“We're all defensive minded now,” said Nash, who scored 58 points in the three games and was named to the All-Tournament Team, along with Smart. “We all want to play defense, especially me. I said in the preseason that I needed to get better on the defensive end. And I meant that. I know defense wins games. And defense wins championships.”
Defense certainly helped win this championship.
And with it, topped by taking down a veteran team ranked among the nation's elite, the Cowboys gained ground on going for more.
“This gives us confidence that we can contend with great teams,” Smart said. “This was kind of a statement game for ourselves, letting us know that we can compete with anybody as long as we stay focused. And we did that tonight.”
Overcoming Adversity: The Cowboys beat three teams — N.C. State, Tennessee and Akron — that Ford said he believes will make the NCAA Tournament. And they did it with an already short roster that kept taking hits, with Jéan-Paul Olukemi and Marek Soucek lost at points in Puerto Rico.
“Everybody can be proud of this team,” Ford said. “We have fought a lot of adversity, injuries and different things. But not once have we talked about it with the team. They haven't talked about it. They haven't used it as an excuse. As we keep telling them, ‘Whoever laces their shoes up will play.'
“The effort they put out these three games was exciting to watch.”
Quotable: “We came out casual, and like in a prize fight, they took it to us,” said N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried.
Up Next: The Cowboys get a week off before returning home to face Portland State on Sunday at 1 p.m. inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.