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MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE MEN'S TOURNAMENT


March 8, 2014


Tekele Cotton

Cleanthony Early

Gregg Marshall

Fred VanVleet


ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Wichita State ¬Ė 67
Missouri State ¬Ė 42


THE MODERATOR:¬† Number 1 Shockers are here.¬† They have a date in the championship game tomorrow.¬† We're going to ask Gregg Marshall, per custom, to open up with a statement on this game.¬† And then we'll go to questions for just the three student‑athletes for an eight‑minute spot.¬† Gregg, please.
COACH MARSHALL:  We're pleased to be moving into the championship game.  I thought we shared the ball very, very well.  We were slow getting started offensively, but we loosened that up and finally hit a couple shots.  Cle was tremendous tonight.  Tekele is really shooting the ball well, and we're sharing it.  We had 14 assists on 25 baskets.  The defense was certainly there as well.
We knew this team could give us fits if we didn't play well, and we played well enough.  So we're pleased.  Thanks.

Q.¬† For Tekele and Cleanthony and Fred if you want to chip in too.¬† How much did the three‑point shooting kind of loosen their defense a little bit?¬† You guys really went on a barrage in the first half.
TEKELE COTTON:  I think it loosened it up a lot.  Of course, Cle had a very hot hand.  I felt like every time he rolls up, it's just going to go in.  And you've got to go out there and guard that, so it just loosens everything up.
CLEANTHONY EARLY:¬† Pretty much exactly what he said.¬† If you make a lot of three‑point shots, that forces the defense out to guard you.¬† Kind of gave us a little more room to work inside, and they were physical inside.¬† So luckily we got some shots to drop.

Q.¬† Cleanthony, last year you were sick or off games or whatever, but it wasn't a great experience for you either way.¬† How much has this‑‑ I mean, is this making things settle down a little bit for your stomach and your mindset?
CLEANTHONY EARLY:  I think I use everything as motivation, and the fact that I didn't do too good last year just gives me a little bit more energy and a little more motivation to come out and do things the right way.

Q.  I know the coach's slogan is "Play Angry," but you guys didn't look like you were angry at all today.  You looked like you were having a good time.
CLEANTHONY EARLY:  I think it's mixed emotions.  We got there, and we were a little bit angry because that's our motto.  At the same time, we've just got to enjoy ourselves and have fun, and I think that's what we do.

Q.¬† Fred, you guys played with an extremely high tempo from the opening tip‑off.¬† Why was that critical against Missouri State today?
FRED VAN VLEET:¬† Well, they're a team that wants to pack it in and play in the gaps and be very help conscious.¬† They're very solid in the half‑court when it's five‑on‑five.¬† We wanted to take advantage of transition, and they crashed the offensive glass really hard.¬† When we did get the defensive rebounds, we wanted to push the tempo and speed the game up.
I think we're at our best when we're in the open court, playing, sharing the ball, and knocking down shots.  So that was key for us today.

Q.  There's a lot of goals and aspirations in play for you all, but the fact that you haven't won a conference tournament and the school hasn't won one in a long time, how motivating is that this weekend?
TEKELE COTTON:¬† We just take it one game at a time, and this is just another box we've got to check.¬† We're all competitive on this team.¬† So that's a box that we‑‑ that's a goal, to take that box.

Q.  Was this your best game of the season?  Is there any pressure about being undefeated?
FRED VAN VLEET:  I don't know about best game.  I think we had a really good defensive effort.  I remember coming out at the under 12 media, and they only had 23 points.  So we were clicking on defense, and we were knocking down shots.
But playing 30 games, I can't remember which one was our best game, but if you think so, then okay.¬† I just was impressed with our defensive effort and our focus from the tip‑off.¬† When these guys are hot like that and knocking down shots, it makes the whole game easier.

Q.  Cleanthony, best game?
CLEANTHONY EARLY:  I don't remember our best game, and I don't really look back on trying to remember our best game, but I guess we were pretty good.  I guess that's on you guys, you know.

Q.  For all three of you, have you been able to really thoroughly enjoy what it is you've been able to accomplish to this point?  Or because the goals are still out there in some ways, where are you in terms of how much fun you've been able to have this entire stretch?
TEKELE COTTON:  I think, when you see us out there on the court, you can see how much fun we have every game.  Like he said, our motto is to "Play Angry," but at the same time, we're out there on the court smiling, and we're having fun with each other because we treat each other so well.  That's it.
FRED VAN VLEET:  I don't know about exactly celebrating what we've accomplished, so to speak, as opposed to thinking about how great we are.  We don't really blow our heads up like that.  We have fun throughout the process.  If you watched the game today, you saw that.  Everybody's happy.  Everybody's enjoying other guys doing that, and that just speaks to the chemistry and the group and the program that we have.
So we're definitely having fun throughout the process.  It's not stressful or anything like that, but as far as celebrating and thinking about how great we could be or how great we are, we don't really focus on that.

Q.¬† Fred, Cleanthony's really‑‑ I think particularly on the road‑‑ he's pretty much balanced, but he seems to score on the road.¬† Does he just increase his game when he's away or when circumstances get a little tougher?¬† Does Cleanthony's game pick up when he gets away from home?
FRED VAN VLEET:  I think he's always focused anyway, but definitely when opposing teams are talking trash or getting him hyped up, he gets an extra chip on his shoulder.  He takes the onus on himself and responsibility to get us going.
So maybe that's different on the road.  Obviously, we're playing in front of our home crowd.  Whatever he's doing, if that's the case, I want him to keep doing it.

Q.¬† You all were talking about checking off boxes.¬† What does it mean now to realize that you're 33‑0?¬† Only Larry Bird's Indiana State and UNLV have done that.¬† What does that mean for you guys?
TEKELE COTTON:¬† Like Fred always says, when we get older, we'll be able to look at the 33‑0 part, but right now we're 2‑0, and we're just trying to focus on this tournament and this championship that we have.
CLEANTHONY EARLY:  Like Tekele said, I'm pretty sure one day we'll be able to look back at it.  For right now, we enjoy it, but I'm pretty sure we'll be able to celebrate a little bit later.  We're not trying to celebrate right now.  We're trying to handle business.

Q.  Cleanthony, has it become sort of a mental grind for you guys when you get to this point where you're playing consecutive games in consecutive days, three in a row, when you also think about what you guys are trying to accomplish as well?
CLEANTHONY EARLY:  I think the whole process is a mental grind, you know, just trying to stay focused on the task at hand.  I think these guys do a great job of coming out and trying to get it done one day at a time and one game at a time.
That's just been our motto and our philosophy, and that's how we go about our business.

Q.  Cleanthony, obviously, it's all about the wins, but what does it mean to you to be a John Wooden Award finalist to you and this team?
CLEANTHONY EARLY:  It feels really good.  At the same time, I know I wouldn't be in this position without my coaches and my teammates.  So the only thing I can go out and do is play my hardest for the rest of the time I'm here.
THE MODERATOR:  Gentlemen, thank you very much.  Questions for Coach Gregg Marshall.

Q.¬† At times this season, three‑point shootings have been perceived as, not a weakness, but something that maybe this team wasn't as good at as other aspects.¬† When you shoot like this, how gratifying is that, and how much more difficult do you become to beat?
COACH MARSHALL:¬† You know, I think‑‑ just 8 for 10, and the two misses were late shot clock heaves in the first half.¬† We were really 8 for 8, and the other two were desperation, and we didn't execute, and we don't want to turn the ball over.¬† So we tried a long shot.¬† I think Ron did it once and Tekele did it once.
Obviously, we didn't shoot it well at the very end.  We're 1 for 10 in the second half.  There's going to be a game at some point where you don't shoot it well.  That's where you've got to have your defense and rebounding in your back pocket.  We always talk about it.  When we shoot it well, we're hard to beat.
If we can shoot it like this for as long as we can continue playing, we'll be a very, very tough out.

Q.¬† Gregg, when's the last time you've called a time‑out?¬† Is that a good indication of just how well you guys are playing?
COACH MARSHALL:¬† That's a good question, Brian.¬† You ask good questions.¬† There haven't been any time‑outs this year.¬† I'm not sure we've called more than two all season.¬† Bob, you would have to do some research on that.
I think time‑outs are a sign of weakness.¬† I like to do my coaching before the game and in practice.¬† I like to help them during the game, just give them a little structure, tell them what defense ran, what out of bounds play we're running, and I like for my players to work out their problems, generally, on their own.
When I call a time‑out, I don't have very much positive to say to them.¬† So I bet we played 33 games, I bet we haven't called two time‑outs where we weren't just‑‑ I almost called a time‑out today to sub and do one of those deals where you turn it over and sub and keep playing because I thought the guys at the end were getting tired.¬† But I'm not a big proponent.
Now, there are times when you need them, but thank goodness this year, we haven't needed them that often.

Q.  On Cleanthony, his game seems to pick up when it gets the toughest, if you start counting tough road games and this tournament after last year's tournament.  I guess kind of there's other circumstances, I realize, but he does seem to pick it up at the toughest moments.  Is that what you observed?
COACH MARSHALL:  He did last year, played well in the Final Four, on the way to the Final Four, he was all whatever they call it, all Final Four team, he made that.  Did not play well here last year, but generally he plays well on the road, and away from home he plays a little better statistically.
Maybe it's just focus.  Maybe it's just he needs that internal stimuli to get him going, fans calling his name and his girlfriend's name and all those things that they do on the road.  So maybe that's a good thing.

Q.  Missouri State was really trying to milk clock, slow the tempo.  The run you had in the first half by hitting those threes, how important was that to maybe go make Missouri State change the game a little bit and quicken the pace?
COACH MARSHALL:  It sure loosens them up when they're hitting shots.  They do a good job, as many teams in our league do, they make you play from the outside.  There's many good coaches in this league, and they collapse the defense around the post.  They don't let you throw it in.  They don't let you drive it in.
Once you start making some shots, it kind of loosens them up.¬† Then they kind of extend their defense a little bit, and then you get close‑outs that you can penetrate, and maybe passing lanes that weren't there previously are there.¬† So I think it's monumentally important.

Q.¬† Gregg, when you're rolling like you were in the first half, but even more in the second half when the game is‑‑ you're putting the game pretty much out of reach and your team is playing at such a high level, Missouri State has absolutely no answer for it.¬† Do you find yourself, even in that moment, just every now and then saying, "Wow, this team can really get it going and can really be a fun group to watch"?
COACH MARSHALL:¬† Yeah, it's really a fun‑‑ you nailed it.¬† It's a fun team to watch.¬† It's a fun team to coach.¬† It's a fun team to be around.¬† Who can find fault with 33‑0?¬† No, take that back.¬† I know people find fault with 33‑0.¬† I don't.¬† I don't.¬† I enjoy it.¬† I've enjoyed it the whole year.¬† I've enjoyed recruiting these guys, getting to know their families, being around them.
It's just amazing that we're one game away from being done with the conference tournament.  So it seems like this season has just flashed by in an instant, maybe four weeks instead of three and a half months.

Q.  Same question, I guess, for you that I asked the players about wanting to win a tournament that you all haven't won and maybe the importance of that for you all.
COACH MARSHALL:  I want to win very badly, but I would want to beat you in cards if we dealt them tonight.  That's just the way I'm wired.  I want to win this tournament.  I want to win when I tee it up in a charity golf tournament this summer.  But there's special meaning to winning this tournament because chances are we could be back here in about 11 days.  So may as well get used to it.
As I said yesterday, I've had some good experiences in St. Louis lately.¬† We went to the Billikens and won against a very tough team on their home court, which at that point they were rarely losing at all there.¬† And then I came to game four in the World Series and had a beautiful afternoon, had a great steak, went over and watched the game, and then Johnny Gomes hit a three‑run homer for my team.¬† It was nice.¬† We enjoyed St. Louis immensely.

Q.  I know, Coach, you don't know who you're going to play yet.  Could you just talk about the challenge Jake Odum and the Sycamores would give you if you faced them tomorrow.
COACH MARSHALL:  Jake's a tremendous player.  He's one of the greatest players, probably in the top five in Indiana State history.  I mean, we know who number one is.  So being number two or three or four, whatever he is, is wonderful.
He does a great job of doing exactly what Fred Van Vleet does now.  He orchestrates the game.  When he's in control, he's in control, and everybody else is just watching him orchestrate the game.  He did it as a freshman, and he's continued that throughout his career.

Q.  When you played St. Louis earlier and Tennessee and some of them and won some key road games, I started telling people that you were better than a year ago, and I know you lost some key components, Armstead, Hall, whoever.  Why or what makes you better this year than a year ago?
COACH MARSHALL:  It's amazing, guys like you who obviously know the game very, very well, and Coach Knight, who was at our practice and at our games, they say the same thing.  There's those skeptics and naysayers that are out there that don't know a hill of beans about college basketball that are saying, oh, their schedule and who they played and this and that.
I think you just have to watch and know what you're talking about.¬† But I think it's‑‑ the fact that we defend every possession, we play both ends, we really commit to defense and rebounding, and then we score it much better than we did with last year's group.¬† This group can score.¬† This group has‑‑ I mean, people at the beginning of the year were playing off Tekele Cotton.¬† They were trying to pick their poison, and they wouldn't guard them.
Well, in the last couple of games, I think he was 3 for 4 or 2 for 4, 3 for 5 yesterday from three and 3 for 4 today.  So I hope they continue to not guard him.
We've got a lot of weapons.  Cleanthony is obviously special.  Fred orchestrates the game and can get to the rim and generally makes the right decision.  And Ron Baker.  I mean, he's kind of an X factor.  He's not even up here.  I think he will one day play in the NBA.  So it's a pretty special group.

Q.  How did you get to be a Red Sox fan?
COACH MARSHALL:¬† My dad, living in South Carolina, Walter Marshall‑‑ when you're growing up in the '30s and '40s in South Carolina, there were no Orioles or Marlins or Braves.¬† You had to pick a team on the East Coast, and you either picked the Yankees or the Phillies, I guess, or the Red Sox, and he went with the Red Sox for whatever reason.
I remember him talking about Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio and Ted Williams when I was a kid.  And he liked the Celtics, and his team on the football side was the Redskins.  Contrary to what my son did, he went the opposite.  He picked my rival teams.  I went with my dad's teams.
A couple things.  Number one, house cleaning, there's a nail right here that ripped my coat yesterday that we need to fix.  I hope I'm here tomorrow.  Secondly, it's Tekele.  He's going to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the second time in three weeks.  It's not Tekeel, it's Tekale, like the vegetable, Cotton.  Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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