across the country to come here?

JEFF CAPEL: Yeah, well, I think certainly having our crowd there -- man, when they start the starting lineups, you heard them, you felt it. And throughout the game, you heard the "let's go Pitt" chants. And then at the end when we blocked that shot in those last 2.7 seconds, I thought their energy helped that ball not go in, the three in the corner and then the tip-in.

Q. I saw the moment you had with Guillermo before he walked off the podium. I know how much you and your staff love him and his brother and how far they've come this season in their development. What does that say about the collectiveness and the togetherness of this team and how they represent it?

JEFF CAPEL: Yeah, well, I love all of them. But specifically, as you asked about those two, one of the coolest things for me for this game, besides winning, was how his teammates were with him throughout the game. There were times when he wanted to put his head down, that he didn't feel good about maybe an assignment or missing a shot. And those guys kept telling him, don't do that. We've got your back, we're with you.

It's who they've been all year.

I'm just -- again, for a freshman to step up on this stage and to play like he did, five rebounds, two blocks, his ball screen defense at the end, for the last, I'd say, about eight minutes, we tried to trap every ball screen with the 5. And for him to be able to do that and get back in there and to fight and to battle, this is the most minutes he's played all year, and just really, really happy for him.

Q. Jeff, that buzzer sounds, you guys win, how do you describe the emotions?

JEFF CAPEL: Happy, excited, relieved. Exhausted but full of energy. Just really happy to see our guys in that moment. Like, to see them, to see how they reacted to it, to see how excited they were and how proud they were of our fight and being together and figuring it out.

Q. You mentioned that tonight they were who they've been all year. The journey of this team when you look at it from where you guys started in season and maybe some people not thinking you were going to do -- you went through tough times, went through great times. The fact that translates into a night like this, as a coach, how fulfilling is it to look at the journey this team has been on?

JEFF CAPEL: I am so proud to be on this journey with them. I'm really proud of the journey they've taken us on. When I say "us," our coaching staff, because it's been really unbelievable when you think about it from the beginning.

When we were down in Miami playing for the ACC championship, the night before, my staff and I were just sitting around, and we just started talking about everything, just everything. The first four years, everything that we had been through, and then we started talking about everything that happened at the beginning of this year.

Just unbelievably proud and grateful to be a part of them, to be a part of their journey, to have some sort of impact, to watch how they've come together and how they've stuck together, how they have persevered, to watch the joy they bring every day, to watch how they've been able to move on to the next play after a big win or a tough loss, it's been pretty unbelievable.

Q. Jeff, we've talked about how resilient your team has been and how they've been able to take counter punches and adjust in game when you guys can't practice as hard as you want because of the limited players. They did it again today. I talked to them before about the three-pointers, shooting a bunch in the first half and shooting only six in the second half. What goes into their mindset to be able to just keep playing and keep finding different ways to win all season long?

JEFF CAPEL: Yeah, I just think it's a group of fighters. It's a group that really believes in themselves, really believes in each other. We've said the strength of our team is the team. We've said that from the beginning. Tonight was another example of that. Guys stepped up and made big plays throughout. Some of those finishes that Nelly made, Blake taking that what-the-heck three, but that's who he is. I've got to live with that. I'm yelling at him when he shoots it and he looks at me like whatever. Again, I understand that. I understand my group.

I'm just unbelievably proud, man, to be on this journey with them. I don't want it to end.

Q. How close was Federiko to going today, and how much was he able to test out his knee before you guys shut it down?

JEFF CAPEL: Yeah, he wasn't close. We knew yesterday he wasn't playing. I shouldn't say we knew. We knew it was going to be a long shot. And when we went to shootaround today, he tested it again just one more time, but in my mind, I had the feeling when I watched him try yesterday that it was just too soon. If we would have played later in the week, Thursday or Friday, maybe there was a chance he could have been ready for that. There's a chance he could be ready for Friday. We're very, very hopeful.

But once we got to this morning's shootaround, I knew right then that he wasn't going to be able to go.

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