They said it: Indiana coach Tom Crean and players Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams and Max Bielfeldt

They said it: Indiana coach Tom Crean and players Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams and Max Bielfeldt after losing to North Carolina, 101-86:

TOM CREAN: First and foremost, I can’t even begin to describe how proud I am of this group — these three and their teammates. With everything that they’ve accomplished this season and the things they’ve had to endure, to get to this point, and then even the things in-house with the injuries and situations like that that we’ve had to handle.
And every team goes through different stages. And they either really bond together or they fracture apart. And all this team did throughout everything is bond together to where it was just incredible. And it certainly hasn’t hit me yet that it just ended. So I’ll probably struggle with the questions of finality. But they’ve given everything to Indiana.
Yogi is leaving here as one of the great winners, and it’s really no way anybody’s going to be able to take that away from him. He’s won two outright championships in four years. And he leaves obviously with the accolades, was a part of our two Sweet 16s in the last five years. And what these guys have done is remarkable. And it’s been an absolute honor to coach them. And I can’t put it into words anymore than that.
As far as the game, North Carolina played outstanding. If they play like that, even remotely close to that, then they’re going to be very, very hard to beat. And I hope they do. Because Roy deserves it. And they shot the ball — first thing Roy said coming off the court is they shot the ball extremely well. Obviously we didn’t shoot it nearly as well as we’re capable of. I was never down about where our offense was, because we were missing shots we usually make. And we were missing shots that — I mean, you can’t have the success our team’s had on both ends of the court without having that level of confidence that those shots are going to go.
And they just didn’t enough. And the first half really hurt us, no question about that. But we never really got the post game under control. The 3s hurt us, no question about that, but the post-ups, they destroyed us. We couldn’t overcome that. And so when you’ve got a team like that that’s got the depth, the consistency that they have, and then obviously we’re playing without another starter in Rob tonight which hurt our depth in the back court and hurt our depth defensively certainly, it was just too much for us to overcome tonight.
But these guys battled to the very end. And that’s exactly what you want. And I feel awful for them, because they gave everything. They gave everything to each other. And they were getting better up and to this morning — or this afternoon at the walk-through. When your team is getting better all the way throughout the year and you can look at that and you know they know they’re getting better, then we got a lot out of it. That’s why it’s hard to see a season end. It wasn’t like we were running on fumes. We were injured, but we were improving constantly. But Carolina deserved the win, no doubt about that.

Q. Just how tough was it to have them get out in the lead and try to play catch up the rest of the night, how hard was it trying to get back into the game and doing what you normally do?
TROY WILLIAMS:
The way we started it off, we had another slow start — this whole tournament we’ve been starting off slow and it came back to hurt us. I mean, we had games throughout the season where we would start off slow but we’ll find a way to get back. But — and they’re a great team. They just kept the lead and sustained the lead and also pushed the lead even more.
YOGI FERRELL: They were consistently making shots inside, outside, to start the game. And our shots weren’t falling. So going up against such a great team as North Carolina, can’t come out to a slow start. Gotta be clicking on all cylinders. We couldn’t stop them to start the game.

Q. All week we’ve heard that North Carolina doesn’t shoot the 3. They don’t make a lot of 3s and they come out and hit all those shots. How surprising was that for you guys and how did that take you off your game, so to speak?
MAX BIELFELDT:
Yeah, you know, they’re not traditionally known for knocking down all those shots. But today they did. And sometimes you’re in games like that and you just have to be able to adjust. And we tried to do some things adjusting-wise, but one guy stops, knocks them down. Paige started and another guy would knock them down after that.
So as far as the scouting report, a lot of the guys who are numbers-wise decent shooters, had a lot of great days. When you’ve got guys like that with a team like North Carolina, it’s a tough train to stop.

Q. Yogi, could you elaborate or describe your feelings when you checked out and the fans are chanting your name, just your emotions at that time?
YOGI FERRELL:
Emotions are high. To lose a game in the Sweet 16, didn’t get to where we wanted to get. But just reflecting back on all the four years I’ve had at IU, had a lot of accomplishments, and I felt I gave my all to IU. And at the end of the day I’m glad that Coach Crean took me to come to this university. I met a lot of people. Learned a lot of great things, and it’s just something that I’ll remember.

Q. Troy, you had a point in the second half where you scored about 14 straight points. And all it did was cut the lead to 10. How frustrating was that at that point to feel like you must have been doing all you possibly could?
TROY WILLIAMS:
It’s not really frustrating. I mean, those points, I mean, it always sparked the team. Since I’ve been here, I always had to find ways to impact the game, not only for me but for my teammates as well. If it’s by a dunk, rebound or pass I do it. I always put the team first. And just, if it has to be scoring, it’s going to be scoring.

Q. Coach, could you talk about, in Louisville, with the run you guys made just to get here, just how special was this and is that one of the things you’ll take away when you think about this team?
TOM CREAN:
I think they’re going to be so bonded. There’s going to be very few things in their life outside of personal issues or tragedies and things like that with what they’ve had to overcome. It’s been a bit crazy. And again we’re still talking about going in here yesterday, we’re talking about stuff that happened in November and December. I mean, I don’t know many teams that have to deal with that, but they’ve overcome that and continued to get better constantly.
And I think the way they were able to look at adversity or people’s version of it shut that out and absolutely focused in on what improvement is all about, what a level of commitment and connectedness is to one another. That’s why we had the success that we had. And the program has done a fantastic job of overcoming those things, and these guys take a back seat to no one on that.
So I’m proud of what they’ve done. And this loss will certainly become — it will hit me in a bit and that film will hit me. But it’s hit me every day that I’ve been fortunate to coach these guys.

Q. You touched on this a little bit in your opening statement. When Paige and the guards were making shots like they were, how much unreasonable does the task become because of how big and strong —
TOM CREAN:
Marcus was making video game shots to start the game. I mean seriously. He’s a tremendous player. And Roy, I’m sure, feels about him the way I feel about Yogi and deservedly so. I remember when they were both in the game as freshmen at Assembly Hall. But we never got him under control with what we wanted to do on the wings. And he’s a tremendous wing shooter, and what he did was he got hot and was able to make them from other places.
And no question I was — I had to think about going against doctor’s orders for a minute to get Rob Johnson into the game, but that wasn’t going to fly. But he did a great job and he brought a lot of confidence to his teammates tonight. When you’ve got that, with the level of what they’ve got inside, it’s hard to deal with.
Jackson was as scary going into the game as any of them, because he’s their Swiss Army knife, like Troy is for us. And he did a fantastic job in the first half. He’s a high, high level player because he’s in constant movement. When a guy can move like that, can make plays, make shots, that movement frees it up for other guys, and Marcus did a fantastic job throughout the game, and especially to start the game.

They said it: Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and players Zach Auguste, V.J. Beacham and Demetrius Jackson

They said it: Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and players Zach Auguste, V.J. Beacham and Demetrius Jackson after the Irish beat Wisconsin 61-56:

MIKE BREY: On Monday I told our group, I saw us showing us up as the 16th-rated team of the 16 teams left. But I thought we were the toughest team, the No. 1 team in toughness. And I think it’s played itself out again in a third game.
We have a great belief. We have a heck of a group. And maybe there’s some destiny involved in this thing.

Q. Demetrius, just talk about you’re down three and all of a sudden the swing, the big plays and the baskets and here you are now in the East Regional final.
DEMETRIUS JACKSON:
Feels amazing to be going back. We just did a great job sticking with it. We did a great job giving ourselves a chance to win. We had a lot of mistakes in the game but we kept fighting. We took our punches and we just kind of got back up, kept fighting, kept believing, kept communicating and we just made it happen.

Q. V.J., you guys were struggling offensively the first 30 minutes there and you hit some big shots to kind of get your guys going. What was your mindset in the second half and how as a team do you feel you were able to fight through that?
V.J. BEACHEM:
I think in the second half we were moving the ball better, getting it side to side, getting it inside and out. And we just had better movement and our shots were just a little more open. And all of us were able to knock them down. Just the way that we attack really opened up, really opened up the outside shot for all of us.

Q. Zach and Demetrius, you’ve been asked before about the team-of-destiny idea. The way you guys pulled out this game late, does it play into what your coach is talking about?
DEMETRIUS JACKSON:
Yeah, I think the whole year and how many game situations we’ve had throughout the whole year kind of prepared us for moments like these. All throughout the year we’ve been down, fighting — all throughout the year we’ve been in late-game situations where we really had to execute and believe and go out and win it defensively. So we were able to just do that again today. And so that’s all credit to Coach making us work on those things in practice and in games and helping us believe and help keeping us loose.
ZACH AUGUSTE: For sure, definitely gotta give a lot of credit to coach. Early on he emphasized we could be a special team and we can be better than last year. And it was just a matter of us trying to figure that out and trying to believe it. And that’s what we’ve done. And we’ve been competing and working hard and trying to get to where we want to be.

Q. An injury report, what’s wrong with you?
MIKE BREY:
Trainer said I should be able to go Sunday. About the 15-minute mark I was excited and jumped up and I pulled a calf muscle. Thank God it wasn’t Achilles. So little calf strain, no surgery needed, but I’m a little sore. I told the guys I’m the first one taped on Sunday.

Q. Just talk about the fact that your team is now one game away from a chance to go to Final Four, East Regional, regional final, and maybe your first as a coach, I’m not sure as a head coach. But just talk about that challenge, that opportunity, regardless of who you’re playing and how exciting is it?
MIKE BREY:
I’m proud that our group got back to this point. We were there last year and played one of the great games in the history of the NCAA Tournament against Kentucky. And we’re back in it again. We have another opportunity to go to a Final Four.
I’m very proud of this group because last year’s team had no pressure. We were coming off of a 15-17 year. This team had expectations from day one, and to get us back and deliver with expectations, I’m really proud of them and I’m extremely proud of the leadership of those guys that just left us.

Paige, Tar Heels took care of business against Hoosiers

Marcus Paige sent early notice that North Carolina was determined to uphold its top seeding in the NCAA East Regional, knocking in his first four 3-point attempts Friday night before the Tar Heels’ game against Indiana had reached the five-minute mark.
Paige finished with 21 points and North Carolina continued its offensive prowess in March, moving to the Elite Eight for the 20th time since 1975 with a 101-86 victory over the Hoosiers.
The top-seeded Tar Heels (31-6) will meet sixth-seeded Notre Dame on Sunday, determining one of two guaranteed Atlantic Coast Conference spots in the Final Four.
The Fighting Irish also beat a Big Ten team in the regional semifinals, knocking off Wisconsin 61-56. The Badgers lost to another ACC team, Duke, in the NCAA Championship game last season.
The Midwest Regional will also be an all-ACC affair with top-seeded Virginia facing 10th-seeded Syracuse. That means Sunday’s games will resemble a reboot of the ACC tournament.
It also guarantees the conference will have a team in the championship game again since the East and Midwest regions are paired up in the Final Four in Houston next week.
But back to the UNC-Indiana game, which was essentially over as soon as the Tar Heels built their lead to 20 points midway through the second half.
It was still an 11-point game, 65-54, when Troy Williams made a 3-pointer with 15:10 left in the game. But the Tar Heels then went on a 19-10 run over the next five minutes with Brice Johnson scoring eight of his 20 points. Johnson also had 10 rebounds as the Tar Heels advanced to a regional final for the seventh time in Roy Williams’ 12 years as UNC’s head coach, but first time since 2012..
Indiana ends its season 27-8 and fails to advance from a Sweet 16 game for the second time in Yogi Ferrell’s career. Ferrell finished with 25 points.
The Hoosiers also got 21 points from Williams, 15 points from Max Bielfeldt and 12 from Thomas Bryant. But as a team, IU made just 41 percent (25 of 61) of its shots and 13 of 31 3-point attempts (41.9 percent).
Meanwhile, UNC shot a blistering 51.6 percent (32 of 62), including 11 of 20 from behind the arc. The Tar Heels also outrebounded the Hoosiers, 37-32.

They said it: Indiana coach Tom Crean and player Yogi Ferrell

Indiana coach Tom Crean and player Yogi Ferrell after beating Kentucky 73-67:

Tom Crean’s opening comments:
“We’re obviously elated to win a game of this magnitude, not just because it’s the NCAA Tournament and the round of 32 but because it’s against such a great program. We got a lot of respect for Kentucky, obviously got a lot of respect for John and admiration for how he coaches and what he does. That team was every bit as good as what we thought they were from watching them on film. Saw just a little bit of it the other night, but really the film didn’t lie.
“Our guys did a great job in a short period of time of getting ready for what we knew would be a tremendous physical and mental battle and they really stayed locked into the concentration. I think the fact that we rebounded so well and kept them from getting second chance points. We didn’t have a lot of costly turnovers, for the most part, and this group of guys right here along with guys like Troy and Nick Zeisloft has gotten so much better, and I hope somebody asks me about his defense in a bit. I don’t want to talk for too long, but it is an absolute honor for me to coach these guys, to work with this staff, and I love it.
“The bottom line for me is what drives me right now is that I want to just keep coachin’ ‘em, and I want to keep game planning and preparing and going to meeting with them and going to practice with them and getting on the bus with ‘em and I just want to be around them because they inspire me so much with their resiliency and the way they want to be coached and the way they care and love each other and it’s fantastic.”

Q. Does this rank as the most satisfying victory of your tenure at IU?
TOM CREAN: “I don’t know about that. I haven’t had time to think that way. It’s obviously up there, especially the way we won today. With losing Robert and then losing Juwan. The fortunate thing is Juwan wasn’t hurt as badly as he’s been a few other times, but he couldn’t go back into the game. But there was not a way for Rob to go back in.
“But I think the satisfying thing for me is as concerned and even sad when I knew Rob wasn’t going back in for him because I know who he’s done to come back in this. It never — I never overreacted to it. I have a lot of belief in these guys. As a coach, when you are around people that you believe in them and the biggest reason you have confidence in them is because of the confidence they have in each other and the fact that they can continue to get better. I thought we got better inside of the game.
“So satisfying wins for me are when we make improvements, when we learn, all right, when we are really concentrating and when you get into an environment like this and with everything on the line that’s on it and the time of year, it’s obviously a great feeling when you walk out of there with a win knowing that they put everything into it, under adverse situations and the adversity being the injuries that we dealt with in the game.”

Q. Yogi, you guys got it tied at 50 late in the second half, you guys hit a couple of quick threes. Did you feel a momentum shift? Take us through the rest of the game from there.
YOGI FERRELL: We knew it was going to be tough having to defend Kentucky, so we just tried to stick to our keys on defense, take away what they wanted, and I felt like when we got those multiple stops in a row, that’s when our break happens and good things happen with that.

FERRELL: “I feel like we shared the ball really well in the second half, and, you know, Nick hit a three and we were just driving to the rim playing inside out. We’re unstoppable.”

They said it: Kentucky coach John Calipari and players Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee

Kentucky coach John Calipari and players Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee after Wildcats lost 73-67 to Indiana in a second-round NCAA tournament game on Saturday, March 19:

Q. John, their depth, I think they were 18-7 in bench points. Do you feel like their depth made a difference tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, but we had — and, again, we’re normally the most efficient offensive team in the country. There’s two things that happened. We had six offensive fouls. I don’t know if in my career I’ve had a team have six offensive fouls. Then we couldn’t make open shots so we have 8 assists. Like all these open shots we missed. We missed a ton of really good shots.

Q. Marcus, obviously you guys have a tremendous roster and talent, but when you look at Indiana’s roster and the athletes that they were able to put out there, the depth, what would you say about, you know, how they were able to match your athleticism it seemed?
MARCUS LEE:
They are very athletic. They did really great today. Our players are really great players. They’re great people. The one thing we did do is we didn’t break down and we didn’t give up. We just didn’t go away.

Q. Tyler, thoughts about this season. You guys had to replace 7 players and went through a lot of adversity to get to this point. Thoughts about the journey and the bumps and it ending tonight and where that places in all that?
TYLER ULIS:
It was a great year for us. I felt like we went through a lot of ups-and-downs, had a lot of young players and guys learning how to play the right way. Everybody got better individually and today we didn’t play our best as a team, but I feel like we had a good season up to now.

UNI is a good team, but even better at being lucky

If buzzer-beating shots are the lifeblood of the NCAA tournament, then Northern Iowa is definitely living large these days.
Ben Jacsobsen’s Panthers have now won their last two games on last-gasp heaves.
Perhaps the game-winner in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game in St. Louis wasn’t that unexpected. After all, the ball was in the hands of UNI’s top player, Wes Washpun and he had time to pick his spot at the top of the key with the score tied, 54-54. He also had time to pick his his moment against D.J. Balentine, the University of Evansville star who had the challenge of defending the crafty Washpun.
As we know all too well (and have seen much too often since that day two weeks ago), Washpun was up to the challenge. And even then, it took an astonishing lucky bounce high off the back of the rim to give UNI the win.
But what Paul Jesperson did Friday night in UNI’s 75-72 win over No. 6 seed Texas in an NCAA tournament first round game in Oklahoma City was as miraculous as it gets. His half-court heave with the game tied found nothing but net.
“The one last night, that was incredible,” said UE head coach Marty Simmons, who said he had just tuned in to the final few minutes of the game to see what the Panthers would do with that NCAA berth they stole from the Aces.
The Panthers done good – that’s all.
The win at that point made the MVC 3-0 in March Madness, earning perhaps a little more respect for the conference (even if that won’t do the Aces any good now).
Simmons said that when TBS showed a replay of the Washpun dagger against UE in the final minutes of the Texas game, he was inclined to hit the off button on his TV. But he stuck around for the final drama.
But it did bring back the memories (or nightmares).
“I’m not sure you ever recover from something like that,” said Simmons. “I think it will probably stick with us all for a long time for a lot of different reasons.”
Simmons is just proud of the way the Aces battled back to briefly take the lead after trailing by as many as 17 points.
But as much as the loss still stings, Simmons will be pulling for UNI on Sunday against Texas A&M, especially after Wichita State was bounced on Saturday by Miami.
“I suppose we got a little lucky at the end, right,” Jacobsen said of the win over Texas. “But these guys have found a way and they’ve continued to find a way, so I’m happy for these guys.”

A winning drive for the ages gets Michigan State in playoff

When it comes to making a clutch drive in the final minutes of a college football game, what Michigan State did Saturday night in the Big Ten championship game against Iowa was remarkable.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more dramatic, determined and meaningful drive ever in a conference championship game.
The Spartans covered 82 yards on 22 plays while burning more than nine minutes off the game clock. Freshman running back LJ Scott finished the game with 73 yards on 22 carries. He picked up 40 of those yards on 14 carries on that game-winning drive that Scott capped with a bullish, twisting run with 27 seconds left.
“It was amazing,” said Scott after the 16-13 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has a motto, “Reach Higher.” Scott amended that with his “Reach Further” effort to get the football across the goal line by clutching the ball in his right hand after it was clear he wasn’t going to get his body into the end zone
“Nothing’s been handed to us,” center Jack Allen said, so a 22-play drive “describes us pretty well.”
Quarterback Connor Cook was named the MVP of the game. Cook did pass for 191 yards and rush for 8, accounting for 199 of MSU’s 365 yards of total offense. But after the game, he didn’t just praise the Spartans’ offensive line, he handed off the MVP trophy.
“They grinded it out, opened up the hole for LJ. They put the team on their backs that last series,” said Cook. “Whoever was watching, I mean honestly, couldn’t be more obvious they deserved that award.”
Now Michigan State (12-1), which was denied a spot in the playoffs last year, will be the No. 3 seed this year and will face No. 2 seed Alabama (12-1) in a semifinal on New Year’s Eve in the Cotton Bowl at 7 p.m.
ACC champion and top-ranked Clemson (13-0) will play No. 4 seed Oklahoma (11-1) in the other semifinal in the Orange Bowl that day at 3.
Both games will be televised by ESPN.
***
No doubt the disappointment of not completing an unbeaten season and being included in the four-team playoff was crushing for head coach Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa players, but they did receive a nice consolation prize. The Hawkeyes (12-1) will play Stanford (11-2) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. It will be televised by ESPN.
If you are keeping score at home, there will be 10 Big Ten teams in bowls, matching the most by any conference. It’s the second-consecutive year that many teams have earned bowl bids, but the first time two teams with losing records were part of the crowd.
Nebraska and Minnesota both made it with 5-7 records because there were enough teams with at least six wins to fill the 80 spots in 40 bowl games.

PINSTRIPE BOWL: Saturday, Dec. 26, Indiana (6-6) vs. Duke (7-5), Yankee Stadium, New York, 2:30 p.m., ABC
FOSTER FARMS: Saturday, Dec. 26, Nebraska (5-7) vs. UCLA (8-4), Santa Clara, Calif., 8:15 p.m., ESPN
QUICK LANE: Saturday, Dec. 26, Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7), Detroit, 4 p.m., ESPN2
HOLIDAY: Wednesday, Dec. 30, Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Southern Cal (8-5), San Diego, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
OUTBACK: Friday, Jan. 1, Northwestern (10-2) vs. Tennessee (8-4), Tampa, Florida, 11 a.m., ESPN2
CITRUS: Friday, Jan. 1, Michigan (9-3) vs. Florida (10-3), Orlando, Florida, Noon, ABC
FIESTA: Friday, Jan. 1, Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1), Glendale, Arizona, Noon, ESPN
TAXSLAYER: Friday, Jan. 1, Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3), 11 a.m., ESPN

The love-hate relationship between readers and writers

I’ve been doing this sports writing thing professionally since 1976, which is the year I was named the Sigma Delta Chi South Carolina Rookie Journalist of the Year while working as a one-man sports staff, backup photographer and backup news reporter for the Beaufort Gazette.
I’ve won state press association honors in three states — South Carolina, Florida and Indiana. I’ve been named a top 10 columnist by the Associated Press Sports Editors Association. I’ve served as a vice president of APSE and overseen the small newspaper caucus. And, as I like to brag, I’ve spent time sitting in a golf cart with Jan Stephenson. And it was the 1986 Jan Stephenson, too. So yeah, there have been days where it has been good to be me.
Alas, there have been a lot more days when it hasn’t been good to be me.
Having been a sports editor at three newspapers in three states for a total of 23 years, I’ve been accused of being a grad of at least 50 high schools and 15 colleges.
And at the moment there is a group of Evansville IceMen fans who are convinced I hate hockey.
Seriously, that’s not true. When I was the sports editor in Tallahassee, there was an ECHL team, the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, that my staff covered. I even had a dedicated writer for the team.
But three years after I arrived in town, the Tiger Sharks moved and Tallahassee was no longer a hockey town.
Keep that in mind as IceMen owner Ron Geary makes his threats about moving the team if he doesn’t get a better deal with the city over Ford Center rent.
Guess what, folks? UE isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the USI. Neither are any of the SIAC high school athletic programs.
But the IceMen? Who knows if Geary’s threats are real or if he’s just crying wolf again.
There’s one other factor that sometimes forces us to chase the IceMen when they are at home. It’s simple, really. We only have a five-person sports staff compared to the 11 I had in Tallahassee, so we have to prioritize what we staff at times.
I wish that wasn’t the case, but its the reality of newspaper economics these days. The number of newsroom staff in Tallahassee isn’t what it used to be, either.
But I want to make it clear that I don’t root against any of the teams in Evansville. I also don’t cheer for any of them like a fan. I’m a journalist, and we aren’t supposed to cheer in the press box.
But I would prefer that the Aces, Eagles, IceMen and Otters won. Ditto, for the best area high school teams in each sport.
Losing coaches and players make for grumpy coaches and players, which makes it much more difficult to write entertaining stories anyone will read on the web or in print.
So please don’t hate. And I’ll try to be a little less snarky on my Tweets.

If Iggy does return, Aces should be MVC favorite

Marty Simmons swore he hadn’t even heard the rumors about Egidijus Mockevicius possibly considering either heading to Europe for a pro basketball career or beginning his grad school days at another university, taking advantage of the NCAA rule that allows players who earn a degree and still have playing eligibility to step into the starting lineup at another school.
But when Simmons was asked about the rumors on Friday, he said there had been no discussions with 6-foot-10 Mockevicius that would indicate he’s thinking about not coming back for his senior season with the Aces.
“I am confident he will be back next year,” said Simmons.
He went on to say that Mockevicius not only likes his teammates and the other friends he has made at UE but that he enjoys being in Evansville.
“I think our community recognizes how special he is,” said Simmons. “He’s obviously a great basketball talent but he’s a wonderful personality and he’s a wonderful person. I think he’s been great for the Evansville community and I think (the fans have) wrapped their arms around him as well. To see him play so well last night (Thursday night’s CIT championship game) was awesome.”
MocKevicius scored 27 points and had 12 rebounds against Northern Arizona to lead the Aces to a 71-65 win.
“He’s good. He’s made himself better. And that’s the great thing because I think he has another level,” said Simmons. “I think he can get even better.”
If the big Lithuanian does return, it would mean the Aces would have everyone back from a 24-win season except for Jaylon Moore, who was Mockevicius’ tag-team partner in the paint.
The 6-7 Moore was often instant offense at times for the Aces and had a knack for changing momentum in games.
Still, next season’s UE team will have more size with 7-1 Nebraska transfer Sergej Vucetic and 6-7 Willie Wiley, a transfer from Vincennes University, ready to play after sitting out as red shirts.
“Now that they know they are eligible, they are ready to go,” said Simmons. “I think Willie and Sergej will bring vast depth to our basketball team and athleticism and obviously some size. And then Harris Brown, the guard from Indianapolis, is a heck of a player and I think he’ll battle his way in there as well.
“There’s a lot of things that factor into it, staying healthy and so on and so forth. Our guys have to understand that we must continue to improve. We must get better in this offseason.”
The biggest pieces to the puzzle, of course, are D.J. Balentine and Mockevicus. Balentine averaged 20.0 points per game this past season and Mockevicius nearly averaged a double-double of 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds. They were both first-team All-Missouri valley Conference.
That should make them the preseason favorites to win the MVC in 2016 shouldn’t it?
After all, Northern Iowa graduates 6-8 Seth Tuttle and loses four other seniors who combined for nearly 55 percent of the Panthers’ offense.
Ditto, Wichita State loses Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter and Illinois State will have to replace leading scorer Daishon Knight.

He said it: Notre Dame coach Mike Brey after 68-66 loss to Kentucky in an Elite Eight game:

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and players after 68-66 loss to Kentucky in a NCAA Elite Eight game in Cleveland on Saturday:
MIKE BREY’s OPENING COMMENTS: What a great college game. It was thrilling to be part of it. It lived up to the hype. We’re extremely disappointed. We really thought we had a great chance of beating them, and I thought we displayed that, but I think you’ve got to give them credit, they made some big plays, they made some timely 3-point shots at key times. And we got a little stagnant offensively, but it’s easy to get stagnant against that length. It takes its toll on you at times but I’m proud of our group, man. We emptied the tank tonight, and that’s all I asked them to do before the game.

Q. Mike, you lost the game, and I’m sure it’s still pretty raw, but how much do you think this game is testimony to the idea that there are no sure things? I think a lot of people didn’t see this kind of game coming.
COACH BREY:
Yeah, I mean, we really thought we had a great chance as the game was going on, you know, I thought we just felt we could win the game. We were very confident. The first half gave us even more confidence. We played such a great schedule and played so many hard games and good teams, I think we’re really battle tested to absorb their punches. I’m really proud of our group. We were a little tired at the end. I used a couple timeouts just to rest us. We were fatigued a little bit because our guys play a lot. Their length at times shrinks the court and it just makes it a little difficult, and it did there a couple possessions at the end of the game.

Q. Mike, I know the last play didn’t have any timeouts, what was the plan, what was discussed?
COACH BREY:
I told Jerian to try to get – can you get to the bucket, maybe you can just get to the bucket. They did such a great job kind of doubling him. He went for the win, I don’t fault him for that. He tried to get something off but I don’t think he could turn the corner. Even some of the shots he took in those possessions that were a little empty, you can say get to the basket, it’s a little harder to get to the basket against these guys, there’s not a lot of room in there. And I thought they doubled him out of bounds and they did a great job kind of riding him all the way to the end. You know, when we couldn’t get the key stop to get it to overtime, that’s where you lose the game really. You’ve got to get that stop. And it was Harrison, I think, right, that made the drive? Demetrius tried to get the charge. You don’t get a stop there, you know, you’re starting to doubt a little.

Q. Can you talk about the defensive game plan. And aside from Karl, it seemed like Kentucky’s bigs really struggled to get anything going down low?
COACH BREY:
We just didn’t want to give up too many clean looks. We felt we could absorb two point shots from their bigs. Towns was fabulous. Our two big guys, God bless them, they were on their own most of the night. The one time I go zone, Booker hits a 3, and the one time we tell to help a little bit, Ulis hits a 3. So now you’re like, the rest of the game, fellas, you’re on your own, we’ve got to hug these guys because I think we can absorb 2s. I love how we battled on the board against their size. But we have played big teams and we’ve held our own on the backboard and we did that again tonight to give ourselves a chance to win.

Q. So how do you balance the emotion then of playing as well as you did, taking down to the last possession and knowing that this is the end and you lost the way you did?
COACH BREY:
Yeah, I don’t know if it will sink in. I think I was in denial because walking down the hall, I had Auguste and Vasturia and I was talking about next season, that was my way of thinking ahead a little bit. The one thing I did tell them, I said, when we walk out of here, man, we’re champions now, we’re going to get championship rings, this group won a championship and hopefully it’s something to build on and I spent some time with Pat and Jerian, and just thanked them for what they’ve done for our program. I think it will still be a little raw here until tomorrow, but I’ve been in long enough, I’ll be abel able to look back and digest it, and my assistants will probably have some recruiting stuff for me tomorrow, knowing them.

Q. Mike, you mentioned Pat and Jerian, is that kind of the toughest part of losing in this tournament, is saying goodbye to seniors, especially two that have meant so much to you guys?
COACH BREY: Yeah, the one thing I said to them in the locker room, “You know what’s really depressing? We lost the game but we don’t get to practice tomorrow, I don’t get to be around this group.” And that includes certainly our two seniors because it was so energizing and rewarding to be with this team, it was uplifting. I was thinking, walking down the hall, that’s over, you don’t get to do that anymore. But those two guys are big-time winners, and man, have they left a mark for the young guys in our program.

Q. 34 seconds left, sorting through the loose ball. Did you care one way or the other whether it was a jump ball or your possession?
COACH BREY
: Well, I loved that we had it. One second’s a little tough to operate with, and we tried to get something for Jerian curling. The problem is when Cauley-Stein is hot on the ball, there wasn’t a whole lot of room to get anything, and it’s too bad we at least couldn’t get a shot upright there. But I thought the ball pressure of a 7-footer, and wing span on Pat, we just couldn’t get anything. And then you’ve got to be really mentally tough. And this group, they have been all year to kind of flush that and guard to get it to overtime. We’ve done that a bunch, but we couldn’t do it tonight, and you give Kentucky credit.

Q. Coach, you joked about being the loosest coach in America. What are you telling them in the second half when you guys go on that 13-4 run, and also the final minute?
COACH BREY:
We were talking about this is what we’ve done in the second half, we’ve had runs offensively and we’ve played with great emotion and spirit and fearlessness. I wasn’t saying a whole lot. They were talking in the timeouts like, we’re up five, let’s see if we can get it to 10. All things that we talked about through the year. I mean, we gave ourselves a chance, and it’s disappointing because, you know, you really had — you had the thing, you had a great chance to win it. But our guys felt we had a great chance to win it.

Q. Looking ahead to the Final Four, what type of team, what sort of style do you think can give Kentucky the kind of —
COACH BREY:
Wisconsin, did they win? Yeah, that’s a great match-up, that’s a great match-up. Wisconsin’s a little bit like us, they’re skilled and they can spread people out a little bit. They have a little more bulk and frontline size, but they’re really skilled offensive guys, and certainly we were able to get some things tonight. But the size does get to you, over 40 minutes it can take its toll on you and I thought the defensive possessions, as good as Jerian was getting us there, getting us a couple possession lead, it kind of swallowed him a little bit a couple times. But we’ll go down with him making plays because he’s made all the plays for us all year to get us here.