David Cox, Cyril Langevine and Jeff Dowtin met with the media after practice Thursday to talk Sunday's A-10 opener.
On practice since the non-conference finale: Just trying to find a little more about ourselves. Non-conference play didn’t go as planned. Seven and five - we hoped to do a little bit more, hoped that the team would have jelled and we would have progressed a little bit more. But I’m not devastated as to where we’re at. There’s been some growth. But now we’re in conference play and every game is now obviously a lot more meaningful. The competitiveness will be ramped up. They didn’t do us any favors by starting us on the road in our first two games, at St. Louis and at Richmond. But I just talked to the guys after practice about how this is what you live for. You want to play in big games. They’re predicted to win the league this year. We’re coming off two championships. It’s going to be played on ESPN. This is what you want. I think the guys are starting to understand how each practice and stacking good practices can impact the game, the gameplan and how we play. We’ve just been trying to really find ourselves in the last couple of days. We’ll dive into St. Louis [Friday] and we’ll be ready to play on Sunday.
On the intensity of conference play: We can talk about it as much as we possibly can. We’ll show them some film of some games that we played in last year. The older guys will talk to them. But not until you feel it, not until you’re thrown into the fire. They’ll get out there this week and see an intensity that they probably haven’t seen before. Some of the games in the non-conference will have helped with this though, playing at Charleston, playing West Virginia in the neutral site game. Then the trip to Hawaii, where we played three pretty good teams, particularly Bucknell and Hawaii. Really well coached teams that played well together. So I think those games will help us prepare, but not until you actually get into A-10 play, go out on the road, the fans, the energy that it provides the home team - not until you experience that are you ready for it.
On the freshmen: I thought they very played very well against Middle Tennessee State. And according to my SID Shane [Donaldson], he sent me a text with some pretty good news, that the last four games those three guys have trended up in regards to their numbers, their shooting percentage numbers. Not only are they getting comfortable on the floor, they’re playing a lot better defense and they’re in the right spots. I think Jermaine’s defense has been really, really good. We’re also starting to see the basketball go through.
On what leads to improvement for the freshmen: It’s just game experience. There’s a difference between high school and AAU and college ball. In high school, when you lose a game, it’s a big deal but it’s not that big a deal. In AAU, you lose a game, unless it’s Sunday and it’s bracket play, it’s not that big a deal because you’re going to play three more games that weekend. Then you’ve got a trip the next weekend. So it’s just not quite the emphasis. Here, when you play and you lose, it means something. It kind of sticks with you, but then you’ve got to turn the page quickly, because you’ve got another big game coming up. Every conference game is going to be played extremely tough. We have a small margin of error because we’re so young. I’m looking forward to this road trip, playing two tough teams in St. Louis and Richmond, but also to spend some time on the road so we can bond a little bit more.
On St. Louis: Travis has done a phenomenal job over the past couple of years just putting together that roster. It’s a deep and talented roster. They’ve got a good mix of some older guys, some fifth-year guys, whether it’s the point guard from Drexel or the transfer from Michigan State. They’ve got size. They’ve got athleticism. They’re awfully physical. They play very good defense. Offensively, they don’t shoot the ball great necessarily. So everything is going to be trying to contain them, whether they’re throwing it in or driving the ball to the paint. We’re going to have to be prepared to guard them off the bounce, we’re going to have to be prepared for their physicality, and we’re going to have to be prepared to guard them in the post inside.
On the road atmosphere at St. Louis: It’s an unbelievable atmosphere. They’ve got a lot of money in that athletic program. That facility is really nice and it gets really, really loud. One of the benefits for us right now is that they are on break. Hopefully they’re aren’t a lot of students that show up. But it’s a pretty big deal in St. Louis to come out and support St. Louis University basketball. It’s been that way for a long time. They have a long, outstanding tradition of success and I think Travis is trying to get them back to that point. So we expect a live, energetic crowd on Sunday.
On Jeff Dowtin's scoing and Fatts Russell's distributing: It’s probably been a five or six game trend in that direction. I think it started at Holy Cross. We won on the road and I decided to put the ball back in Jeff’s hands a little bit more, take a little pressure off Fatts and try to get him set up for some cleaner looks. And I think, although his shooting percentages haven’t necessarily jumped, he’s taking better shots and facilitating the basketball a lot better. And Jeff is just being himself. He’s a natural facilitator. He’s a gifted scorer. I think people are a little surprised, pleasantly, by his ability to put the basketball in the hole. But he has that ability. He’s had that ability since he’s been here. We’ve just had other scorers around him. He’s done whatever we needed him to do to win. Right now, we need him to be a facilitator, and a scorer, and a defender, and a coach on the floor. A little but of it all. But I think Jeff and Fatts are really starting to jell. And the presence of Christion Thompson in that backcourt also gives us a big boost because he’s just so reliable.
On what he expects at St. Louis: Packed. They were the preseason number one team. Going there in their home, it’s just going to be fun. It’s going to be a great atmosphere, that’s what I expect. Obviously, they’re a physical team. We’re physical too. It’s going to be two good teams.
On the difference between non-conference and A-10 games: Non-conference, you don’t know what’s coming. You don’t know the teams. I like conference play. It’s more games. More physical. You play each other twice so you really know what’s going on and know the teams.
On what he'll tell the freshmen: Confidence. Be the hungrier person on the floor. And just go out there and have fun. I always say you’ve just got to have fun with the game. You can’t think too much. Once you go out there and play your game, you’ll be fine.
On opening with the A-10 favorite: Me personally, I’m always ready for the challenge. I think my team is going to be ready. I can’t wait to get out there.
On conference play: It definitely feels a lot different. Conference play, this is where the games start to get tougher. The competition is definitely there. I’m very excited. I’ve been waiting for this the whole season. We got that last out of conference win. I think we’re ready. We’re excited for this moment.
On opening at St. Louis: It’s a great challenge for us. The odds are probably stacked against us with a young team, but this is a moment we’re going to step into, on the road for that first game. The energy is going to be there. It’s a very hostile environment. I believe the game is on ESPN, so that’s going to be a great environment for us. We’re going to be ready.
On the freshmen: We knew it was going to be a process for the freshmen. I think they’re finally starting to click. Their confidence is starting to grow and I think it’s at the right time. They’re definitely going to be ready for this upcoming game and this stretch we have coming up.
On his approach: Definitely trying to be aggressive and get to the basket a lot more. I’ve just been finding my spots, making good shot selections and my teammates have been finding me. I’ve been able to get a lot of open shots, get to the free throw line and finish around the rim.
On the pressure for the freshmen: You’ve got to love that pressure. For them, we need them to play well. They’re playing big time minutes at a big-time school. I think they’ve been handling the situation very well. I tell them all the time, it’s a lot of pressure because we’re relying on them a lot. I feel like they’re just going to grow more and more in the future.
On the key to conference success: Consistency. We’ve been doing well the last few years in the A-10 tournament and the A-10 season. We need to keep this thing rolling. I’ve got to take on that leadership role, get these freshmen ready to go so they understand how tough it is to win on the road and win in the A-10. It’s one of the best conferences in the country.
On road success: You’ve got to treat those road games like business trips. Going out there, away from home, you’ve got to be locked in, got to be focused. No distractions. You’ve got to take it very seriously.