Basketball Advances Past Bonnies in NCAA First Round, 76-61
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Cameron Thomas led LSU with 27 points and three Tigers tallied double doubles, as the Tigers defeated St. Bonaventure, 76-61, in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on the Indiana University campus.
Second Round: LSU vs. Michigan | 6:10 p.m. CT | Lucas Oil Stadium | CBS
LSU reserve forward Aundre Hyatt had a career afternoon, scoring 13 points with 10 rebounds, while forwards Darius Days (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Trendon Watford (11 points, 11 rebounds) each completed double doubles. Despite a cold start offensively, the Tigers dominated the boards (49-30) to build a nine-point halftime lead and pull away in the second half.
Thomas made 11-of-13 free throws – one make short of the Shaquille O’Neal’s program record for an NCAA Tournament game – and added four rebounds and three assists in 39 minutes of action. The All-SEC freshman guard didn’t score in the first 11 minutes of the game before scoring 27 points in the final 29 minutes. His 13 free-throw attempts tied Glen Davis’ tournament record by a Tiger set against Duke in the 2006 Sweet 16.
“Three guys with double-doubles, Aundre Hyatt was phenomenal, four blocks, 13 (points) and 10 (rebounds), seven offensive rebounds,” said LSU Head Coach Will Wade, who earned his first NCAA Tournament victory with the Tigers. “I thought he was just tremendous. Trendon (Watford) and (Darius) Days did what they do and obviously Cam (Thomas) was phenomenal getting to the free-throw line and attacking and making plays. So it was a total team effort.”
No. 8-seeded LSU overcame a 1-of-10 start to finish 25-of-62 shooting from the field. The margin of victory was the Tigers’ fourth-largest in its NCAA Tournament history and its largest since a 16-point win over Iona on its way to the 2006 Final Four.
“Aundre Hyatt played great,” Thomas said. “Dre was on the glass, defensive glass in the first half. And he hit big shots when we needed him to. I think he hit one three at the top of the key because a big was sitting in the paint and a lot of offensive rebound put-backs. That’s what helped us. We’re going to need Dre to make a deep run in the tournament, so I felt like this was a great starting point for him.
No. 9-seeded St. Bonaventure, which had only one point from its bench, was led by Jaren Holmes with 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Osun Osunniyi, who was contained by LSU, scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting with a team-high nine rebounds. Bonnies leading scorer (14.6 ppg.) Kyle Lofton missed his first eight shots and finished 3-of-18 shooting for 10 points.
“I’m a big advocate for the first four minutes of the second half are really, really important, and I thought that they came out and had two three-point plays, one three-pointer and one and-one,” St. Bonaventure Head Coach Mark Schmidt said. “But I thought our guys fought. They beat us — I thought defensively we didn’t do a terrible job. We fouled Thomas a little bit too many times, and then we got out-rebounded. That’s one of our strengths. We got out-rebounded by 19, second-chance points by 10. So that was a big difference.”
Survive and Advance. What’s Next?
LSU (19-9), making its 23rd appearance in the NCAA Tournament, improved to 27-25 all-time in the Big Dance. The Tigers have played in consecutive tournaments (2019, 2021) for the first time since 2005-06. With another tournament victory, LSU would reach consecutive Sweet 16s.
On Monday, the Tigers will face No. 1-seed Michigan, which defeated No. 16-seed Texas Southern, 82-66. Tipoff at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is set for 6:10 p.m. CT on CBS. Coverage on the LSU Sports Radio Network — including flagship Eagle 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge — will begin at 5:30 p.m. CT.
The Tigers and Wolverines have met three times on the hardwood (LSU is 1-2), most recently a 77-75 LSU victory over the eventual national runners-up in Maui on Nov., 20, 2017.
St. Bonaventure’s season came to an end with an overall record of 16-5. The Bonnies, who were 12-0 this season when out-rebounding their opponent, were dominated on the glass by LSU and made only 21-of-63 from the field including 3-of-20 from three-point range.
Cold shooting defined the first eight minutes, as the teams were tied at 4-4 at the second media timeout (11:51) following 3-of-24 combined shooting to open the game.
As LSU thawed offensively for the remainder of the half, the Tigers went on a 9-2 run that started with a Darius Days three pointer and resulted in a 21-12 lead at the 5:28 mark.
St. Bonaventure continued to struggle from the field (4 of 24 including 0 of 8 from three-point range), but the Bonnies made 8-of-9 free throws in the half to get within double digits of the Tigers in the final minutes of the half.
Smart’s jumper in the paint with 32 seconds to play along with a solid defensive effort on the Bonnies’ final possession gave LSU its 31-22 halftime lead.
LSU was 10-of-28 (35.7 percent) from the field and 8-of-10 from the line, while St. Bonaventure was held to 7-of-30 shooting (23.3 percent) — 0 of 10 from three-point range — in the opening 20 minutes.
The Tigers, who were held to four points in the first nine minutes, scored 27 in the final 11 minutes of the first half.
LSU came out of the lockerroom on fire, as Days made a three pointer, and Thomas converted a three-point play moments later. Three free throws by Watford and Thomas gave LSU a 40-24 lead less than three minutes into the half.
The Bonnies managed to cut the LSU advantage to nine, 48-39, with 13:19 to play, but Watford answered with a three-point play and LSU maintained a double-figure lead for the duration.
2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Remaining Schedule
Sunday, March 21 and Monday, March 22 (starting at 11 a.m. CT)
Locations: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Lucas Oil Stadium
TV: TBS, CBS, TNT, truTV
Saturday, March 27 (1 p.m./6 p.m. CT) and Sunday, March 28 (12 p.m./6 p.m.)
Locations: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse
TV: CBS (afternoon games), TBS (primetime games)
Monday, March 29 (6 p.m. CT) and Tuesday, March 30 (5 p.m. CT)
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
TV: CBS (Monday) and TBS (Tuesday)
Saturday, April 3 (starting at 4 p.m. CT) and Monday, April 5 (8 p.m. CT)
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
NCAA Second Round Schedule
|Sunday, March 20
|Loyola Chicago vs. Illinois
|Bankers Life Fieldhouse
|Wisconsin vs. Baylor
|Syracuse vs. West Virginia
|Bankers Life Fieldhouse
|Texas Tech vs. Arkansas
|Rutgers vs. Houston
|Lucas Oil Stadium
|Oral Roberts vs. Florida
|Indiana Farmers Coliseum
|North Texas vs. Villanova
|Bankers Life Fieldhouse
|Oregon St. vs. Oklahoma St.
|Monday, March 21
|Oregon vs. Iowa
|Bankers Life Fieldhouse
|Oklahoma vs. Gonzaga
|Abilene Christian vs. UCLA
|Bankers Life Fieldhouse
|Ohio vs. Creighton
|LSU vs. Michigan
|Lucas Oil Stadium
|Colorado vs. Florida St.
|Indiana Farmers Coliseum
|Maryland vs. Alabama
|Bankers Life Fieldhouse
|USC vs. Kansas
What They Said. Postgame Comments:
Postgame Media Conference
WILL WADE: Yeah, really proud of our guys. I thought we really guarded in the first half. Our offense was a little bit raggedy, but we guarded and that kept us in the game and we went on a spurt there at the end of the half to get the nine-point lead and then the 9-0 run to start the second half was huge. Three guys with double-doubles, Aundre Hyatt was phenomenal, four blocks, 13 and 10, seven offensive rebounds. I thought he was just tremendous. Trendon and Days did what they do and obviously Cam was phenomenal getting to the free-throw line and attacking and making plays. So it was a total team effort. I thought our guys were locked in and were really, really prepared, and we’re going to need to turn it around quick for Monday.
Q. Will, it really seemed like when you guys were struggling there in that first half, your defense really kind of kept you in that game. Just what defensively was working so well for you guys throughout the entire game?
WILL WADE: Well, I think if you haven’t seen the switching, the switching is difficult to play against, especially when they’re using their screening angles to create — they’re using their screens, off-ball screens and on-ball screens to create the angles to get their guys downhill. When you can switch and stay in front of everybody, makes it very, very difficult on the other team, and so I thought the switching really bothered them. We forced them into some contested jump shots and were able to sit there with the high hand and contest those and contest those looks. But I thought our guys were locked in and knew where the shooters were, and our switching was on point.
Q. The offense of course really struggled in the first half. What specifically was St. Bonaventure doing to limit y’all so much through the first 20?
WILL WADE: Well, we didn’t have very good spacing. They had us muddled up in the middle. We had three guys above the free-throw line too much. We just had poor, poor spacing and then they did a great job. They moved 21 around. Our whole plan was to pull 21 away from the basket so we could drive it in there and make some plays. They started him off on Hyatt, and then they put him Days in transition, and we couldn’t pick at the matchup like we wanted to for part of the first half. And then we were able to settle in and get into a rhythm against what they were doing, and you’ve got elite scorers like Cam Thomas and you’ve got Aundre Hyatt and Darius days on the offensive glass like that, that helps quite a bit.
Q. We often talk about your bad habits, but all your good habits were on display today, sharing the ball, spreading, movement, defending, rebounding. How impressed were you with your team’s poise, especially when you consider this was the first tournament experience for some of these guys?
WILL WADE: Yeah, great guard play wins in tournaments. You know, I thought our guys were prepared. I told our guys last night, I said you’re prepared and you’re ready. Nobody in this room should be nervous. We’re prepared and we’re ready. You get nervous when you ain’t ready, and our guys were ready to go. We had two walk-throughs. We prepared to the nth degree for this game, both offensively and defensively, and our guys were ready.
You want guys that perform on the big stage that can make plays in big moments, and we did that today.
Q. The early call shooting, was that a case of nerves, and what did you say in those timeouts, just keep playing defense, we’re going to keep playing through this, just play on?
WILL WADE: Yeah, we were getting stops. That’s what I was more excited about. The offense always comes around, we scored 76 points on a great team. I think we had four points in the first eight minutes of the game. The offense always comes around for us, it’s about getting stops and rebounding, which is what we did a great job of, and I knew as long as we were getting stops and getting rebounds, we were going to be in pretty good shape, and so I was focusing on the positive with that and just get our guys to calm down and let’s get some easy ones on offense. The one more three to Javonte where he hit that, that really, really helped us out.
Q. Will, what made Aundre a starter for you? You have all these stars, and not to say he’s not a good player, but what about his game has allowed him to hang in there and be a starter and obviously today he had maybe his best game?
WILL WADE: Yeah, what you saw today, that’s what we see every day in practice, and he actually shoots it really, really well. But I trust him. He’s steady. You know where he’s going to be, and this is why as a coach you stick with guys. We went away from him a little bit there in the middle of the year, but he earned that starting spot. It’s not like we just hand out starting spots like Halloween candy or something on Halloween, you show up and you get it. He had earned it. He had earned it in his preseason and how hard he worked, and as a head coach I trust that and we trust that. He came up. He came up huge for us. He came up huge for us against Alabama, he came up huge for us in this game here. That’s why you stick with guys.
Q. I asked Cam about this, but Javonte not having a turnover today, how important was that and just he seemed to get you guys in the right spots to produce offensively and just allowed all the guys to be able to contribute.
WILL WADE: It was huge. We talked about we were — you just don’t have as many possessions against Bonaventure because of how they run their offense, how they move, how they cut. They’re going to take a lot of time off. Us not turning the ball over and not giving up a bunch of offensive rebounds were two huge keys coming into the game, and I thought Javonte did a great job playing — just playing a solid, solid floor game.
Q. I asked Cam about this, but Trendon Watford obviously his older brother Christian has a history in this building. Trendon came in and had that double-double. How happy were you for him to be able to put the performance up he did today?
WILL WADE: Happy for him. The Watfords love Assembly Hall. He texted me as soon as he knew this was where we were playing. Christian texted me and he was excited. Christian and the family was obviously in the arena today, and so they were really, really fired up. And I was just so proud of him to hit the three and to be able to play well in a place that’s so special to their family.
This is the 10-year anniversary of The Wat Shot, I think; is that correct?
Q. That’ll be in December.
WILL WADE: There you go.
Q. Coach, do you think Josh Gray will get any minutes going forward in the tournament?
WILL WADE: We’ll see. We’re going to need him against — assuming Michigan beats Texas Southern. I haven’t seen a score yet, but we’re going to need some big bodies. We’ve played Josh when we played Mississippi State, who had big bodies with Ado and Tolu Smith. I know Hunter Dickinson is a different — he’s a different animal, and he’s a tremendous, tremendous player, one of the best freshman and one of the best post players in the country.
Any time we’ve played against bigger bodies and bigger guys, we’ve thrown Gray in there, so I think there’s a good chance that you’ll see him in that Michigan game.
Q. Is there any chance Shareef O’Neal comes back this season?
WILL WADE: No, he’s out. He’s got a foot injury and we’ve shut him down probably six weeks ago for the rest of the season.
Q. You all’s ability to play through the fouls and to manage those fouls, especially in the first half, again, I guess maybe kind of speaking to the poise and understanding of the moment from your team?
WILL WADE: Yeah, I mean, we’ve always played guys with two fouls. I think we’re like top 25 in the country in terms of minutes played with two fouls. Everybody always what-ifs worst-case scenarios. Okay, what if you hold them out for five minutes and the lead goes away, and he only ends up with three fouls for the entire game? I don’t even think we had a guy get to four fouls today. Smart may have, but I don’t think we had a guy get to four fouls.
We’re always going to play our guys with two fouls. We’re going to be smart on defense, sub guys in and out and that sort of thing, but we’re always going to play guys with fouls in these type of situations, in win-or-go-home situations.
Q. It feels like to me you’ve checked off all the boxes this week that you were talking about that you needed to to be successful – rebounding, good defense. Do you think this was the perfect game and the perfect time, and now do you think you can sustain this level of play going forward?
WILL WADE: Well, we can certainly play better. Our second half defense left a lot to be desired. We got driven too much. But I think we’ve played — we’ve played a lot more physical lately, ever since that Vanderbilt home game, so those two Vanderbilt, Missouri, the three tournament games today we were really physical, we did a great job on the glass. So we’re going to have to play our best game of the season on Monday. There’s no doubt about that, and so hopefully we’re building towards that and can reach a crescendo on Monday.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Cameron Thomas, LSU Guard
Postgame Media Conference
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Cameron Thomas. Questions, please.
Q. Cam, in the second half once y’all kind of got it going, did you feel like they put the ball in your hands and drive to the basket and create contact because they had no bench? Was that the feeling, because it seemed like when you drove, people got out of the way, tried to get out of the way.
CAMERON THOMAS: Yeah, I mean, in the second half I just wanted to attack the basket. My threes and shots were a little off in the first half, so I had to get going by getting to the free-throw line, getting to the basket, and that’s how I got going, and that’s what propelled us to win today.
Q. For really a lot of the second half and really throughout the entire game, it really seemed like Aundre was just such a crucial part to y’all’s win tonight. Just talk about his effort, really just seemed like a career day for him, and just talk about his performance.
CAMERON THOMAS: Aundre Hyatt played great. Dre was on the glass, defensive glass in the first half. And he hit big shots when we needed him to. I think he hit one three at the top of the key because a big was sitting in the paint and a lot of offensive rebound put-backs. That’s what helped us. We’re going to need Dre to make a deep run in the tournament, so I felt like this was a great starting point for him.
Q. Javonte didn’t really have a huge day as far as scoring, but he had zero turnovers, seemed like he really kept you guys rolling. How important was he in today’s win and just being able to run the offense and get you guys into good positions to make plays?
CAMERON THOMAS: It was very important, especially for him to not have any turnovers. That just kept us with extra possessions that we needed. And Javonte is going to bounce back on Monday. I mean, today was just a rough day for him. First game of the tournament, so I think he’ll be fine on Monday.
Q. Cam, obviously not the offensive start you guys wanted, but again, your defense as it did in the SEC tournament, came up big for you guys. What worked well for you today? What was the plan to go against them? Obviously Lofton was a great outside scorer and you had Osunniyi inside who was a problem.
CAMERON THOMAS: Yeah, since our shots weren’t falling, we had to really lock in on defense and get stops because we only had like four points I think with 11 minutes left in the first half, so we had to really sit down and get stops. The game plan was to keep them out of the paint and contest all shots, and I think we did a great job of that, and that’s what helped us win.
Q. Cam, obviously Trendon Watford, his brother Christian played here a while back. How important was that to him? Did he talk about that, just being able to play in Bloomington? And how important was he to the way you guys played today in terms of the win?
CAMERON THOMAS: No, I didn’t feel Tren talk about playing in Bloomington. I feel like he’s just excited to play another game, especially in the NCAA Tournament, and it happened to be here. I feel like he was pumped up just to play in the NCAA tournament.
Trendon had a great game. I think he had a double-double and we need him to do that for us to win in the NCAA Tournament, making deep plays, scoring inside. I feel like he did a good job of that today, and we’re just going to need that for Monday.
Q. How tough was their defense to go against early? I know you had a tough time, you were 0-for-5 before you hit a shot. What did they do to kind of throw you out of rhythm early?
CAMERON THOMAS: Nothing really. I feel like we missed easy shots that we normally make. I don’t think they did anything too special for us to start off slow like that because I missed a few open shots, Javonte missed a few open shots, Trendon missed a few, everyone missed a few, Darius Days. We just had a rough start, but we picked it up.
Q. Cam, your defense, as was already mentioned, has been on another level as of late. What stood out as far as the team’s defensive effort in this game?
CAMERON THOMAS: We got stops when needed. We went on a stretch in the second half where we got like four or five stops in a row and we scored on it, so I felt like that’s what helped us pull away because we got stops, and that’s what we really need to do in this tournament for us to make a deep run, get stops. Because we can score with anybody in the tournament, I feel like. We’ve just got to stay down on the defensive end and get these stops, and I feel like we can do that.
Q. Cam, your ability to get into the defender and instigate that contact, how critical is that to your game and how hard do you work on that and because you’re so successful at it today?
CAMERON THOMAS: It’s just natural. I don’t really work on stuff like that. I just figured that I had to get to the free-throw line for me to have a good night, so I did whatever I had to do to get to the line, and it worked. So yeah, keep building on from that.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Mark Schmidt, St. Bonaventure Head Coach
MARK SCHMIDT: Yeah, I’m proud of our effort. We didn’t play — we needed to play our “A” game against LSU and we didn’t. I thought early on we had some chances. I thought it was important for us to get off to a good start, and I thought defensively we did a decent job, but it seemed like it was 4-2 for 20 minutes. We had some looks we didn’t make, and then they started making some shots. I thought we fought back. Second half they got off to a good start and I’m a big advocate for the first four minutes of the second half are really, really important, and I thought that they came out and had two three-point plays, one three-pointer and one and-one.
But I thought our guys fought. They beat us — I thought defensively we didn’t do a terrible job. We fouled Thomas a little bit too many times, and then we got out-rebounded. That’s one of our strengths. We got out-rebounded by 19, second-chance points by 10. So that was a big difference.
And then we didn’t shoot the ball the way we needed to against a really athletic team.
But give all the credit to LSU. They played really well, and we wish them the best of luck.
Q. We knew coming in you wanted to play slow. When you got down in the second half, especially as it got later, was the goal to speed it up?
MARK SCHMIDT: A little bit, yes. You get down, and I thought the key going into the game was we gotta control tempo. If you look at the score, we held them below their average, and I thought we did a decent job on everybody but Thomas, and like I said, they hurt us on the backboard. But when you get down, you’ve got to push the ball and you’ve got to play a little bit quicker, and that’s to their advantage.
Q. Your team had a lot of offensive issues, particularly in the first half with the shooting. It was almost — the makes were almost nonexistent. What did LSU do to stop your team’s rhythm early on?
MARK SCHMIDT: I thought we were getting some good looks in the first half, and we were missing some shots. As I said, offense is fickle. But I thought we were getting some decent looks. Maybe a couple of them were rushed, but we got some open looks that we didn’t make, and I thought that was a huge key to the game. We needed to get off to a good start. We were getting some looks and they weren’t going down.
But I thought from an offensive standpoint, like I said, it wasn’t perfect, but I thought we were getting some good looks, and sometimes those just don’t go down. It’s disappointing, but give LSU credit.
Q. Mark, just Kyle’s offense today, obviously his shot wasn’t falling —
MARK SCHMIDT: Yeah.
Q. What did you think of his game and what did you tell him during the game to try to get him going?
MARK SCHMIDT: Yeah, just he had six assists, zero turnovers — five assists, zero turnovers. He had some open shots and sometimes they don’t go in. He missed some easy ones. That’s the nature of the game. He’s a great player, great competitor. He kept on playing. The ball just didn’t go in. Sometimes that happens.
Q. And then lastly, you look at LSU’s season stats on defense, and there was something made of they’ve been inconsistent, an inconsistent team on defense this year, their defensive stats weren’t overwhelming, but what did you think of like their length on the wing, the way they closed out on the threes? What did you think of their defense?
MARK SCHMIDT: Yeah, their stats are very similar to us, 40 percent, 33 percent from threes. They’re a good team, athletic team. Like I said, I thought we got some good looks. We missed some shots early. But they’re a good team, you know, and they were disciplined, they were focused, and when they play like that, they’re hard to beat. You look at what they did in the Southeast Conference tournament, they had a chance to win the game. They had a shot at the end to beat Alabama. We knew what we were getting into playing LSU, and they were focused and they played really well.
Q. Coach, how big of a factor did Dom’s injury in the first half play in the offensive struggles?
MARK SCHMIDT: Yeah, it hurt. Dom played like at 50 percent — give Dom credit. He’s a really tough kid and he was hurting, as you saw. Went back in to get retaped and he was a shell of himself. They beat us on the backboard and Dom is one of our better rebounders, you know, can get the ball. He just couldn’t move.
No excuses. Like I said, LSU, they beat us, but Dom wasn’t — Dom wasn’t Dom. Early on that little loose ball, he got twisted up, and he fought through it, and give Dom credit, he didn’t go to the bench, he didn’t make excuses, he just tried to fight through it, and that’s a part of the game. That’s a part of the game.
Q. Obviously these games hurt so much, and of course you don’t want to lose and go out that way, and I know you don’t want to look ahead yet, but is it a different feeling at all after a game like this maybe in that locker room knowing that the whole team does come back next year and maybe can play for this opportunity again? Is it different at all?
MARK SCHMIDT: No, no. It’s like — there’s only two teams in this country, maybe the CIT, three teams if there’s a CIT that will end with a win. So everybody is going to feel like we do. Everybody but three teams. Yeah, we got the 24-hour rule. Our guys are disappointed, they’re devastated. This is what they do. They put all their time, 6:00 a.m. every day, summertimes and lifting weights and the stuff they went through with the pandemic. This was a really hard season. This wasn’t easy. Give all the credit to our players; they fought, and they’re really disappointed.
It’s good that they’re disappointed. I’m disappointed. You put so much into it. If you’re not disappointed, there’s something wrong. So we’ll get the 24-hour rule and we’ll realize, as I told the team in the locker room, we did some amazing things. The first time we’ve won both the regular season and the conference tournament. We don’t need this game to — for us to look back and say, hey, it’s disappointing. Absolutely not.
We didn’t play well today. We lost to a better LSU team. But this game doesn’t define what our guys did. We had a special year, and they’re disappointed now, but they’ll realize what a year that we had when they look back at it in the next couple days.
Q. What kind of factor was Cameron Thomas for LSU, particularly in the second half?
MARK SCHMIDT: Well, he’s a pro. He’s a first round pick. He’s a good player. He’s going to be making millions of dollars one day.
You know, I thought we did a decent job in the first half, and I think he was 2-for-7. He had seven points. We fouled him too many times, and whatever he was doing — I think second in the country in foul shot attempts, so he does a good job of drawing fouls, and he hit a couple threes, deep ones, but he got off when we got to the foul line. Against good shooters or good scorers, you don’t want them to get to the foul line and give them cheap ones, then they get their confidence and the rim starts looking a little bigger.
But he’s a great talent and we’ll be watching him in the NBA one day, maybe next year.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Jaren Holmes, St. Bonaventure Guard
Q. I just wanted to ask you about Dom Welch. Looked like he was struggling through some pain there. What does that mean to you to see a teammate kind of go through that and play through an injury?
JAREN HOLMES: It’s special because Dom is a special person. He cares about every single one of us, and like I’ve been saying and preaching, we have genuine love for each other. When Dom went out, he kept telling us, I’ll be back, I’ll be back, and he was working just to get back. When he went down I knew he was coming back, I knew he wasn’t doing for the game. For him to come back and finish it out like we started, it’s just emotional. It’s big. He’s a great guy. He’s a great human.
I think a lot of people don’t see those type of things because they’re behind closed doors, but he’s a brother for life to me, and he’s family. He’s just a special guy. It just shows his toughness and his love for the game, honestly.
Q. You were guarding Cam a lot of the day. Just what did you think of that assignment? How tough is he? What did you think of guarding him?
JAREN HOLMES: Cam Thomas is a great player. It was a very tough assignment. One of the things was trying to keep him off the foul line. I don’t know how many foul shots he got, but — 11 for 13, so I mean, we did the best we could. It was great guarding — I always wanted to — myself, just challenge myself, and he was the best player on that team, best scorer on that team. I wanted that assignment.
Didn’t get it done today, but I got in foul trouble for us, so it was a lot easier for him to kind of attack me, try to go at me, not trying to pick up that fifth or that fourth. He’s a great player. He’s a pro and a highly touted guy. We have just as highly touted guys over on our end, too. I think we showed that today.
Q. In the first half do you think it was more of a case of just shots not falling for you guys because you were keeping everything else in the stat line pretty consistent?
JAREN HOLMES: Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t our best shooting day. Shots didn’t fall for us, but I mean, that’s life. That’s basketball. Sometimes it just doesn’t fall. Those are shots we want. Those are shots we normally hit.
They just didn’t fall today. Theirs fell.
We did what we were supposed to do. We got the shots we wanted. Every shot that we wanted, it just went in and out or we missed it. But ultimately those are shots we practice and those are shots that we work hard at and that we trust in each other to make.
Q. Also I know it’s still really fresh with the loss, but when you think about this season and all you guys overcame and all you guys accomplished, what is your main takeaways right now?
JAREN HOLMES: Enjoying life, enjoying this moment. We just played LSU in March Madness at Indiana University. Like this is an historic, historical arena, while in the middle of a pandemic. This is something that I’ll be able to tell my children about, talk about forever, honestly. Honestly, this is a magical experience. Not everybody gets to experience March Madness, and today we did, and we got to play a really good team.
We gave it all we had, and we left it all on the floor, and that’s all I could ask for and that’s all I tried to do today, especially playing a tough team like LSU.
We definitely will look at the tape, and we’re not going to hang our heads. This is a year for excitement. We were A-10 champs, regular season and tournament. It hasn’t been done in, what, 42 years? Like this team is magical. It’s just emotional because you never know at the end of the year if this same group will come back. It’s just kind of emotional on that end because I love all these guys so much, and I’d do anything for them. I put that on everything. I’d love anything for them. Love them to death.
Q. Jaren, your team cut the lead down to 10 points three times in the second half and to nine points. What did LSU really do to keep you guys, push them off and reopen its lead?
JAREN HOLMES: They hit a couple shots. They hit a couple threes. And they were getting to the line, slowing the game down. You get to the line and let a shooter continue to get to the line and see the ball go through the net, it’s good for him. They got to the line a lot.
I don’t know if they — I don’t really know the whole — their guys had a couple guys with double-doubles; we could have boxed out more. But then again, like the ball just wasn’t falling our way. We played hard, and we fought together. That’s all that matters, honestly. We didn’t come out victorious, but we learned something today, and we’re going to use it as scar tissue and just keep going, keep going. I think we’re all juniors, the whole starting five is all juniors, and that’s a fact. Another year and we’re just going to continuously, continuously work.
LSU, they did a good job of really getting to the paint and hitting shots when we tried to double Watford and take the ball out of his hands. They had good shots, and they got a couple offensive rebounds. They were just getting easy looks. They were falling today for them, and they were hitting shots. So kudos to LSU.
Q. You just touched on it, but I did want to ask, as painful as a loss like that can be, you guys are in kind of unique position where you could conceivably have everybody back next year. How much do you think a loss like today, just kind of the way it went, how much can that fuel you guys going into next year?
JAREN HOLMES: Every guy in that locker room is a competitor, and I know one thing about a competitor is he wants to be the best and continue to be the best, and right now today we weren’t the best. That’s a problem for us. That’s going to be in our heads for a long time. But it’s just going to make us better, and it’s going to just make us keep fighting and working hard and coming closer together.
This is just — overall this is just a blessing to be here. To make it with these guys and to make it with these coaches and the year we had, I know for a fact that everybody back in Olean is happy and proud of us. I know Dr. DePerro is looking down on us, and he’s super proud. With that loss, just to use this game and us making it to March Madness to uplift a couple spirits back home in Olean, and the DePerro family, it’s a blessing. We’ll be back. We’ll be back for sure. That’s all I have to say. We’ll be back. We’re not going to stop working. We’ll be back.
Q. First off, congratulations on a great season. The cameras picked up late stages Kyle Lofton getting very emotional on the bench. In that situation, this is somebody who’s one of your best friends, the leader on this team. In that situation what do you say to him in that moment?
JAREN HOLMES: Man, that’s a good question. Me and you are going to have to talk after this.
Kyle is my best friend. To see your best friend emotionally hurt and to see him crying and in pain and — you don’t want to see that. He’s worked his butt off countless hours in the gym, just like every single one of us. To see him cry and to see him really just like go into his emotions, honestly it’s just — it’s hard to see, but when that happens, you know that person left everything on the floor. He might be disappointed in the outcome, but you know he left everything on the floor.
He fought today. He’s going to continue to fight. Kyle is a great guy. He’s a great person. Good basketball player, even better person.
I just hugged him in the locker room and just really just told him I loved him. We both had an emotional moment where we were all crying. But I just told him I loved him. He’s my roommate. He’s my brother. We ride to school together every day. Like we’re going to be talking about this a long time. It just brought us closer together, honestly. When you see somebody cry, you normally don’t say — you see the quote is like men don’t cry, but I believe that real men cry. Real men show emotion, and that’s the true showing of a man, one who wears their heart on their sleeve, and he does that, every time he goes out there on the court and every time he’s in the locker room with us and we’re having a good time.
He’s an emotional guy. Everybody on this team is emotional. It’s a tough loss, but we’re going to become better from it. We’re going to become better people and better players, and we’re going to remember this for the rest of our lives, sharing this moment together. We’ll probably laugh about it 20 years from now, me and Kyle, talking about we were crying.
I just told him I loved him and I’m proud of him everything he’s accomplished, and that I want him to go for more and continue to stay hungry.
Q. We know that LSU’s roster is talented from top to bottom. Can you talk about what it was like to play against a team with that kind of talent?
JAREN HOLMES: Magical. You always want to play against the best. I think they were just in the SEC championship and lost by a bucket. They’re a great team, you know? As a competitor you want to go against the best, and that’s what March Madness is about. It’s the best teams in here, in this tournament. For us to play against them is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. All the time you don’t get to play LSU or you don’t get to play Michigan or you don’t get to play Texas.
Today we went out there and fought for each other, and ultimately we didn’t come out with the victory, but we proved something to ourselves and to a lot of people that doubted us at the beginning of the season that we wouldn’t be here and that continuously doubt us every year just because of the facilities and they don’t think the players are as good. But we’re going to keep proving people wrong, and today I think we showed a lot of people what we’re made of just from that little town in Olean.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports