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Men’s Basketball Beats Akron in NCAA Tourney Opener
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Men’s Basketball Beats Akron in NCAA Tourney Opener

Mar 28, 2024

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — No. 11 Creighton closed the first half on an 8-0 run and never looked back in a 77-60 win over 14th-seeded Akron in NCAA Tournament First Round action at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Thursday afternoon.

The Bluejays improved to 24-9 with the win and will play on Saturday against 11th-seeded Oregon, which defeated sixth-seeded South Carolina.

Creighton took a 39-34 lead into the break after a fast-paced first half that saw both teams connect with regularity from three-point range early on. Creighton made its first five three-point attempts, while national rebounding leader Enrique Freeman buried three three-pointers in the first five minutes. The teams exchanged six leads and it was tied nine times before the break, with Creighton scoring the final eight points to claim a 39-34 lead. That run featured three-pointers by Trey Alexander and Mason Miller before a hoop from Baylor Scheierman to end the half.

Ryan Kalkbrenner and Alexander each had 11 points at the break for CU, while Scheierman had eight points and seven rebounds. CU shot 60 percent in the first half (15-25), including 7-of-10 (70 percent) from three-point range. Akron was led by 15 points and eight rebounds by Freeman, while Ali Ali added 10 points.

The Bluejays rode that momentum out of the break as Miller and Scheierman buried triples to push the lead to nine (45-36), but Creighton pulled away for good with a 10-0 run that pushed its lead to 59-42 after Miller connected on his third triple of the contest.

Creighton had a balanced offensive effort,  as all five starters scored in double-figures.  Scheierman had his BIG EAST-leading 16th double-double of the year with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Kalkbrenner (23) and Alexander (19) were joined in the scoring column by Miller (10) and Ashworth (10). Creighton shot 56.5 percent from the field and made 10-of-17 three-point shots (a season-high 58.8 percent). The Bluejays won the board battle 38-26 and zipped past Akron 13-2 in fast break points.

Freeman earned his nation-leading 31st double-double of the season to lead Akron, finishing with 21  points and 14 rebounds. Ali finished with 14 points before fouling out. The Zips shot 37.9 percent from the field and made just 6-of-28 three-point tries. Akron ends its season with a 24-11 mark.

A game time and television network will be announced at the conclusion of today’s games.

NOTES: Ryan Kalkbrenner became Creighton’s second player ever to appear in four different NCAA Tournaments, joining Kyle Korver …  This afternoon was Creighton’s 200th game as a team while ranked in the Associated Press under Greg McDermott. The Bluejays are 140-60 in those contests … Creighton made a three-pointer for the 1,018th straight game … Baylor Scheierman made a three-pointer for the 21st straight game, and 79th time in his last 80 games. Scheierman’s first three-pointer was also his 100th of the season, something only Kyle Korver (2x) and Ethan Wragge had done previously in Creighton history … Today was Creighton’s 99th straight game on television … Baylor Scheierman passed Kyle Korver for the most three-point attempts by a player in CU single-season history … Isaac Traudt had his first blocked shot of the season … Baylor Scheierman (287) became the first Creighton player with multiple seasons of 300 rebounds since Bob Portman in 1967-68 and 1968-69 … Creighton improved to 19-25 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a 13-12 mark in its opening game and 2-1 as a No. 3 seed … Creighton is now 4-1 all-time against Akron, and 2-0 in postseason play … Creighton played its 52nd straight game without a player fouling out, the nation’s longest streak since at least 2005-06 … Ryan Kalkbrenner (97) became the second player in CU history to block 100 shots in a season, joining Benoit Benjamin who did it twice … Creighton’s 58.8 percent shooting from deep was a program record for an NCAA Tournament game … Ryan Kalkbrenner, Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander all recorded 15+ points and 5+ rebounds in today’s win. They’re just second BIG EAST trio to do this in a NCAA Tournament game over the last 10 years, the other being Xavier’s J.P. Macura, Trevon Bluiett and Kerem Kanter in the 2018 Round of 64 vs Texas Southern … Creighton scored 77 points today, all from its starters. The last team to score that many points in an NCAA Tournament game despite having zero from its bench was Rutgers (87 points) in a Play-In Round loss to Notre Dame in 2022. The last team to score 77+ with zero bench points in a WIN, was Minnesota (86 vs Louisville) in the 2019 Round of 64. The last BIG EAST school to do this (regardless of result) was Providence in the a 1997 Elite-8 loss to Arizona (92 points).

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

PPG Paints Arena

Creighton Bluejays

Media Conference

Creighton – 77, Akron – 60 Milwaukee,

MODERATOR: We’ll start with an opening statement from Coach Greg McDermott. Coach?

GREG McDERMOTT: First of all, congratulations to Coach Groce, his staff and his team on a phenomenal year. I gained a new appreciation for the job he does in our preparation for Akron. That team was very connected defensively, very unselfish on the offensive end, and as I mentioned a couple days ago, they lost several close games that were really not far from winning 30 games this year.

So they had our utmost respect, and I think you saw, especially in the first half, you know, it’s a quality, quality team that we beat today. So we’re excited because we beat a good basketball team. And proud of our guys. I thought we took really good shots, and when we take really good shots, we’re a pretty good basketball team. And we gotta clean up some things with some of the turnovers, but defensively I thought we adjusted as the game went on and did a much better job in the second half.

MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Baylor, what flipped in those last couple minutes before halftime? You guys go on the run and don’t look back from there. What changed?

BAYLOR SCHEIERMAN: I think we were able to get some stops in a row and on the offensive end get shots. And like coach said, we really struggled with turnovers in the first half and in the last four minutes we were able to take care of the ball and get shots and stops and when we were able to do that, that’s when we really gained some separation.

Q. Felt like Akron, even though they were hitting shots, were playing at your guys’ preferred pace. Did you feel like as the first half wore on and the second half got going that that started to wear into them?

RYAN KALKBRENNER: Yeah, that’s kind of how we approach a lot of games is, even at the beginning of the game some pace may not give us a lot of buckets early on because the other team is fresh, but we play at that pace and practice at that pace all the time, so we can keep that up for 40 minutes. Not every team we play against can. So when you start wearing into them like that you start to get a few easy baskets or a few good looks because you’re running the other team. So I think that definitely helped us toward the end of the first half and end of the second half.

Q. What changed defensively for you in the second half in the job you did on Enrique Freeman?

RYAN KALKBRENNER: I think it’s a little bit getting used to how he plays. You can watch someone on film a lot and get as used to it as you can, but at the end of the day he’s a really good player and just made some mental adjustments as to how I wanted to guard him in the post and did a little better job. He still got a few buckets because he’s a really good player, but yeah just being able to make adjustments in the game.

Q. Mason, when did you know that something was going right for you and what kind of an impact when you’re hitting your shots like that can that make on your team and on your teammates?

MASON MILLER: Honestly, I mean just every single day, I mean, I work on my shot every single day, so I kind of come into the game expecting to make shots like that. I guess just running to the corner, getting open looks and playing within the offensive kind of helps the team a lot, especially when we have great players like Ryan and Baylor over here being able to space the floor for them, it’s huge for them.

Q. For any of you guys, the experience you guys have at this stage, how did that help today and how can that help you the rest of the tournament?

BAYLOR SCHEIERMAN: I just think the game is 40 minutes long and there’s a lot of ups and downs that go throughout a basketball game, and obviously in the first half there was some things that didn’t go right for us and they were kind of hanging with us and whatnot, but then we were able to get stops and get a game of runs and we were able to go on ours and continue with it. So I think the experience of knowing that the game is 40 minutes and anything can happen, I think that helps us out.

Q. Baylor, is there regardless of opponent always a challenge that comes with the first game of the tournament just getting the kinks out of the way and finding your rhythm?

BAYLOR SCHEIERMAN: Yeah, I think so. Obviously it’s a — the tournament is so fun and not everybody gets to take part of it. And the start of the game, the atmosphere is just a little different than a regular game. And regardless of who you play the first round, a lot of times it can be really tough. I mean, last year at NC State it was a tough game. This year, same thing. So regardless of your opponent, the first game is always a challenge.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. Student-athletes can be dismissed.

MODERATOR: Questions for coach McDermott.

Q. I don’t know what you were saying to them in the huddle as that first half was going on, but obviously both teams were making a lot of shots. Did you get a sense that because of the way the pace was going that Akron wasn’t really trying to slow down and play to their style, that you guys were eventually going to break through?

GREG McDERMOTT: Some of the things I said in the huddle I can’t repeat to you. And that doesn’t happen with me very often. But I was not surprised that they came at us in transition. In watching them play, they’re opportunistic, but they have a lot of guys that can handle it in transition and lead the break. So I was not surprised they came at us the way that they did.

We had some mental mistakes that allowed them to kind of get going, and Freeman banks in his first three. That’s a nervy shot for a guy that doesn’t shoot a lot. Kalkbrenner makes one, too. But if the first one doesn’t go in with the bank, maybe he’s not as comfortable. The most he’s ever shot in a game this year was three, and he shot 47 on the year. So we really didn’t think coming in that he would be willing to shoot eight three-point shots. So we had to adjust, obviously, as the game went on.

Q. Greg, how much did you kind of bank on that, when it started to turn into kind of a one-on-one there with Kalkbrenner and Freeman that the rest of your guys, the supporting cast, would start to get open looks the way that they did?

GREG McDERMOTT: Yeah, especially when Freeman picked up a few fouls, that takes away a little bit of his aggressiveness, and that’s naturally going to happen when you’re in foul trouble. So as we got that lead, we made it a point to play through Kalkbrenner. And I thought the guys did a good job of picking their spots. And like I said in the open, the 17 three-point shots, we had a couple we had to take in late clock situations, but I think they were really good threes for us against a team that’s been a lead all season of taking away threes and making sure the percentage, I think the team shot 30 percent against Akron on the season from three. So to do what we did offensively against what I consider a very defensive team is really a credit to our team.

Q. Coach, this is the fourth year in a row that you guys have won a tournament game and you’ve now passed all other Creighton coaches combined for most wins in the NCAA Tournament. To have four years in a row where you can get a win in March and to have the success that you’ve had, what does that say about this team that they can perform at this time of year?

GREG McDERMOTT: Well, first of all, you never take for granted getting here, because it’s really difficult. What is it, 16 or 17 percent of the Division I teams get in the tournament? That’s not very many. And there was a lot of disappointment on Selection Sunday with teams across the country that felt they were deserving and they didn’t get in. So the first thing you do is you appreciate the opportunity, and then you celebrate the things that you’ve done to get here. Like I told the guys in the locker room before the game, we talk about process all year long, trusting the process, trusting your work. You know, that process is what led us to here. And that process is what’s going to give us hopefully an opportunity to kind of finish the job and keep advancing in this tournament. But I’ve had — really only one of those teams was an inexperienced team. The team when — three years ago when Nembhard hurt got hurt and Trey had to slide to the point guard position and we were playing some freshmen, Alex O’Connell had only transferred in for one year, Ryan Hawkins for one year. The rest of the teams, we’ve had some pretty good experience in the tournament, and I think that really helps you when you come back. You know what to expect. Teams that are here the first time are taking pictures and doing all that when they go on the court. Our guys today were like, all right, this is where we expected to be. What are we going to do, and let’s do it and get out of here.

So we really appreciate the opportunity to play in the tournament, and we hope we’re blessed to be able to stick around till Saturday and we’ll try to give it our best.

Q. Greg, I’m just curious what you might have said to Kalkbrenner when you pulled him over to the sideline on that made breakaway that didn’t exactly go the right way.

GREG McDERMOTT: Well, he had one early in the season where he attempted to break a press by himself, which was the first time that I’d ever seen that in the four years that I’ve coached him. Today was the first as well. So we were chuckling about — he said he thought about going behind his back at the end. That’s what brought my chuckle. But he plays the game the right way, he plays with emotion. You can tell he loves to play the game. Impacts the game in so many ways that don’t show up on the stats sheet. So that was a fun moment for both of us.

Q. As the game wore on, I know it’s by design defensively, I know you gave up some offensive rebounds, but you did force them to take the shots that you designed your defense to force teams to take. How did that execution ramp up as the game went on?

GREG McDERMOTT: I mean, we had to make some adjustments when the bigs were hitting threes. So we had to switch a little bit more, and then we got cross-matched a few times. But I thought early in the second half, I thought — I can’t remember who hit him. I think Johnson hit a couple tough twos where we went over the screen, we were there. He hits a 16, 17 footer with a hand in his face. That’s kind of what we’re trying to do. So I was happy, really, after the first seven or eight minutes of the game. I thought we settled in a little bit better defensively. But credit to them, they also made some tough shots.

Q. I know you were locked into your game. I’m wondering how much you were aware of what was going on in Omaha with Duquesne, which is the host school here, and beating BYU, and the crowd’s reaction to that. At times during your game, whether the same thing was happening back home?

GREG McDERMOTT: It was a little strange to play the game with that going on, by the way because the cheers and the ooohs and ahs didn’t really match up to what was going on on the floor in front of us. So that was somewhat challenging for our guys. But I had saw in the locker room before I left that they had the lead and obviously saw the reaction. Keith’s been a friend of mine a long time. We coached against each other back when I was at Northern Iowa and Creighton was in the Valley and he was at Akron. We’ve known each other a long time. What a great way for him to go out as his career is winding down. But he’s always been a terrific coach. He’s tremendously respected in our profession, and good things happen to good people sometimes, and he deserved that. So I’m really happy for him and his program and, especially his family with some of the things they’re going through.

MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach. Congratulations.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

142241-1-2377 2024-03-21 20:05:00 GMT

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tech 129


Thursday, March 21, 2024

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

PPG Paints Arena

Akron Zips

Coach John Groce

Enrique Freeman

Greg Tribble

Ali Ali

Media Conference

JOHN GROCE: Obviously didn’t quite go the way that we had planned or wanted it to. Give Creighton a lot of credit. I thought they were really challenging to guard. I felt that way coming into the game. I thought it was important that we had valuable possessions on offense and scored. And I thought we got some pretty good shots. We made them early. Didn’t make as many of them in the second half, but I thought they were good ones, and the game got away from us just a little bit there. But give them credit. They’re a good basketball team, but I’m really proud of these guys, proud of our whole team, but in particular, senior class and what they’ve meant to our program, in some cases five years, four years, two years and one year between the five guys. And what they’ve done for our program, and it’s not just the winning. You know, obviously that’s the part that you get to see is the three championships over five years and the win percentage and all that that these guys have been able to attain. But it’s bigger than that to me. It’s the people that they are, the people that they’ve become, the leaders that they’ve been, the way they are on campus, the way they treat people, the teammates that they’ve been, their work capacity, their commitment to being great, their commitment to each other, how much they care about each other, and how much they care about winning. And in a day and age where our society can tend to be the opposite of that or 180 of that or there’s selfishness and all that with teams, and the fact that we didn’t have any of that makes this group really, really, really special. It’s been a real privilege to coach them and to work with them. Like I said, Kaleb one year, Sammy two years, Ali four and Reque and Greg five. Just very, very thankful and feel very blessed. Wished we’d have played a little bit better today, but right now I kind of have an attitude of gratitude for these three guys and Thornton and Hunter, who aren’t up here.

MODERATOR: Questions for student-athletes.

Q. Enrique, you went from getting dragged to open tryouts and now in March Madness, I don’t know if anybody’s told you, I’m sure you know, though, most double doubles, third in NCAA Division I history. How does that feel to kind of finish this part of your story?

ENRIQUE FREEMAN: I mean, obviously the accolades feel nice, but like Coach said, I’m just in real good gratitude with how this team, throughout the entire season, throughout my entire time here, we worked very hard, and I think we did something very special in Akron, and I’m glad we were able to put on for the city.

Q. Ali, what does it mean for you to kind of finish off your story coming back to Akron, you get back to March Madness and finish it out with your guys? Obviously not the way you wanted the game to end, but your story as a whole, talk about the ending for you.

ALI ALI: Obviously not the ideal ending that we wanted, but I got to go out with the people that I care about the most, you know, outside of my family back home. Honestly, like, these are like my brothers. I don’t really got too many friends back home. These are the guys I’m around a lot. So if I’m going to lose, I’m going to lose with them. If I’m going to win, I’m going to win with them. That was a big part of coming back knowing I would regret it if I didn’t finish out my college career with these guys in the locker room.

Q. What worked in the first half? What did you think would work with your game plan? Just speak about the start you guys had.

GREG TRIBBLE: I felt like we were making a lot of shots in the first half which led to — they can’t get out in transition as much if you are making shots. And I feel like in the second half we weren’t making as many shots and we started gambling and they’re a really good team on offense, and once they start getting open shots it’s hard to stop them from making shots. So they were just real good in transition, and we just didn’t have good transition defense tonight.

Q. Enrique, just that first half, the end on an 8-0 run that extends 28 to 8, I believe. Kalkbrenner, Alexander, Scheierman are all involved. How difficult was that match-up, and for you in particular, Kalkbrenner?

ENRIQUE FREEMAN: He’s a big player. He has good size, but I think match-up wise, we did a good job. I thought the entire game tried to take away their good tendencies, but overall I think they just caught us in transition and they’re really good at the three-point line. So they hit some good threes.

Q. Enrique, can you talk about what the banging inside and drawing him defensively outside with the threes, what was that pace like for you and did it take a toll as the game went on, the frenetic first six minutes?

ENRIQUE FREEMAN: I mean, I don’t think it took a toll. I just think I got in foul trouble and we decide to put Sammy on him. But that’s what bigs do. We go down there and we’re physical, try to catch them outside the post. I know I had a good post position and he struggled when I was using my moves. So it’s just basketball.

Q. From talking to you guys, I know that you thought mental toughness really carried you through the Mac tournament and here, but you didn’t play your best. I’m sure you guys think that today wasn’t your best. So what do you think kind of just prevented it from being — reaching your full potential as a group when it comes to the talent and experience you guys have?

ENRIQUE FREEMAN: I think — potential wise, I think our team is reaching our potential. You know, I think our entire season there was ebbs and flows throughout the entire season, but in this game, some games you get out shot. Simply it. I don’t think any of our guys quit. None of our guys didn’t stop playing hard. Everybody gave their best efforts until the shot clock went off. So all we can do is take a look at the drawing board and hopefully those freshmen, juniors and sophomores come in next season and see that and use that as an opportunity to learn.

Q. Enrique, you came out and banked in a three-pointer to begin and I think you took like eight of them. I don’t know. Maybe John didn’t design it that way, but what was going on there with you shooting the threes and just how did you feel about that?

ENRIQUE FREEMAN: You know, he plays in the paint a lot. So we tried to stretch out the floor a little bit more. And everybody believes in my three. I’ve been working very hard on it. And I just knocked down a few, so they had to change coverage, and we decided to attack a different way.

Q. This game only came about two hours away from home. Pretty good faithful showing from the Akron crowd, and at times in the first half, pretty energetic. How did you guys try to ride that momentum from the crowd, as well, and what was it like just to see the Akron faithful here?

GREG TRIBBLE: It meant a lot. Obviously, our fans, they care about us. They show up to every home game. That’s why we were so good at home this year. I mean, it just feels good to see some familiar faces in Pittsburgh, and we just tried to feed off of that. And that’s it, really.

Q. For you three guys, you guys came in before the pandemic. You guys have been in Akron for five years, Enrique six as a student, obviously. If you could take us back to when you were kids to now as kind of grown men or adults, what’s that been like, this full experience of college basketball with two tournament appearances?

ENRIQUE FREEMAN: I mean, like I said yesterday, the journey has been amazing. Super grateful for the journey. I wouldn’t ask for it to go any different. I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish here and all of us were able to accomplish here. And I just — I’m happy that we’re able to leave on a legacy. Akron basketball, Akron culture. We’ve done a lot of winning, and we want to just pass on the torch. Those guys in 2019, 2020 passed the torch to us. Time for us to pass the torch.

ALI ALI: I would say I’m definitely appreciative of the run we’ve had the last four or five years, and just looking back, like, obviously as a kid, middle schooler, high school, like for me, not having a DI offer, senior year starting like Groce coming in giving me one chance, and no one else giving me a chance coming out of high school. So I think just coming into this tournament has been the story of our lives, always been underdogs. So I mean, I’m just grateful and appreciative for all the people I’ve met on the way.

GREG TRIBBLE: I’m just thankful for the opportunity of Coach Groce and the coaching staff for even believing in me to come to this university. Just teaching the younger guys, just don’t take it for granted. You know, obviously, we put in a lot of work to get to where we’re at now to do as much winning as we have, and just teaching them, that’s what it’s all about. Just teaching them that you just can’t take it for granted. You gotta work hard every day.

MODERATOR: Thank you, student-athletes. All right. Questions for Coach Groce.

Q. Coach, did the first half kind of go according to plan or was there a big deviation from what you thought?

JOHN GROCE: Until the last couple minutes. I thought that was the biggest juncture in the game. We were up 34-31 with about two minutes to go in the half and then they went on an 8-0 run. I thought that was the biggest two minutes of the game. So give them credit. We had a couple possessions there where we didn’t get matched up in transition. The guys alluded to that. You know, we had a questionable shot, you know, couldn’t quite get the ball a couple of times where we wanted to get it. But for the most part, other than those two minutes, we played the game plan to precision, quite frankly. We really did. Terry was talking about Freeman’s eight threes. I actually was hoping he’d get 15 up.

Q. Coach, you started off the game with Enrique Freeman up top taking those eight threes throughout the game. You had Sammy Hunter in the post. Is that something you guys had planned for?

JOHN GROCE: A lot of it’s based on how Kalkbrenner plays defensively. In my opinion, he makes them go defensively. So the guys are certainly smart, give good effort. But you’re talking about the three time Big East Defensive Player of the Year. He’s big, as Rique said. So I’ve got confidence in Enrique and Sammy to shoot the ball from the three-point line and beyond. So that was part of it, trying to get him out of the paint a little bit. Give them credit, Greg made a change, like good coaches like him do, and changed his coverage a little bit. But I thought Ali was effective in the first half. I thought the pick and roll game was effective in the first half. I thought we did a lot of really good things. Until their run the last two minutes, as the original question was asked there, I don’t know if it could have went much better.

Second juncture of the game that I thought got away from us was the start of the second half. We just weren’t — weren’t quite as effective as we were the first 18 minutes, and then we were playing behind from there.

Q. John, given Enrique’s journey, how tough is it, then, subbing him out with 1:23 to go knowing you’re not going to have him again?

JOHN GROCE: Tough. It’s not just because as good of player a as he is. That’s part of it. But it’s the person he is, the leader, the teammate, how coachable he is, his work ethic, how much he cares about other people. I’ve nicknamed him the unicorn for a reason.

Q. Coach, in that second half, when the offense isn’t executing, seems like shots are finding any and every way to not fall. What’s the message to your team?

JOHN GROCE: Well, my whole deal, and it is every game, it’s the quality of the shot that’s important to me. I believe in them that they can make good shots. So I’m more concerned about the quality of the shot we’re getting. I thought turnovers would be big for us, and you can look at the stats. We only turned it five times the entire game, which is great. I thought defensive rebounding would be an advantage for us. They got us a little bit on the glass there during that one stretch that I was a little disappointed in. We missed a block-out on Mason Miller and a couple guys there that ended up during that stretch of two or three minutes when I talked about the bad start a little bit to the second half where it kind of got away from us a little bit. I thought that offensive rebounding by them was a part of that. But, you know, yeah. Obviously you want to make shots. Right? Who doesn’t want to make shots? We’ve taken a lot of pride in having a lot of mental toughness of being able to play through stretches. We had a semifinal game in Cleveland where we scored 16 points in the first half and had 13 turnovers and we were only down ten because our defense was so good. Then we scored 50 in the second half and shot the cover off the ball.

So you want to make shots. I do think if you can rebound and take care of the ball and defend, you’re always going to have a chance. But this was a little unique today. Their offense, as the guys were alluding to, was just prolific. Saw it on film coming into the game, felt that way during the game. My opinion hasn’t changed on that. Just have a lot of answers offensively. They’ve got size at the rim and a guy that can score in the post. They’ve got multiple play makers, great passers. And they shoot the ball from three very well. You’re not going to find very many nights where you’ve got all four or five of those guys that shoot threes for them to all be off in the same night. And then they run good stuff.

So I knew it was going to be a challenge to stop them. Again, I thought the key would be could we keep scoring, and obviously we were able to do that for about 18 minutes but weren’t quite able to sustain that for the remaining 22 minutes.

Q. Coach, you used the word prolific to describe their offense. Was there an offense this season, whether it be regular season or MAC tournament or nonconference, that prepared you for what they bring with Kalkbrenner and Alexander and Scheierman?

JOHN GROCE: No. I mean, I think they’re as good of an offensive team in terms of their personnel, their blend of size, shooting, play making, what they run offensively. They’re as good of an offensive team as we’ve went against in my seven years at Akron.

Q. You’ve been in this situation before after being eliminated in the NCAA Tournament. Just curious, what do you say to your team afterwards in the locker room?

JOHN GROCE: I just told them how proud I was of them. I addressed the game briefly, and obviously didn’t go the way that we wanted it to or envisioned or planned for it to. Give Creighton credit. But just told them how grateful I was for what I just said at the outset of this; five years, four years, two years, one year, in particular those seniors, and really all of them. You know, I enjoyed being with them, coaching them. They are a great group of guys. As Freeman has said multiple times, we don’t have a bad apple in our locker room. That doesn’t mean we don’t go through times that are tough. We all do, right? You guys do, we do. But it’s the people you do it with, how much you care about each other. We had good people in there, and it made it super enjoyable, and I’m just grateful to have had the opportunity to coach them. Those guys will always be a part of not only the Akron family, but my personal family. You know, I love them. They’re great, great, great guys.

Q. John, Enrique said he was happy to be able to leave a legacy. How would you define the legacy?

JOHN GROCE: Well, that’s a complicated question, right? Because what you see is the winning, you know, the winning percentage overall, league play, the best in the league, the championships, the banners, all that. And that’s certainly a part of it. But I think it’s more of — and a couple of the young guys just spoke after the older guys had a chance to speak in the locker room about how grateful they were that guys taught them what hard work looked like. You know, what leadership looked like, what being a great teammate looked like, what being at a do-both place, meaning, we expect you to get it done academically and earn your degree and make progress towards degree while also playing at a high level, what that looks like. You know, all these guys you saw up here, plus Hunter and Thornton, exemplified that on a daily basis. And so they were able to see all that and feel all that. So to me it’s bigger than all the winning. That’s certainly a part of it. But again, it’s who they are as people, who they are as students, the fact that they can get over themselves and care about somebody other than themselves, you know, just a special group.

Q. Obviously, the loss is still fresh, but all three guys touched on passing that torch in the legacy of Akron basketball. What does the future of Akron basketball look like in your eyes?

JOHN GROCE: Well, for us right now, obviously, I’m trying to process this one, right? But at the end of the day, we want to continue to fill our locker room with people that care about each other and care about winning. That’s what those guys would tell you. It’s really not any more complicated than that. Do you care about each other, really care for each other, take care of each other, and do you care about winning ahead of personal agenda? Right? Sounds obvious, sounds easy. It’s not. You know, so that was their mentality. I think the younger guys saw that. And we want to continue to build on that.

Q. I know you’d prefer to be joining him in the round of 32, but do you have any message for your old friend and rival Keith Dambrot?

JOHN GROCE: I’ll do that probably a little later. I haven’t had a chance to do that. So I’ve been occupied with what we’re doing right now.

Q. Can you tell us what you might tell him or talk to him about later on?

JOHN GROCE: Usually he and I — I said this earlier, we’ll text or we’ll call and I’m happy for him, obviously, and what he’s been able to do. I think you look at the last time that they were in the tournament, I think, was the ’70s. Is that correct? Yeah. So it’s really — it’s awesome, you know, what he’s been able to do. And I’m happy for him and Donna with the retirement, and Keith’s a big reason why I ended up come to go Akron. I said that earlier, was because of Keith and all the success that he had had and the battles that we had when I was at Ohio, and the familiarity with Akron and Northeast Ohio because of my time in the state at so many Ohio universities. And so, I had great familiarity with Akron and was attracted to that. But in large part because of Keith.

MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach. Appreciate your time.


FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

142246-1-2377 2024-03-21 20:31:00 GMT

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