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March 9, 2001

Jonathan Beerbohm

Troy Bell

Al Skinner


Q. Al, with Seton Hall playing their first game in three nights, did you feel that when the game was close at the half, 42-42, eight minutes in it, that your legs would eventually take over?

COACH AL SKINNER: Well, we were hoping that would come into play, and that's why we continued to press and try to stay aggressive, because we, you know, wanted to make them work as hard as we possibly can. If that's the advantage that we have and in having an extra day off, we have to take advantage of that. Because I really thought they handled the pressure well. I thought they got some great looks. I didn't think it really bothered them. I was hoping that it would have some effect over the course of 40 minutes.

Q. You talked yesterday about players' defensive intensity and commitment to defense. Was the second half, do you think that was maybe their best defensive performance this season?

COACH AL SKINNER: I don't think it was the best defensive performance, but it clearly was a very good one, and the thing that I was probably most impressed with was that I thought the guys played smart. That probably was coming into play as much as anything. I thought we really played smart on defense. I thought guys were communicating well. There have been times that we played and I think played much more aggressive than that but we played smart that last ten minutes of the ball game and really did a good job that way.

Q. Maybe for Al and also for the guys, can you maybe comment about now reaching the threshold of winning this tournament, after setting that as a goal.

COACH AL SKINNER: Well, I mean it's in front of us, and we got to make the most of it. You know, we've taken the first couple steps and now we got to settle in and get ourselves some rest and get prepared, get prepared for tomorrow night. But it's, you know, this is an opportunity that we wanted when we came into this situation, and we're going to attempt to take advantage of it.

Q. Guys?

JONATHAN BEERBOHM: Yeah, like when we came in, it was definitely one of our goals, and we just wanted to finish up the season on a good note and we definitely did that. Coming into the tournament here, we just want to take one game at a time. We never knew this -- we definitely knew this was one of our top goals. We took one game at a time. Tomorrow night we have to go out and get it.

Q. Coach, Agbai came in, had two emphatic stuff jambs which put you up first 11 and then 13, seemed to spark your team. Can you talk about that?

COACH AL SKINNER: Well, it was a big lift because he really hadn't had a chance to play and play well. And, you know, I thought he had some tough calls and really didn't get a chance to get into it. He was really pumped up. Once he got those, I think it got everybody pumped up, it got everybody excited. It was very aggressive playing considering the number of blocks that Seton Hall had made against us, for us to attack the basket and attack it that aggressively was a big lift for us. That was really important.

Q. Troy, at what point in that second half as you were building the lead or had gotten it, if any, did you as the leader on the floor start thinking about clock maintenance and that kind of thing as opposed to?

TROY BELL: When they tied the game up, I knew we had to step up. We were kind of rushing things on the offensive end. As soon as they tied it up, we had to rush offense -- we were sort of scatter-brained out there, I guess. We didn't know what we wanted to do. But we got it together and I think that's what led us to the victory.

Q. Once you started the roll, you're looking at the clock, thinking about how to end the game as opposed to piling up points?

TROY BELL: Not really. I mean, a lot of people doubted us the whole year. It feels good to come out and pile up the points on the team. Guys did it to us last year, so...

Q. If I could just follow that up for both players, can you talk about winning the Big East Championship. It seems like you're trying to make a statement in every game. Is that accurate?

JONATHAN BEERBOHM: I guess you could say that. It's just this whole year has kind of been each team we face, it's a team we go against that they kind of beat up against us in the last two, three years. It's almost like a revenge year or a pay back year for us. Each game it building more and more in our heads and we want to just -- pile more and more wins on for us and just go out there and take each game for what it is, you know. We haven't had a lot of success in the past and now we're finally here and we're going to take advantage of it and go out and get it.

Q. Troy?

TROY BELL: I feel the exact same way. Every game is payback for us, that's how we look at it. Like he said, I had a tough last year. I wasn't here for the other year, but I still feel it. We want to go out and make the season as special as we can.

Q. Al, (inaudible). There were a couple of matchups in the league that would be difficult for you. You didn't have to face Griffin till tonight. He did a terrific job of kind of pushing him away from the box and really forcing him into bad shots. Can you talk about that?

COACH AL SKINNER: His initial defense was obviously real important to us, but he's done that all year long. And guys have learned how to respond to him when he's done that, and, you know, we appreciate effort that he gives because it's clear that he's overmatched and he goes out and battles every night. So it's really extremely important to our defense that he's able to do that, because without that intensity and that toughness that he brings to that position, you know, there's no way we could have the success, especially on the defensive end, because he's the one guy on the floor that year in -- all year that has been overmatched. Uka has some too, but not to the extent I think X has it. So his toughness, guys have responded to that. They recognize he's working his tail off and they give him as much help as he can.

Q. Guys don't go to the two to four very often.

COACH AL SKINNER: We say three to four. But, again, he's doing what he can to help his team win, and that goes throughout this team. And there's some advantages there for him, too. I mean, he's getting some great looks on the offensive end. I think he's obviously become a real solid player for us and done some good things. And the other thing is that, you know, he's always been a smart basketball player and you need smart players in your back line to help the guards out in front because they see the whole floor and they're able to communicate to them to tell them what's going on. That's, you know, that's what he brings to that position, a tremendous amount of intelligence and some toughness, and it obviously helps our defense.

Q. Al, can you maybe speak to what concern you may have had, you know, going up against this team that was as talented as it was but seemed to have found a spark in the last couple days in terms of its chemistry? And how much did you think that would, you know, play a factor?

COACH AL SKINNER: Well, I mean it's clear, I thought they had been playing obviously much better than they had been, you know, offensively I thought they were executing well. They were getting the ball to Griffin when they needed it. Darius was shooting the ball extremely well. You know, Dalembert was getting on the backboards and rebounding. Everybody else I thought were really fulfilling their roles. Of course we were real concerned. We figured we'd have to make some sacrifices in what we were going to do defensively. Over the game it hurt us a little bit but over the course of the 40 minutes it worked out in our favor.

Q. This was a 42-42 game with minutes to go. What turned it around?

COACH AL SKINNER: Again, it was our alertness on the defensive end. You know, guys, we settled down, we played some zone, and guys were just real aggressive. Real aggressive on the backboard and everybody staying alert to the ball and trying to help as much as they can. But it was our zone defense that got it done. We took the pressure off, we recognized where the shooters were, and we just wanted to make sure we're in a position to contest shots. And that's what we were able to do and it turned out a lot better than I thought it would.

Q. For Troy and John, you turn on the TV and guys say even if you win this you're the No. 2 seed. You pick up the papers here in New York, people said they don't believe. Why don't people believe in you?

JONATHAN BEERBOHM: I don't know. I really don't know. I mean, I feel we've clearly proved that we're, you know, at least a 2 seed if not a No. 1 seed. We've proved pretty much. I mean if we would have had a decent year last year, we'd be 2 or 3 in the poles now, No. 1 seed going in. Because of the last couple years, people are still doubting us. This is pretty much the same team we had. Why are they doing so well? Last year we were a good team, this year we perfected little things we had wrong last year. And this year we're just capitalizing on those little things. I really don't know why you guys don't believe.

COACH AL SKINNER: The other thing is that, you know, when you look at this club, we might be a little too small. We got one player that people recognize, no other player on this team made all-anything in this league. So there's, you know, nothing to point to. And so it's hard when, you know, basically when you got a basically no-name team and you don't have anything to hang your hat on. It makes it difficult for people to kind of vote for you a little bit. So I think it comes from that.

Q. Al, how satisfying is it to you as a coach to be able to bring a team three or four years, you've had the success you do. Does it seem like a luxury now, kids going out after two years?

COACH AL SKINNER: I can just speak for our situation. I'm, again, really happy for my players because what we do is kind of lay out a game plan and they followed it. These guys have come in and worked hard every day. They did what they had to do. Our practices were competitive. Guys really try to help each other get better. I'm really happy for them. I've said this many times, they've worked hard but hard work is not always rewarding. And they've been rewarded and they're going to try to continue to reap some more rewards. You know, again, they were very embarrassed about being 13th last year. They thought they were better than that. And I guess everybody else believed they were 13. So, you know, there's a difference of opinion there, and they wanted to change that opinion and that's what they're attempting to do.

Q. Troy, the first half you and Eddie had great halves. How do you not get caught up in that and your sense of when this team needs a big basket you seem to come up with it. Where does that come from?

TROY BELL: Well, I don't really -- I try not to get caught up in the one-on-one matchups. I did that one other time earlier in the season and it wasn't too successful for the team. But I mean, we're not the most talented team. For me to get caught up in as something as simple as that, that would take away from the team chemistry that's gotten us to this point. So I don't get into that kind of stuff.

End of FastScripts....

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