Sidelines with John Clay

Everything Buffalo had to say after upsetting Arizona in NCAA Tournament

Buffalo’s Dominic Johnson, right, and Brock Bertram celebrate after Buffalo upset Arizona 89-68 in first-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Thursday, March 15, 2018, in Boise, Idaho. Buffalo plays No. 5 seed Kentucky on Saturday.
Buffalo’s Dominic Johnson, right, and Brock Bertram celebrate after Buffalo upset Arizona 89-68 in first-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Thursday, March 15, 2018, in Boise, Idaho. Buffalo plays No. 5 seed Kentucky on Saturday. Associated Press

Transcript from Buffalo’s press conference after the Bulls upset No. 4 seed Arizona 89-68 in a first-round game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Thursday at Taco Bell Arena.

Buffalo plays No. 5 seed Kentucky on Saturday.

THE MODERATOR: Welcome to Buffalo.

NATE OATS: Can’t say enough about our guys, just fought and battled. I felt like we had a shot; I didn’t think we were going to win it like that. I really felt like we were going to win this game. I liked our guard play, I said it from day 1.

We felt like maybe we had a bad seed. We thought we were better than that. Then I told the guys after the initial -- we’ll try to get to the second weekend, whether you beat a 5 as a 12. And then a 4 or 4 first and a 5, let’s go get what they gave us and get it done.

Then the more you looked at them, the more beatable they looked because they weren’t that deep. We play fast. We had great guard play. I thought we could guard their guards. They had one ball handler. I thought we could do a pretty good job.

And they’ve been through a lot of controversy. I thought they’ve done an unbelievable job. They won 8 out of their last 9. The only one they lost is when Trier didn’t play and Coach Miller wasn’t coaching. I didn’t think the more -- I watch enough Pac-12 games to last myself about five years. Nobody puts any kind of ball pressure on them. We’ve got two of the best defensive guards in the country in Caruthers and Jordan.

I thought they’d come out and pressure and see if they can get the ball to the two 7-footers with the guards having to handle pressure all night. And they got it to them enough, but not enough to beat us. So if you look, Ayton had 14 and Ristic had 16. They were 312th in the country in percentage of points from 3. We wanted to make them shoot a lot of 3s. We’re fortunate that they shot 2-for-18. And some of that was due to us and some they just missed.

That’s a great program that Sean has built, unbelievable program. To get a win over a program like Arizona, that speaks volumes to our guys. Wes and Jeremy kind of carried us through the MAC tournament. This is the Third Team All MAC selection. Supposedly there was five better point guards in the MAC than them. The other coaches, I guess, didn’t want to give them a First Team. Jeremy is a Second Team All MAC guy. Apparently there are five players better than him in the MAC. And CJ was First Team. He struggled a little bit in the MAC tournament. I told him this afternoon, CJ, statistically it’s impossible for you to have another bad game because you’re too good of a play. So you’re going to get this thing going tonight. He came out, hit a big 3 right out of the gate.

Jeremy and Wes got going right away, and felt good. We had to shore some defensive stuff up and get the turnovers down. After that I felt good about it. I felt great at halftime. We had 9 turnovers at the half. If we’d quit turning the ball over we’d be up 10. We only had one in the second half and we got a pretty good win.

Q. Did you feel a little bit like people didn’t understand how good this team really was?

WES CLARK: Definitely. With us being the MAC team it’s easy to look as a team that can’t compete with a high Major or a team that got four NBA prospects, we wouldn’t be able to compete. But we know deep down, watching enough film, looked at things, that our confidence was there. We can play with these guys and play hard.

Q. It was very back and forth in that first half. You guys took over the second half. What were you guys doing to get separation from them?

JEREMY HARRIS: I have to give the credit to our coaches, because it was a great scouting report. And we just followed it for the most part. And did what we’ve been doing all year. That’s it.

Q. You guys came out shooting incredibly in the second half, shot 64.3 percent from the 3-point. How do you explain how you shoot that well from 3-point?

WES CLARK: I think it was simple, you just make the shots no matter who was out there. It’s the same kind of shot, still the same basketball, 18 feet -- is it 18 feet?

NATE OATS: 19-9, I believe --

WES CLARK: 20 foot 3-pointer, we had the same confidence and didn’t worry about who was on the defensive end.

JEREMY HARRIS: We’ve been putting in work all year. We always staying after practice, before practice, late at night, just shooting and getting the shots. Since we’ve been here we’ve been in the gym late at night. We had a shoot-around this morning. Same shots we’ve been shooting all year like Wes said.

CJ MASSINBURG: It just shows what type of program we have and what type of guys and coaching staff we have in our program. We are very hard-working guys. Ever since we’ve been here we got here early just to get in the gym, get used to the altitude, and stuff like that. As soon as we got off the plane, went to the hotel, Let’s go hit shots. We just kept pounding it.

Q. When you started you had a small section of Buffalo fans, a small section of Arizona fans, and as it started picking up in the second half, you had about 10,000 fans for Buffalo. Talk about that and the motivation it gave you.

CJ MASSINBURG: It was amazing. I noticed it at first, when we first got there, we heard our Buffalo fans, then we went on a run. The whole arena started erupting. It felt amazing so I guess with Wes Clark there, they thought we were handsome and they got behind us.

JEREMY HARRIS: The same thing as CJ said. We had a little section and then by the end of the game it seemed like we were in the arena in Buffalo.

WES CLARK: Man, you know, it’s the same. It’s just the same feeling. We just took it one play at a time. Everybody likes a nice, hard-working team. So we just embraced that and tried to play as hard as we can.

Q. One of the things I noticed about your style of play is that you know exactly what you wanted to do and you stay with it. Where do you get that? Arizona made a nice little comeback, down 2 going into halftime. They went in a little bit, and then you took over from there. Where do you get the relentlessness from?

CJ MASSINBURG: Man, it comes from the man at the end of the table. He has the utmost confidence in all his players. We just came in feeling like we belong there. We belong at this stage. He’s not scared of anything, and he puts that into us. And we follow his lead. He’s a relentless person.

JEREMY HARRIS: I have to say the same thing. Coach is probably the most competitive coach I’ve ever played for. He wants his players to go out and play the game. If you’re a 3-point shooter, he wants you to shoot 3s every time. If you’re a driver, same. Credit to Coach Oats.

Q. You guys busted a lot of brackets tonight. How does that make you all feel?

JEREMY HARRIS: That’s pretty amazing, I can’t even sit up here and lie (laughter).

Yeah, we did bust a lot of brackets. We kind of knew that we could play with them. So we went out there with a game plan. We’re really happy.

Q. You were here two years ago when this team lost. So what’s it like to be a part of winning the first tournament game, with this being your first ever NCAA Tournament?

CJ MASSINBURG: Oh, man, it feels good. Yeah, like you say, we came here two years ago, we felt like we could have got that one. That one came down to the last four or five minutes. We just carried over that experience. We did get up on Arizona like maybe 6 or 4 or something like that, we’ve got to put our foot on the gas. We just carried that experience over to here.

JEREMY HARRIS: Wes and I were talking late last night -- I won’t tell you the time, because Coach might get mad -- we couldn’t sleep because we were so excited to play. And it’s amazing. March Madness is amazing.

WES CLARK: This is a great opportunity for us. We watch it on TV every year. But for us to be in this type of tournament it was a great opportunity. We wanted to embrace it. We couldn’t sleep, like he said. We were up all night, thinking about the game, watching film, and thinking about what we had to do to get a W.

CJ MASSINBURG: President Barack Obama, he picked Arizona to beat us. And I just want to say, President Obama, I’m sorry, but I had to (laughter).

WES CLARK: Should have chose the handsome guys. (Laughter.)

Q. You mentioned it yesterday, did anybody go through a table celebrating?

NATE OATS: Search it on Twitter, I’m sure somebody has by now. You Be Naked Guy maybe, our big fan in Buffalo, probably went through a table.

Q. I confess, I haven’t really watched your team play a whole lot this year. Do they usually play with that amount of effort and intensity? And if so, how in the world did you lose 8 games during the regular season?

NATE OATS: Great question, really. Wes Clark transferred from Missouri. We didn’t get Wes eligible until second semester. So we lost five of the non-conference, three of them without him. And we were down to seven scholarship players, one of them we had to pull off the football team, Dominic Johnson. We didn’t have enough players. We lost to Cincinnati and South Dakota State, who everybody saw play here.

We got Wes back, we were up one at Syracuse, and ended up losing it. That was his first game in 22 months. We had to travel to Texas A&M, it was the travel day from hell. And we were still in that game with three minutes to go, and lost that. We lost to St. Bonaventure, who is playing -- they’re playing tonight. I don’t know if they won it. Did they win or not? Oh, they lost? But they’re a pretty good team, too.

And then we got in conference. Conference play sometimes -- we had some injuries. Caruthers missed a month and a half with a stress fracture, and he’s basically been playing the game. We shot 11 of 26 at the free throw line in one game.

We do play that hard all the time. We’ve given ourselves a blue collar mentality, we give out a hardhat after every game. We have charges, floor dives, loose balls, deflections, we tally up the whole thing, and give the hardhat out to whoever wins the blue collar points we call them.

We were 7th in the country in scoring. But we score off our defense. So we keep preaching defense, defense, defense. It was pretty good tonight.

Q. You talked yesterday about some of your ideas of how to slow down Deandre. Talking about it and doing it are two completely different things. Are you at all shocked at how well you guys were able to slow him down and almost made him look like a normal human being at points?

NATE OATS: No, because our bigs do a great job. Our guards do a great job. He’s really good, but you can take a big out of the game in college. It’s not that hard. There’s no three seconds in the lane. You can pack a guy, sit right behind him the whole time. You can’t take a guard out. You can’t take Wes Clark out of the game. The thing was if Trier got hot, Jackson caught fire, we knew they were going to have to miss some 3s. It’s not that we don’t have guys with size. We have 6-10, 6-8. Jeremy is long, he’s got length.

So I might be a tad surprised with how well it went but no, we’ve been able to take bigs out all year with how well we play.

Kentucky vs. Buffalo

When: Saturday, 5:15 p.m. ET

Where: Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho

TV: CBS-27

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