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Coach Johnny Dawkins: I'm just really proud of our guys. The season was roller coaster. We started so strong, battled through adversity in the middle and then ended as strong. We saved our best basketball for last. We played well from start to finish and were very physical against an amazing coach [Tubby Smith] who I admire.
Q: Was the second half as good of a half as since you've been here?
JD: It really is when you think of the moment, playing for a championship. Things were clicking on all cylinders like that for a stretch.
On holding Minnesota without a field goal for a 10-plus minute stretch spanning halftime:
JD: We know they were a team we needed to slow down. We needed to make them a halfcourt team. That's our identity: defend, defend, defend. It's great to see success and see them winning games [with it].
On the underclassmen:
JD: We have a lot of confidence in our young players. It's a good group of young kids who really stepped up. All have given us something during this run. They've taken charges, blocked and rebounded. They have grown up this year and I am really proud of them.
Aaron Bright, NIT Final Four Most Outstanding Player:
It's great for us for next year, too. It's great for the seniors. It carries into the offseason. We know what it takes to win a tournament now. We've won five in a row and can use that for next year and make a run at March Madness. I think definitely we're locking in. Guys were doing a great job, a pretty good job tonight. Off connecting plays, we were aggressive. Coach always talks about being the aggressor and we did that this tournament.
On starting Bright or bringing him off the bench:
JD: It's a difficult decision. We felt like getting a spark would be good, because we weren't getting that early on. I give him all the credit because it takes a player buying into that for it to work. He brings us energy and changes the complexion of the game and, of course, is a great shooter. I think our kids get confident when he gets in and it's hard to prep for the other team for him to come in after the game gets settled.
(Note: Bright is visibly beaming throughout Dawkins' answer. Think he's onboard with the sixth man role.)
Our very own Kevin Danna asks Chasson Randle about his timely threes:
CR: I have to give all credit to my teammates, who found me in the open spot. I just made the shot. Aaron makes shots early in the game – it gets you going. I was just able to find my game.
I ask Coach Dawkins about what's made him the proudest about this team:
JD: I just think we've grown together. We've grown up. The journey started last April, then in summer we went to Spain. Then the preseason and of course the regular season. I look back at all the experiences we shared, and I see the team get closer and closer. The relationships they formed: they're champions forever and friends for the rest of their lives. Nothing can take that away from them. Whenever they walk into Maples a banner will be up there, and I know they're proud of that.
On the team's defensive identity:
JD: It has to hurt you to get scored on. Does it always work out for us? No, but our energy is there every night. Our competitiveness is there every night.
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