ST. LOUIS--- Following North Carolina's dramatic 73-65 overtime victory over Ohio Friday night in the NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinals, UNC head coach Roy Williams and standout players Reggie Bullock and Tyler Zeller spoke to reporters.
Sunday's berth in the Elite Eight marks the fifth time in six seasons going back to 2006-2007 that the Tar Heels have advanced this far in the NCAA Tournament. Zeller became the first player since Tim Duncan in 1997 to record a '20-20' game in the Big Dance with 20 points and 22 rebounds, while Bullock hit five three-pointers on his way to 17 points, including a huge long-range bomb at the end of regulation to give UNC a brief two-point lead, and the first points of the overtime session.
Coach Williams Opening Statement:
Obviously we're extremely pleased. Feel lucky, but we did make some plays down the stretch and I was very proud of our guys. We feel like we were in a battle. I feel like I've been in a battle. Our players feel like that.
But congratulate Ohio. They did some really good things, eight out of 13 in the second half from 3‑point line, that was big for them to say the least. We tried to guard the three and didn't do as good a job of it as we would like, but we made enough plays.
It was big with 20‑22. Reggie made a big three for us late in the regulation to get us back in there. And then also made one in the overtime and 17 points, 10 rebounds. John Henson when it was a four‑point game chased the guy down and made a big block from behind and so it was an everybody out there.
Stilman (White) played 32 minutes, had six assists and zero turnovers. It was not our greatest effort ‑‑ well, it was not the prettiest effort by any means, but we got to get some joy in Mudville, because our locker room wasn't as happy as we would like for it to be with being here in the Final Eight.
But we realize we escaped and we are wounded a little bit right now, but we got to start getting some joy in the locker room. These are great kids.
Reggie, just how big was that three you hit near the end of regulation and then the beginning of overtime? And were you surprised that y'all needed that kind of effort against a team like this?
REGGIE BULLOCK: No, I was just thinking right when I caught the ball, I heard my whole bench, from managers to everybody, say shoot. And right then, I just pulled the trigger and I seen it go in. And I just was like, I was just thinking to myself, it's like my time to perform. And it was a big shot for our team and all my teammates just believing in me to make those shots.
Was it as difficult for you guys to create offense as it appeared?
TYLER ZELLER: Any time you lose somebody who leads your team in assists, Kendall's got over 300 assists on the season, so any time you lose somebody like that, it's going to be a little more difficult. I know that I felt open a couple times, but it was something that Kendall's been able to make a spectacular pass to get it there, whereas Stilman and Justin Watts haven't played with me as long and don't necessarily see it. So you got to just be able to adjust. And it is difficult, but at the same time, I think we can do much better than we did tonight.
For both of you, just the thoughts of what it means to be a step away from a chance to get to a Final Four and the chance to do that, especially with the way things were going there late, just what it means to have that opportunity?
REGGIE BULLOCK: Well, for me it means a lot to me, just to be able to play in the NCAA tournament. Because last year, I didn't play in it and I know it meant a lot to me. You seen a lot of things that my team needed and I wasn't able to bring that to the table because I wasn't playing. So just actually just being in the Elite 8 now, we went there last year, but we're not going to settle for just being there we want to move forward and just keep working hard.
TYLER ZELLER: It means a lot. Losing to Kentucky last year was something that has kind of always weighed on us, so hopefully we can have a better showing on Sunday and have a chance to go to the Final Four.
What do you think you were able to take advantage of inside obviously such a great performance statistically.
TYLER ZELLER: I think my height, and then I was much bigger than them, both physically and my height. So it was something that ‑‑ or I guess my height is physical, but whatever ‑‑ my height and weight?
COACH WILLIAMS: Academic Player of the Year.
TYLER ZELLER: I will call out myself though. But my height and weight was much bigger than them, so I had to make sure to get a good position and then rebound the ball or try to create a shot somehow.
Tyler, talk about their defense though the last 10 minutes of the first half. You guys had had a comfortable lead and they came back. Talk about what it was like in the paint with them getting after you like that.
TYLER ZELLER: It was a very physical game. Inside I think they did a great job of collapsing on me. Any time I did get the ball, they brought double teams from a lot of various places, so we had 24 turnovers, which is unacceptable. But we need to make sure that we tighten up and don't have that many turnovers on Sunday.
Tyler, why was the mood I guess a little more somber in the locker room and what specifically do you guys need to improve on to win Sunday?
TYLER ZELLER: I think we feel like we got away with one. Ohio played the better game, they hit a lot of shots, I think we just were able to make a lot of plays at the end that made us capable of pulling it out.
You got to give them a lot of credit defensively. And then offensively they were making a lot of threes. So you got to give them a lot of credit, but thankfully we were able to pull it out.
Seemed like Harrison Barnes struggled early then he made some plays late for you guys?
COACH WILLIAMS: He's three for 16, I think, and I'm the coach and I'm dumb enough to put the ball in the guy's hand at the end of regulation because I felt like he would make a play. And they did a nice job defensively, as we talked about earlier. They doubled Z in the post. They zoned it behind. They really did a nice job when we had Stilman on the same side with Z. They backed off Stilman and made it tough for him to get the ball in.
Harrison tried to take over a little bit more, got a little frustrated early, called walking on him twice and an offensive foul once. So we had three turnovers early, but he makes a free throw. He misses the free throw. And then it's either Z or John, one tapped it out and he makes a three, so it's a four‑point swing.
The youngster has an ability to make plays and he's not afraid to try to make plays. Some kids will always say, Yeah, I want to have that shot but he's the kind of kid that does really want it, and he focuses on the play, not the result. So we all have a tremendous amount of confidence. It didn't work out there at the end of regulation, but give the defensive player credit, too.
Right there at the end of regulation, it looked like Ohio had your number. They had the momentum going into overtime. You guys had it from the opening tip. What changed?
COACH WILLIAMS: Guys, I was just begging and pleading and trying to work my rear end off to get us in. And I said, Hey, we can't do anything about that. Now we can feel good about this overtime if we play well. And my head was killing me. I got a little dizzy out there a couple times, but I said, If I'm going to die, let's at least die with a win. That kind of thing.
But sometimes you feel like a preacher because I was just begging and pleading and pushing and trying to get them to understand now this is five minutes, let's play better, let's feel better about the way we played. I think we did that. 5‑6 from the line and 2‑4 from the field and we fortunately caught them and they were 0‑6 from the floor.
Talk about Stilman's play tonight.......
COACH WILLIAMS: He was really something. 32 minutes, six assist, zero turnovers, and it wasn't a comfortable game. I hope that the slant here is not how lucky North Carolina is, we know that, but give Ohio some credit. But also we had a guy that has 351 assists that didn't play and all of a sudden we got a freshman point guard from Wilmington, North Carolina who is thrust out there. He really did some nice things.
It was difficult for him defensively. I probably made a thousand moves tonight and one of the only ones that worked was in the end of the game in the overtime, we switched Reggie and put Reggie on D.J., because he was just tougher for Stilman to handle. And again late in the game we tried to go to Z one time and the guy just backed off of Stilman and made it tough to get him in there. But again the guy played 32 minutes had six assists, zero turnovers, so I'm thrilled for him and thrilled for our team too.
You ever been a part of a game where the rebounding disparity was 33?
COACH WILLIAMS: No, you'd have to Steve Kirshner, the SID. But we have out‑rebounded the dickens out of a lot of people. Three things that were really something tonight, that were big in the game, we rebounded the heck out of it, we're one, two or three in the nation out of 336 teams in rebound margin. We're also in the top, I'm going to guess here, Top‑20 in the nation about having few turnovers, because Kendall's got 351 assist, 101 turnovers.
And the other thing is we get to the foul line and not trying not to foul other people. And those were two big pluses for us tonight and one big negative, because we turned it over 24 times. But for us, we do have some rebound margins and Steve made not be in here but we have had some this year where we have out‑rebounded several opponents by over 20. Also we hope we don't miss so many shots and have so many opportunities for offensive rebounds.
STEVE KIRSHNER: 33 is the largest rebound margin in school history in the NCAA tournament in the 148 games, by seven. The previous was 26. But we have had larger margins in other games, but not in a NCAA tournament game.
COACH WILLIAMS: I really believe we have had at least one this year where we did out‑rebound somebody over 30. Now I wouldn't bet on it because the NCAA says not to bet. We had one game where we out‑rebounded somebody by 37. We're a good rebounding team and usually a lot better at taking care of the ball, but...
All the talk this week was just how Kendall Marshall is your most indispensable player. Is there any element of relief or almost satisfaction that you guys have proven that you can win without him? COACH WILLIAMS: Well, there's relief, for sure. I mean, but we got to play better. And the sad thing is, we're for three day, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, in practice with Stilman and J. Watts, we were pretty doggone good. We moved the ball effectively. Now my Blue Steel squad can't simulate what Ohio does defensively, but they turned a lot of people over. And I think on their defense, they're probably in the Top‑25 in the country in causing turnovers.
But again somebody said, Well, it's just one player, but I think this is the best example. I understand Indianapolis Colts were in the playoffs, they lose Peyton Manning, and they got the number one pick in the draft and that's how important Kendall is to us.
Kendall was saying in the locker room, there's 99 percent of players that have the game he has and they think it's just not my night, I'm going to stop shooting and change my game, and Harrison is that 1 percent who thinks, Give me the ball, coach. What do you think it is about him?
COACH WILLIAMS: No, he penetrated in there about eight feet and I don't know if the guy stripped him or he lost it, but I was really very confident. If they had made the free throw, we already had another play called. But when they missed the free throw, I told him I wanted him to start at less than six and get a shot up. If it missed, we might have chance to tip it in, but at least they wouldn't have a chance to go back the other way.
If I had it to do over again, I would put it in his hands again. He's unique individual. And Kendall described him, I mean, he is willing to try to make plays. Three for 16, and he's still willing to try to make plays. And one of those field goals I think was in the overtime, too. But, no, I would give it to him again.
He talked about it a little bit in the locker room, Harrison did, the expectation it seems like people always want more from him. They're waiting for the great game. Why do you think that is and how close do you think he is to that?
COACH WILLIAMS: The expectations were off the charts for him coming out of high school, and last year, he was phenomenal. He makes the last second shot against Florida State, makes the last second shot against Miami, makes the last basket against Clemson. You go on down the line and everybody says, Well, ho‑hum, that's what he's supposed to do.
It's not what a freshman in college is supposed to do. This year the defense has been aimed at him a little bit more and we haven't shot the ball well all year. And in the preseason, I thought we would be a great shooting team, but we haven't done it. But people always do expect more of Harrison. But I love what he does.
You mentioned more relief than joy out of your team. Would there be any concern about that and do you think that could be a positive heading into Sunday no matter who you play?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, there's concern about it because I want my team to enjoy this. We're in the Elite 8, so we got to try to figure out a way to do it. But the 'thrilla in Manila' ‑ I'm older than most of you guys‑ at the end of that battle, they were spent. I mean, we usually jump around, and I jump around, and we have a little mosh pit. In the locker room, I was afraid I would fricking pass out.
I told them, I said, We can't do that, guys. Come on up here. Let's just hug a little bit. But we're in the Elite 8 and we have got to make sure that our kids feel good about it. So I want us to feel good about it. I don't think you'll have any carryover affect about the way we play. But when you're in that kind of battle and you go, Whew, man, it's hard to go running up and jump on top of the backboard kind of thing.
When you're playing a team like Ohio that's a bit smaller than you, is it more frustrating with their shooting in the second half, 8‑1 from three, or their ability to generate turnovers? What's the most frustrating thing tonight?
COACH WILLIAMS: Both. Because we knew they were going to shoot threes. I'm going to miss this. They shot 700, 777 threes. I don't think I'm way off. I mean, it's 23 a game or something like that. They shot 15 in the first half.
So we knew they were going to shoot it. We wanted to get out there and we didn't do as good a job as we wanted to. They kept helping instead of getting out and guarding the threes. Then the other thing is we talked all week about making the easy play. You don't have to create a play, just make the easiest play you can make. And I thought we got away from that, particularly in the first half when you have 13 in the first 20 minutes, that means we have 11 in the last 25.
But again, I really believe we would be one of those teams that turned it over in the Top‑20 in the country, fewest number of turnovers. But tonight wasn't a typical game.
Was Kendall able to do anything during shoot around today?
COACH WILLIAMS: No. And I would love to give you guys an answer, but I really can't. I have no idea. He is much better. And he's gotten off some of the medication and he's much better. He brushed his teeth today. He didn't jump down and do 10 one‑handed pushups, which I told him he was going to have to do before I would let him play.
Is there a chance he would play Sunday? There's a better chance he would play Sunday than it was today. I really didn't ever expect him to play today, but Oral Roberts University, they said expect a miracle, so I guess I was hoping for a miracle type of thing. But we tried to prepare all week that he was not going to play and that's what we'll try to prepare for for Sunday. But if he can play, needless to say, I would take him.