THE MODERATOR: We have Northern Kentucky, and Coach, we'll ask you to make an opening statement and then go to questions.
COACH BRANNEN: Obviously, we got the draw. We knew we had a tremendous challenge on our hands. I talked to our guys about whenever you're in a first round tournament game, whether it be an NCAA tournament game or conference tournament game, your intensity and how hard you play will be more impactful than if you advance.
A lot of times, the best teams typically advance once a tournament goes on. For us, it needed to be a situation where we out-competed Kentucky. I'm not saying we did that. The first half, it went back and forth a little bit. I thought we didn't quite get our legs underneath us. The first media, had a little gassed, and had to get control a little bit.
From there, we did a great job of executing our system and doing what we do. Just didn't make shots. We were the best shooting team in the Horizon League the entire season. Tonight was not our night from the 3-point line. I'd liked to have seen what happened if we had made a few more.
Q. Coach, getting within a possession there in the first half, and then De'Aaron Fox has six straight that sparks a 13-0 run for them at the end of the first half. What do you recall of that period there? It seemed like the legs did get under you a little bit, and then he kind of helped push that.
COACH BRANNEN: We talked about that, taking a hit. Kentucky is elite. We knew we'd take some hits and knew they'd go on the runs. When you play a top team like Kentucky, you can't let them have 18, 19-0 runs. The way to stop that is A, making shots, and B going down and getting a few stops. Our guys showed tremendous character and toughness to come back from that. That could have ballooned to 20, 25, 28. It didn't. That speaks to the guys to my right.
Q. Coach, what did you think of Carson's toughness, specifically, going in as guys that were bigger than him throughout the second half?
COACH BRANNEN: Throughout the season, that's who he is. That's our second core value. Carson's moved the needle toughness wise as much as anybody else in the program. I knew he'd have a great second half.
Q. Drew, you and Cole, as you guys were leaving the court, you had your hands in the air and were cheering on with the crowd in the stands. Would you tell us a little bit about what you were feeling at that moment?
DREW McDONALD: After I went through the line, I went over and just went to thank our fans. And the weird thing was when I got over there, I was clapping, they were thanking me. I saw people saying thank you. It just hit me, I looked up and I saw my dad specifically, and he gave me a thumbs up, and that's what put a tear in my eye really, just to realize the impact we've put on our community and the university as a whole. It just -- it struck me. And I just can't thank Norse Nation enough.
Q. Lavone, yesterday, you said there was no fear with you guys, regardless of who they were, what the name was. It showed tonight. Can you speak a little bit about the way you guys tried to attack them offensively and defensively just with that no fear?
LAVONE HOLLAND: Really, just the no-fear thing comes from what Coach said, toughness. We feel we're a tough-ball club, and we show it every night.
Q. Coach, what did it mean to have Lavone seemingly willing you baskets in the first half and continuing that in the second half?
COACH BRANNEN: He's dynamic, so his ability to break off the bounds, put it in the lane helps our offense, helps guys like Drew and Carson. Puts them in a position to score. He's a great point guard. Lavone has gotten better from the day he's gotten here in every facet, from his toughness level, to his consistency level, to his commitment level to his teammates.
When you're like that, you're a joy to coach. I can say that about a lot of our guys.
Q. Coach, with your team being such a young team, how is this experience going to benefit you for the next year, two years, three years?
COACH BRANNEN: It's huge. We become more hunted. We were picked seventh in the preseason. Didn't have any great expectations going into the year and had a great year. In order to have success in the postseason, you've got to be there and get a taste of it. They've got a taste of it. Guys with teams that advance have been here before and experienced it. We'll take stock in it when we get back. We've got a tremendous group coming back, and hopefully they'll continue to buy into what we're doing and continue to be committed to each other as much as they were this year.
Q. Carson, what changed in the second half? It seemed like you and even Drew were able to find some seams in the paint and get inside?
CARSON WILLIAMS: At halftime, Coach just mentioned to me that I didn't seem like myself on the court. So I think I agreed with him. So in the second half, I came out with more of an attack and toughness mindset, and that's what made the difference.
Q. Coach, I know it's tough in the immediate aftermath, but you talked about what this could mean for your team. Can you put a finger on what this whole experience, the Horizon League tournament, the way you guys played tonight has meant for Northern Kentucky, for the campus, and for a lot of students who are believers in Norse Nation now that maybe weren't even as much of a month or two ago?
COACH BRANNEN: Our goal when we took over of the program, we had an opportunity to bring these young men in, guys in the locker room, were to bring a championship to this community and to do it -- our saying inside our program is we want to be a championship caliber program comprised of championship caliber people. We've done it through recruiting, through the way these guys train themselves.
What it's done is galvanized the community, a community with a huge basketball community with Xavier, Cincinnati, Kentucky, all teams that have advanced in the NCAA tournament. They've gotten behind this team.
The league is one of the top mid-major leagues in the country. With that, we have to continue that momentum. The only way to do that is to continue to get out, win championships the way we have, continue to recruit and get these young men in front of our community. They represent Northern Kentucky the right way. This is prehistorical to do it. Only two teams have done it since 1970.
Q. Lavone, can you describe the experience of going up against De'Aaron Fox and how you were able to get success against him?
LAVONE HOLLAND: De'Aaron Fox, he's a good player. But for me, it was just more just playing my game, playing how I know I can play.