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Postgame press conference notes from Northwestern’s frustrating loss to Pitt

Something about this feels familiar...

Following a late loss that featured a blown lead and brought us all a sense of normalcy, head coach Chris Collins and sophomore center Ryan Young spoke to the media.

Chris Collins

Opening Statement: “Needless to say, very disappointing loss tonight. We led for 39 minutes and 55 seconds, but we didn’t close the deal. There were a lot of positives along the way and a lot of things we got to get a lot better at. That’s including closing the game, taking care of the ball, making free throws and getting stops. They scored 49 points in the second half, 22 in the first half 49 in the second. We got to grow from this game, we got to get better and find a way to close this thing out. Obviously our guys are very disappointed.”

On reassessing the season with COVID based on recent comments from Jeff Capel and Coach K: “Really, now is not the right time to address that, right after a tough loss. I can tell you our school is doing a great job, we test every day. We’re doing a great job here to try to keep our guys safe. That is always going to be the number one priority, health and safety. The moment we feel it’s not a safe situation, we won’t play. That being said, our guys want to play. They’re passionate about playing. They’re willing to make the sacrifices right now because they love to play basketball. So what we’re trying to do is give them an opportunity to get out there. With the way we test, the way we try to protect them from the virus, which as obviously we know, has been a crazy thing that we’ve all been through for nine months. The moment it gets to a point where our administration and staff and me feel like it’s not safe to play, then we won’t. But until then, we’re going to do everything possible to help these guys get on the court in a safe and healthy way.”

On areas play can improve: “We’re three games in to the season, so when you’re this early, there’s a lot of things on both sides, offensively, defensively. You’re not going to be a well-oiled machine at this point in the year. We have to make improvements in a lot of areas. I thought we did enough though. We were there, we had the game under control. We fouled a couple times, we didn’t get any stops in the last minute of the game. They scored, which starts there. Then we had a turnover, we missed free throws, so there were some things we got to get better at. To me, if you want to win late in games, you got to find a way to get stops. So the biggest mistake, I thought, was not being able to defend them in the last four minutes.”

On the offense facing a Power 5 defense: “I thought in the first half we were a little overexcited. In the first half we got a little anxious. I want these guys to be aggressive, I’ve talked about giving them freedom. We took a number of really quick shots early in the game, just being anxious and excited to play. I thought as the game wore on, we got some better shots in the second half. We settled in and executed a little bit better. That’s going to be the fine line for us, we want to play with pace, we want to push the tempo. But when it’s not there, you know, the points came pretty easy the past couple of games. So, now all of the sudden you’ve got a team that’s a good defensive team. They have physical guys, they’re big, they had a good scheme. You got to execute. I thought we had our moments and then there were other times where we can get a lot better. Like I said, it’s game three. We’ve got a lot to improve upon. Coming in, this is our third time seeing another team. You live and you learn, man. You play the game and you watch the film and you get to work and you hopefully get better. We have a couple opportunities next week to wrap up the non-league and get ready for Big Ten play, but certainly we’re going to have to improve in a lot of areas.”

On being slowed down: “A lot of it was their defense. I think a lot of times when things don’t go well, every coach has a tendency to talk about what we did or didn’t do. We certainly had some self-inflicted wounds but I thought Pitt did a really good job. They were very physical, the game got very physical early. I was managing foul trouble the whole game, as Jeff [Capel] was too. I was managing Robbie [Beran] the whole game, we need Robbie on the floor. Gaines was in foul trouble the whole game. It took away some of our rotations, how we wanted to play different positions. But give Pitt credit, I thought their physicality, their ball pressure, they tried to get in the passing lanes and disrupt us defensively and they did a really good job of that.”

On Justin Champagnie: “Got to give him credit. The very first thing is, he’s really good on the glass. Obviously with 20 rebounds, we had a hard time keeping him off the boards, getting a body on him. Again, in our position, the two guys we really wanted to guard him with were Robbie and Gaines, as our matchup in that 4-spot and those guys were in foul trouble the whole game. We ended up having to throw some other guys on him. Give him credit, off the steal, he finished there late. Certainly gets the dunk at the end of the game to win the game. He’s a terrific player. I think he was All-Freshman ACC last year and he played great against us last year. There’s a reason why he is where he is. He’s a good player, we tried to do what we could but he made some terrific plays down the stretch.”

Ryan Young

On moving forward from this loss: “It’s something we’re familiar with unfortunately. It’s been a problem for us in the past. We have a lot of guys returning this year, so everybody remembers those losses that we had last year that were very similar to this game. We had the lead very late in the game and we made crucial mistakes that the other team took advantage of. Moving forward I think we just have to realize that it’s the third game of the year. With everything going on, there’s been no closed scrimmages or anything like that. Our first two games weren’t very close, so this is our first experience with this team being in a close game like that. I think we can learn from it and keep our heads up and just recognize it’s very early in the season. We know we’re going to be in more games like that moving forward so it’s something we’re going to work on. Just realizing that it’s our first experience in a game like that and at the end of the day it’s the third game of the season.”

On offensive rebounding: “That was something that we focused on coming into the game. They’re really athletic. They send a ton of guys to the glass, like [Justin] Champagine and [Au’Diese] Toney are guards that in a standard team are getting back on those shots, but they’re crashing every single time. So it’s something we noted pregame, we figured that they were going to be coming at us with. We didn’t do as good of a job as we wanted to against that type of style where they’re crashing the board, sometimes five guys every single possession. We call it gang rebounding, where we have multiple guys going to the ball, it’s not just 1 on 1. When we’re playing a team like that or a team down the road in the Big Ten that has really athletic, long wings that crash the glass and they’re aggressive like Pitt was, we have to have all five guys coming to the boards, double teaming bigs. Like I said, this is familiar to us from last year, we had a problem being out-rebounded by other teams and other teams hurting us by getting offensive rebounding. It’s just something we’re going to work on moving forward. Again, third game of the year, but there’s there’s no excuse, it’s a crucial mistake. It’s two things, with the rebounding and the last two minutes of the game that hurt us last year and that hurt us tonight badly. We’re going to work on it, with getting multiple guys to the glass, practice it and move forward from here.”

On end of game mentality: “It’s positivity throughout all timeouts towards the end of the game. It’s hard to explain. I can’t think of an excuse for it. It’s been a problem for us. There is no lack of confidence in the last two minutes. Every time we come in for timeouts, Collins is screaming ‘we’re going to win this game, we’re going to win this game’ and it’s been that way for a long time. I don’t think anyone is going to those timeouts thinking that way. I couldn’t tell you what it is. It’s not a lack of confidence, it’s not a lack of momentum going in to there. Everybody’s on the track to win. We made those mistakes late and it’s something we’ll work on, but it doesn’t happen due to a lack of confidence in the game.”