After losing to The College of Charleston on Friday night and falling to 2-5 on the season, the North Carolina Tar Heels could only go one way: Up.
For two hours on Saturday night they did just that.
Once again, Capel led the way with hard work, determination, and not letting up, which is becoming his impressive trademark.
“It’s tough because every night I have to bring it,” Capel said about remaining focused and maintaining maximum effort regardless of the score or opponent. “Every night I have to do it because there are a lot of young guys (on the team) and they have to follow my lead. That’s the way I have been my whole life.
“Nobody has ever given me anything.," the senior continued. “If I’ve wanted something I have had to go out there and take it and tonight, without Kris (Lang) - that’s my partner in crime for the most part - I had to go out there and make up for the both of us and hopefully guys fed off that.”
Other than in the win over Georgia Tech, the Heels have been routinely hesitant on offense, perhaps thinking too much instead of reacting and allowing their instincts to take over. After Friday’s low point, the team decided to start having fun again, and such an approach brought about relaxed play, and increased shooting percentages.
UNC made 34 of 64 field goal attempts (53.1%), including a sizzling 10 of 20 from 3-point land. The relaxed Heels moved better without the ball, cut sharper and more often to the basket and alertly recognized open mates as they were getting free, not after, which allows defenses time to react.
“Coach wanted us to go out like we were playing a pick-up game,” said freshman Jawad Williams. “And, when we play pickup that’s when we play our best. It was a lot more fun tonight. People were a lot more relaxed and things came easier.”
Leading 47-36 at intermission, Carolina went on a quick 10-5 spurt to start the second stanza to lead 57-41 with 16:27 left. During the run, Jackie Manuel nailed a 3-pointer and 45 seconds later followed a Williams (11 points) miss with a powerful putback.
The Heels consistently increased their lead by getting contributions from everyone wearing white. Brian Bersticker, who started for Kris Lang (knee ligament), tallied 10 of UNC’s 16 points over a 3:48 stretch that saw the Tar Heels in increase their lead from 62-52 to 78-59.
“We were relaxed,” Bersticker said. “We went out there and played hard. We played well, we executed and we were relaxed and that showed and we knocked down some shots.
“A big part of it was we went out there and played basketball tonight. We were just basketball players tonight and went out there and did what we had to do.”
Even Adam Boone and Orlando Melendez got into the 3-point shooting act as each nailed one while also providing solid defense.
UNC’s lead reached 22 on three occasions, the last at 92-70 after a pair of Brian Morrison (19 points, five assists, seven rebounds) free throws with 2:54 left to play.
Bersticker’s explosion may not have meant as much if it weren’t for Morrison, who had scored just three points in his last two games. The sophomore hit his first five shots and -- until a few late turnovers when operating the delay game -- was nearly flawless.
“I just have to take it one day at a time,” said Morrison, who had 21 points in UNC’s other win over a quality opponent (Georgia Tech). “If you sit there and harp on things that is when you will really have a problem. So I just go out there and tonight my shot fell and I think we all played more relaxed, which (will help).”
“It was a situation where I think the whole team had our backs against the wall and we had to do something,” said Williams. “We also owed it to the fans that did show up tonight. A lot of fans have turned their backs on us and a lot of them didn’t so we wanted to show those that showed up we can play.
Manuel had 11 points for the Heels, while Melvin Scott chipped in nine but had just one assist to go with six turnovers.
The Heels learned Saturday morning Lang would not dress. He is expected to play Thursday night against N.C. A&T.
Jameer Nelson led the Hawks with 22 points while Na’im Crenshaw and Damian Reid added 15 and 11 respectively. St. Joe’s, which played without leading scorer Marvin O’Connor, fell to 6-3 while UNC improved to 3-5.
“It’s just one win and we have to keep it in perspective. But the reality is it’s a big win for us. They were without one of their best players (O’Connor) and we were without one of our best players. They’re the No. 15 team in the country and we beat them. It feels good to win.”
Carolina started the game strong, jumping out to an 11-1 advantage just 3:19 into the contest. But ahead 12-4, Will Johnson was fouled driving to the basket in an apparent non-shooting foul. The officials, however, ruled it as a shooting foul, which drew the rage from Hawks’ guard Jameer Nelson, who was hit with a technical foul.
The basket was ruled good and Johnson and Capel each converted a free throw. But the officials, after a lengthy discussion, waved them off and made the Heels go back to the line. Capel then knocked down two technical free throws and Johnson converted his freebie.
Later in the half St. Joe’s forward Bill Phillips threw a punch, which he did not land, at Melendez in the midst of a scuffle near the baseline. Both players received technicals but Phillips was charged with a flagrant foul, which resulted in an automatic ejection. There were no free throws because of the off-setting technicals.
During the discussion between Martelli and the officials before play resumed, the SJU coach yelled something at UNC coach Matt Doherty, who responded by yelling back. Both coaches began to walk toward each other nearing midcourt before players and assistant coaches separated them. Both coaches shook hands following the game.
Martelli also picked up a technical foul near the end of the first half.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.