Here is what Loyola-Chicago players and head coach had to say after beating Kansas State — Loyola once had a 22-point lead — Saturday in Atlanta to reach the Final Four.
PORTER MOSER: First of all, we always talk about it, glory goes to God. We’re just so blessed with the journey. Secondly, I just — this group of guys are resilient. They believe. We’ve said it all along, game by game, they’ve just taken one game at a time and believed. Their togetherness, their body language, their effort that they invested. I’m so happy for them. To see these guys experience that is an amazing feeling as a coach, to go through, have a locker room like this. I’m just really happy for those guys.
Q. Coach, at the beginning of the season, you started talking about why not us. Can you talk about how that’s gotten you here?
PORTER MOSER: You know, we did say that. It’s been quite a metamorphosis because Loyola Phoenix was the only one in the press conference for about 20 games. This is — we did. All summer long, we were like, why not us? The opportunity and how much they invested in it.
This is not something where it just started. These guys have been investing for a long time on how hard they worked, how hard they believed, and we’ve kind of had this mantra about the process. People asked me out there, did you ever think you were going to the Final Four? And to be honest with you, after Selection Sunday, we didn’t say, hey, let’s go to the Final Four. We said, what do we got to do to beat Miami, and then it was the next game, and then it was the next game. These guys have done an amazing job on laser-like focus on what’s right in front of them instead of skipping steps.
Why not us? You have to have high-character guys that believe to truly do that.
Q. Ben, how do you explain how locked in you were tonight, and after the couple shots you looked into the crowd, were you looking at anybody in particular or just the crowd in general?
BEN RICHARDSON: You know, that’s just one of those moments that — like I can’t even explain. I kind of just black out.
But you know, I’ve got to credit my teammates for finding me. That’s what’s so special about our team. We’ve got so many unselfish guys, and we have so many weapons. And like we’ve been saying, it can be anybody’s night. We’ve shown that so far this tournament. Each one of these guys has had a big night.
I was in a rhythm and they were finding me, and so I just kept taking shots. They went down, and it was a big-time game, the biggest game of my life. So yeah, I guess I kind of just blacked out on some of those celebrations.
Q. Could some of you describe when you checked out of the game, like Ben, I know you and Porter hugged each other, just what were some of the things that you guys said to each other or exchanged in those moments?
BEN RICHARDSON: You know, it was just some personal stuff, but mainly just that we loved each other and just emphasizing kind of what Coach was saying earlier, just how far we’ve come. We’ve believed in each other and in the process this whole year, and we knew that we could do special things. So it didn’t really matter what the outside people thought or what they thought we could do. All it took was the belief in the locker room and each one of the coaches, my teammates, my brothers. And to have that kind of moment, it’s surreal, and I can’t even put it into words.
DONTE INGRAM: I mean, going off what Ben said, it’s just, this group, we’ve been so connected all year, and we’ve got so much love for each other. And just knowing where we came from and the vision we had since day one, and to get here now with this group of guys and the coaching staff, it just means so much.
Obviously checking out of the game, you’re just giving everybody hugs because we put the work in to get here, so it means a lot to all of us, and it’s just an unbelievable feeling.
Q. The past three games have been relatively close. You guys won today by double digits and were not down — the double-digit lead did not slip through the entire second half. How does it feel to not be sweating in the final minutes but also get a much-deserved win?
MARQUES TOWNES: I mean, I was just looking at the stat sheet, and it just shows right there, they shot 34 percent for the game. That was one of our game goals, to try to have them shoot under 40 percent for the game. We knew that Kansas State was a gritty team, and they’ll get up on you and make you turn the ball over. But I felt like we took real care of the ball today. We were selfless today and Ben had a real good game.
We tried to limit their offensive rebounding. We made some big-time plays and big-time shots at certain crucial moments. And like I said before, they shot 34 percent for the game, and I feel like us getting those stops resulted and contributed to the W.
Q. Ben, I think we’ve heard that on the TV interview you shared a story about a photograph that was taken yesterday. Could you share it with us?
BEN RICHARDSON: Clay is going to kill me for sharing this for the second time. But she asked a question about, I think, the fact that we’re not really imposing or people didn’t expect us to get to this point. And it was just a funny story yesterday in the hotel.
CLAYTON CUSTER: It was earlier today.
BEN RICHARDSON: It was earlier today? Yeah, I’m — everything is a blur right now.
But earlier today, we were getting on the elevator after shootaround, and somebody in the hotel, I think it was like a high school kid or something, was asking for a picture with the team, and they said, hey, can you take this, Mister, and they gave the phone to Clay. (Laughter).
He was going to take it, too. He was polite, he was going to take it. I was like, oh, man.
CLAYTON CUSTER: Everybody was laughing at me and stuff.
BEN RICHARDSON: It just shows that it doesn’t matter. It’s a cliché. Coach always says it, but it doesn’t matter the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog, and Clay has proven — he doesn’t care. And he’s proven that he belongs on this stage, and he’s the best point guard in my mind in this tournament, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my best friend. I might be biased, but that’s what I believe, and we all believe that, and our belief in each other is what makes us so special.
Q. Clayton, do you feel that your defense gets overlooked because you guys — so much is talked about your offensive execution, do you think that you do not get enough credit for you guys’ defense?
CLAYTON CUSTER: Yeah, I mean, the first thing we talk about when we talk about any team or scouting any team is how we’re going to stop them. We talk about defense. Coach makes sure that we’re locked in on the defensive end. Our coaching staff works harder than anybody I’ve ever seen to know every single tendency of every single player, and we have a specific way of how we want to guard things.
The first focus is defense for us. Yeah, people talk about our spacing and the way we move the ball and how unselfish we are, which I think that that’s expected because we do do a good job of that. But I think maybe — yeah, our defense is definitely the key to us winning these games.
Q. Ben, kind of following up on that question earlier, was there a point today or in the game early when you started to kind of know, I’m feeling really good? And then second, you hit that and-one three, you’re lying on the floor, kind of doing snow angels almost. What do you remember from that moment?
BEN RICHARDSON: You know, I felt like I was in a rhythm, like I said earlier. I got a good look to start the game, and that kind of started me off. And then I hit a contested one, and then after that I was really in a rhythm. The rim starts to look a little bit bigger.
On that particular play, you know, I was on the floor when I saw it drop, and I was pretty exhausted at that point. When the crowd kind of erupts like that on an and-one three, a four-point play, I was just celebrating and had my teammates come pick me up because I was pretty tired. But I had to celebrate on the floor, and I’m glad I made the free throw.
Q. For any of the players, you guys started — all five had fast feet on defense. You all had very fast feet. How do you get — how does that move in sync like that?
MARQUES TOWNES: Why do we have fast feet?
PORTER MOSER: Defensively we started out well —
MARQUES TOWNES: Oh, yeah. We kind of emphasize, we’ve been down the last couple games early, especially during like the first media. But you know, we wanted to come out today, we wanted to make an emphasis, let’s not start slow today. Let’s give it all we got in the beginning. I feel like that showed today.
We got some big-time stops and made them shoot hard, contested shots, and I feel like everybody was connected on defense. And just like I said before, I mean, they shot 34 percent for the game. When a team shoots 34 percent, you can see the margin of victory.
I’m just so happy for this team, and I’m just blessed to be in this position.
Q. Porter, how do you explain just how efficient you were when you came out? You guys were locked in immediately. It was as good as you’ve probably played in the four games of the tournament.
PORTER MOSER: Our defense dictates everything. We say it all the time. Our defense dictates our offense. We talked a lot about the Miami game and Tennessee game, we just kind of got shell-shocked in the first four or five minutes. Then we called a time-out, and then we got settled in because I thought we were playing defense quiet. They came out really noisy on defense. They were guarding right in front of us, and normally you’ll hear our bench yelling everything, and they were yelling switches, they were yelling different things. They thought they were running, and you could just see them — you could just see them getting stops and then running. You could just see the energy of creating some offense with our defense.
I think they knew right away that our defense was dictating our offense, and just the confidence was just growing, moving and spacing the ball, because they knew they were getting stops.
Q. Can you think back to even the preseason and just things you were noticing with this group that made you think, this is going to be maybe a special season, or these guys are going to work really well together?
PORTER MOSER: You know, we’ve enjoyed the journey. Like we enjoy the moments, but then when it’s time to lock in, they’ve been locked in, whether it’s a walk-through, a film session. We have these get-better tapes that we’ve shown every single game, we never blow them off. Even when there’s short turnarounds, we show clips of intangibles that we did well and things to get better. Just watching them from day one embrace the things they had to do better.
Sometimes you show the get-better tapes and guys are like, all right, Coach, you’re tripping, and these guys have embraced getting better. They’ve embraced the process of what to do. And you can just see how locked in they are. They have a ton of fun with each other. You can see, they have a ton of fun with each other. They’re enjoying this ride more than you guys — it’s just — but when it’s time to lock in, they are locked in. It’s because they want to win. It’s in their genes. They are winning young men.
Q. You guys have only allowed about 62 points on the season. You guys held K-State to 62 tonight. What’s been the key to the defensive consistency throughout the season?
PORTER MOSER: You know, like a couple of them said, you achieve what you emphasize. We’ve been focusing in on it all year. All off-season they bought in that that’s what wins, and then they bought in that it creates offense. And they know we’ve got weapons and they know the way we do things offensively. You can run — I always crack up when people say we play slow. We try to grind you out on defense, but we’re trying to push.
And these guys will all tell you, I’m trying to tell them to push it. I read an article last week, they said, we slow it down. I said, I’m not trying to slow it down, we just got shortened possessions because I think we do a good job of grinding people out on D.
But these guys have bought into the defense from day one. Ben and Donte have been here since day one and they’ve heard me say it every single year. You look at the top three teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, every year on defense they’re the three teams that finish it. And that was kind of something that drove them from the beginning to make it contagious amongst everybody to guard from day one.