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Everything Matt Painter Said After Purdue Defeated Tennessee To Advance To Final Four

Photo via Purdue Athletics

Purdue basketball advanced to its first Final Four in 44 years by knocking off Tennessee on Sunday afternoon in Detroit.

Following the win/loss, Purdue coach Matt Painter discussed Dalton Knecht, finally getting over the hump and much more. Here’s everything Painter said.

More From RTI: Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee’s Season Ended In The Elite Eight

Opening statement

“Congratulations obviously to Tennessee for a fabulous season. Very difficult to go against. Obviously we played them earlier in the season, great coach, great defense, very athletic.

Dalton Knecht is very good, and I think he showed that today and made it very, very difficult on us.

Just want to give credit to our players and our staff for just sticking with it and competing and playing and putting ourselves in a good position.

Obviously our fans were fabulous in being able to come to Detroit after being in Indianapolis and really support us on Easter. To be able to get to a Final Four is a dream come true for me as a coach and for these guys as players. Just grateful to be in this position.”

On what he learned from Gene Keady and how he’d pass it along to his players

“Just understanding that you’re a former player for 40 to 50 to 60 years and just keep that in perspective. It’s really hard, after you’ve had success as a player, to not think that way when your career is over. A lot of times your career is over, if you’re a professional, around 32, 33, 34 years old. There’s a few exceptions to that rule.

But just keep that in place. I always say you’ve got to have two dreams. You’ve got to have one through basketball, and you’ve got to have one through education because you have this opportunity.

He really tried to talk to us about not just having a great basketball career, but taking an opportunity like that and having a great life. That’s something I’ve always tried to pass on. Have fun with what you’re doing. If you can do that and you enjoy what you do, then you’re beating the system.”

On the biggest things he’s learned as a head coach

“Just be strong in your convictions in terms of how you think the game should be played. We base what we do offensively off our individual players and just try to play to those strengths and just be able to play off of those strengths.

And just being able to stay with it. Obviously we lost last year, and we just had to be better at what we do and do a better job at taking care of the basketball. I stress that all the time. We work on it. But every coach stresses that. Every coach talks about rebounding the ball and taking care of the basketball. You want to win that possession battle.

Yeah, stay in the process but also looking at it and seeing where we could make improvements, seeing where we could be better.

We had some guys that didn’t shoot the ball as well the year before where I recruited, I had watched, I had seen in different environments really shoot the ball well. So I had believed in their ability and their work ethic.

A lot of times, I don’t sit there and actually believe in a person as much as I believe in their work, and I delegate a lot of things so I can watch. So when we break down things, we meet as a staff, and talk about — I delegate it because I don’t want to be a part of it to where I’m not seeing the other end of the court, I’m not seeing people because I’m passing or doing stuff or involved with it. I want to watch.

But I also want to watch how they carry themselves. A lot of people don’t like that cocky high school kid and it gets under that skin. That cocky high school kid is a college player. Deep down he believes in himself. You have to have that. And we have a lot of guys sitting up here that has those qualities.

So when you struggle and things happen — we won the Big Ten by three games. We are the No. 1 seed. To take on that loss and be able to do that, you still got to look back and say, we did have some success there. We don’t need to change everything. But we do need to make some subtle changes. Myles Colvin, Cam Heide and Lance Jones really helped us.

I also thought we had to be more skilled. By doing that, not everybody gets to play as much or even play at all, and that’s difficult because they’ve meant a lot to our program and they’ve done a lot of really good things. That’s the part I hate about coaching because I want it to work. I want everybody on our team to have his role. I want everybody to be a starter. I want everybody to play and do that.

So it’s probably not a great quality to have as a coach. It’s a good one to have as a person because it eats at me when like we’ve got guys that don’t get in the game. It eats at me when they don’t play. They probably don’t feel that I feel that way, but I do.

I just believe in the personnel that we had, and I felt we were going to make some improvements, but I didn’t feel like what we were doing was wrong.”

On what it means to win for past players like Robbie Hummel

“Yeah, he was watering out when I got up there. That was hard.

More than anything, you appreciate the guys that have played for you, and you appreciate that they had opportunities to go other places and they chose your school or they chose you, however you want to look at it.

But we weren’t very good when that class chose us. Our facilities were just okay. That’s being nice. And we’ve really done a great job in the last 15 years of upgrading what we have.

When someone signs at your school and they have a lot of options, like E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel, and you got last place in the Big Ten and you’re 35, 36 years old, and I hadn’t done anything. So for our ability to get those guys and they believed in us, and we obviously got close, we got to Sweet 16, but we didn’t get further. In their career, we won the league once and got second three times. He had two major injuries.

So his battle — he should have played in the NBA for eight to 10 years, but because of his injuries and everything, he didn’t. He was smart because now he’s at the top of his game in what he does. I think everybody in this room would agree with that.

It just means a lot to a lot of people, but for someone like that, they deserve to — you have guilt, there’s no doubt about that. You have guilt because Gene Keady deserved to coach in a Final Four, and he deserved to play in one, and you’re getting ready to go to one. I just appreciate what he did for us.

We had E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, we had two guys that were here were All Conference. When you take a job and if you’ve got some people that are already there to get started, it really helps you, and that was David Teague and Carl Landry. Those two were All-Conference players. We had to sign a class behind them, and that was the class that got us going. Appreciative of everything that Rob has done for our program.”

On the challenges of dealing with Tennessee’s pressure and physicality

“I thought when we struggled about 10 years ago, everybody talks about doing a better job recruiting, and I thought we had to do a better job evaluating because I would watch Belmont and I would watch Davidson and I’d watch guys at a mid-major level, and the best players at those places can play anywhere.

Now you’re starting to see with the portal, right? Mark Sears didn’t start at Ohio his freshman year. Now he was behind an NBA player in Jason Preston, and he still didn’t start there. Now you look at him. There’s great players everywhere. I want to get Mark Sears out of high school, right, because he had mid-major offers.

Steve Lutz was the head coach at Western Kentucky. Was the one that recruited Zach Edey. Micah Shrewsbury is the one that recruited Fletcher Loyer. I’m appreciative of those guys and what they did for our program and they helped us. I could go on about our current assistants and Brandon Brantley and Paul Lusk and Terry Johnson, and PJ Thompson is going to be an absolute star in this profession, Sasha Stefanovic. I have two GAs in Jared Walbrun and Tommy Luce that are former players.

So we’ve got a good group of guys. We’ve got younger guys that can relate to them. But we’re very systematic, so you’ve got to — we’re systematic, and we evolve with our system, if that makes any sense. We evolve towards the strength of our best players. I talked about it the other day. I think it’s a big fallacy in recruiting because everybody wants to play shortstop and lead off, but you’ve got one shortstop, and if Cal Ripken is there, he’s probably not going to get moved.

So guys just don’t grasp — they want roles, but I want players that just want to win. I want guys that can fit into those roles and understand that. Now, you’ve got to have your horses right. You can’t have eight guys that are eight role players. You’ve got to have Carsen Edwards. You’ve got to have Caleb Swanigan. You’ve got to have Zach Edey. You’ve got to have Braden Smith being a maestro out there. When you piece those together, now you’re systematic.

A lot of people don’t give us credit. We really push the basketball. Now some great teams stop us from doing that and it doesn’t look that way at times, but if you let us go or you turn it over or take bad shots, we really try to push. So it’s that balance of it.

We’ve been able to get elite big guys. If you can get a good point guard and get someone that can run the team like we have, and you have elite big guys, you can put skill and competitive spirit together. Those two qualities together is magic, man. Guys that will lay it on the line, guys that will dive on the floor.

We started recruiting Mason Gillis, and he put — it’s hard to — sometimes when they play center. Mason Gillis played center in high school. But I’d go and watch him warm up, and I was like, man, he can shoot, but his numbers don’t show he can take a lot of threes. He’s just doing what’s best for his high school team. He’s going to be a good college player.

When I saw Fletcher Loyer and how competitive he was, he’s got heavy feet, but the ball goes in and he’s competitive. Coming from someone who’s got heavier feet.

But those guys win the day, man. They care. That’s what Lance has been able to do for us. Lance has a good competitive spirit. He has a good way about him.

And I want to have fun. I don’t want to get stuck in an airport with guys I don’t want to be around. Like I get to choose. It’s not a school district. I get to pick. Like I want to have fun. That’s selfish, but I could care less.

So like I just did a bad job — I think we all fall into the trap of looking at talent, instead of looking at talented people that are productive. The production is what we go on, right? You’re like, hey, man, this guy can jump over the moon and do a whirly bird 360, but he gets two rebounds. Who cares, then? How many breakaways are you going to get, right?

You’ve got to get guys, like if you look at UConn and look at those guys on their team, they are competitive, and they’re nasty, and they can guard, and what they’re all about, they’re all about winning. He’s done a great job instilling that, but I bet, if you went and talked to him, they would talk about they were that way before. He’s just enhanced that stuff and been able to get it, and that’s what you get.

You can learn from a lot of other people, but you’d damn sure better learn from our own mistakes, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

On Zach Edey’s maturity, what he told the team with five minutes left

“Zach’s got a competitive fight to him. He doesn’t back down. When you have that elite physical size and you have that competitive spirit with it with some skill, it’s pretty dangerous. He’s pretty hard to handle.

We had some guys on fumes, I thought. I thought both teams had some guys on fumes, and we just had to dig deep, take care of the basketball, and just told him, hey, it’s right here for us. This is what we worked towards. We put it in position. Trust the process. Take your shots when they’re there.

Big fella is going to get the right of first refusal. We made sure they understand that. He doesn’t have to shoot it, but he’s got to touch it. Put them in that bind. Make them handle all that. He’s going to pass if somebody’s open. We have a rule. You want to double him, you want to mess with him, he’s going to pass the ball, he’s going to dig deeper. But if he stays one-on-one, his role is to score the ball.”

On Purdue’s ability to go on runs

“Yeah, we’ve played more offensive guys. We have more skill that is out there. I thought a big part of the game was when they went up 32-21, if I have the numbers right, and then we went on a run right then. We were very vulnerable at that point. We had 25 minutes to play. We had a long game. For us to be up after being down 11, I thought it was a great sign for us.

A lot of people feed off of makes, right? You get guys that go 5-for-6 from three, they’ll defend better and rebound better when they’re 5-for-6. But will they defend better and rebound better when they’re 0-for-6? That’s the sign of a championship team.

Today we’re 3-for-15 from three, shoot 64 percent from the free-throw line and I didn’t think it affected anything even though we had glaring mistakes from Dalton Knecht. When the ball got loose or rebounds happen, you’ve got to go to him. You’ve can’t get separated from him.

He made some tough ones when he was supposed to but we gave him a handful of looks. And we were fortunate at the end. He had a couple of really good looks that didn’t go down. We were very fortunate. Just staying with it.

Runs are a big part of the game, right? Obviously when they go against you, it can be the difference. But if you can get those good runs, if you can get two quality runs and you have a good team and you have good talent, you’re normally going to win that game.”

On winning while shooting poorly from the perimeter

“Our ability to rebound, it ends up being the difference, right? We had 10 turnovers. They had seven. But outrebounded by 20. In my opinion, it ends up being the difference.

Yeah, you have to grind. I said it after the Gonzaga game, I go, we made shots, and we really separated ourself in that second half. But if we don’t make shots, how does this game end up?

Obviously you don’t want that to happen. You want to go 10-for-15 from three and shoot 80 percent from the line, but that’s the game of basketball. The ball doesn’t always go in. That’s going to be a guarantee. That’s why people always say defense and rebounding travel because you can be constant in those areas.

I thought that rebounding piece for us was the difference.”

On if the game plan was to try and make Tennessee one dimensional offensively

“Not really. We wanted to get up and jam the basketball to start. So that’s why we had Lance on him, then at dead balls Lance would go on him there. I just didn’t think our attention to detail was great. I thought it’s smart on their part. Someone got a hot hand, go to him. Why not? If you had to pick someone off their team that you want to get shots for, he’d be the one.

Then when you look back on things, you’re like this guy took the most shots, this guy took the most shots. They needed a little more balance, but at the end of the day, when something’s not working, why not stay with it? I thought it made sense to stay with him and keep going.

I understand your point. We get that way with Zach. We want that balance. But we also know, if he’s got the advantage — you know, we had a couple drives in the game, where it’s just like you’re going nowhere. There’s nothing wrong when people fly at you and stop your three, to now put the ball on the deck. We were able to drive and get some layups, but when it doesn’t work for you, you wonder why Zach didn’t get the ball. They have to feel the same way about him.”

On what he saw when he cut the nets down

“I don’t normally do it. I don’t normally cut the net down when we win championships and stuff. It’s kind of not my deal. But they said I had to do it.

Nothing, just you get a lot of s— from people on the other side, whether it’s rivals or other people in the league, and that’s their job, right? They’re your rivals, you go against them, and that’s part of it.

One thing I appreciated, especially from last year, was the people that supported us from Purdue. That was to me, those are the people that are in your corner no matter what. I just appreciate the Purdue faithful that stayed confident that we could get the job done while I was still the head coach.”

On Braden Smith’s development

“No question about it. He’s evolved as one of the best point guards in the country, if not the best point guard in the country. Just his ability to pass and see things. He didn’t get to it a lot tonight in terms of shooting his pullup, but those of you that follow us have seen him, especially people that play drop coverage. He can really get to that pull-up, whether that’s a three or whether getting to that 15-footer.

I think that’s the most important thing for him is to stay consistent and keep looking for his shot, keep being aggressive because, when they take his shot away from him, now he can instinctually make passes, whether it’s a post-up or a skip or what have you.

He’s very knowledgeable, very instinctive, makes good decisions, but somebody you want the ball in his hands. That’s what we’ve really found out is keeping the ball in his hands helps everybody, especially Zach. Now they’ve got to deal with him and stop him, and now they’ve got to deal with Zach coming into the post. If they overdo anything, then we go back and go in or we reverse it and go in. We just try to keep playing. He’s been fabulous.”

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