Jason Capel continued to wipe away the memories of his personal slow start this season with yet another double-double. His 16 rebounds matched his career high set eight days ago against St. Joseph’s while his 22 points on eight for 11 shooting helped the Heels reach .500 heading into a brutal stretch of ACC games to open 2002.
“This was a great team effort led by Jason Capel,” Coach Matt Doherty said following the Heels second rout in three days, “22 (points) and 16 rebounds. The effort plays, the unselfish plays. We had 26 assists on 37 baskets –I love the ball movement, I love the unselfishness, I love the team basketball.
“As good as we were last year, winning 18 games in a row, I am as proud of this team right now because of what we have gone through. We’ve persevered through some trying times. People have counted us out, but we’ve stuck together.”
Brian Morrison continues to be a major reason for the turnaround. Morrison continued his torrid pace shooting the ball. He hit his first three shots of the game (all threes) and in just 11 first half minutes, Morrison hit five of eight shots for a team high 13 points at the break.
The Heels, however, didn’t light up the Smith Center from the outset, missing five of six three pointers to trail until Capel’s three pointer tied the score at ten heading into the first television timeout.
“We got off to a pretty good start,” Aggie coach and former Charlotte 49er Melvin Watkins said after the loss, “What failed us tonight was once again our transition defense. We didn’t do a very good job there and we have to give Carolina credit for the way they pushed the ball on us.”
Watkins comments could not have been more on the money as the Tar Heels jumpstarted their sluggish offense with a key transition basket.
Doherty replaced starters Melvin Scott, Will Johnson and Jackie Manuel with Adam Boone, Jawad Williams and Morrison at the 15:12 mark and the Heels settled down immediately.
Jawad Williams blocked a Nick Anderson shot and then beat everyone down the court and was rewarded for his effort with feed from Adam Boone for the layup. From there, the Tar Heels exploded on the Aggies.
“They (Carolina) are at home here and got into a rhythm,” Watkins said, “Then, of course, we tried to change our defense and I think we lost our confidence.”
The Aggies are a pressing team, with quality wins over Purdue and George Washington this season, but Doherty’s substitution of the elder, but still young, Boone and Morrison, proved the key as the Heels gained control of the game from there and never looked back. The two sophomores’ recognition of and knowledge of how to attack the press was the difference.
“Brian and Adam, their experience even though they are only sophomores, they are still more experienced than Jackie (Manuel) and Melvin (Scott). A & M did a good job of changing defenses from man to zone to a press to a halfcourt trap and I thought Adam was a little more experienced in terms of recognizing the changes.”
Kris Lang checked in for the first time in three games at the 13:56 mark and quickly converted a three point play that contributed to Carolina’s virtually game clenching 10-0 run covering just 1:06. Brian Morrison hit a three and a shot jumper during the run and Williams’ lay up put the Heels up 22-12.
The first half lead would grow to 16 at 45-29 before ending at 12, 45-33 at the break.
The Tar Heels refused to start the second half like the first and came out with the strong effort they started the game with, only this time, the shots were falling at a quick pace.
“What he (Coach Doherty) wanted from us was big time energy,” Boone said of the halftime speech, “He wanted to see that big time energy at the start of the second half because he understood only being up 12, the first couple of shots, they are right back in the game or we are nudging them out of the game. We were able to push them out of it with a 8-0 to start and that was big for us.”
A Jackie Manuel three pointer was sandwiched by four Brian Bersticker points and the Heels were rolling again.
The 12-point halftime lead quickly ballooned to 23 by the first official timeout as the Heels opened with a 15-4 run over the first 4:07.
And, as they did in the first half, the Carolina team reeled off 10 lightening quick points thanks to threes from Capel and Melvin Scott. A Capel dunk and a highlight reel one hand follow slam by the every improving Williams increased the lead to 30, 72-42, and the team from Texas was for all intents and purposes, finished for the night.
“Jackie didn’t really see me on his layup and I was hoping he’d miss,” Williams said about the play (to which Jackie chimed in, “Hey, man, that’s messed up! You should be hoping I’d make it!”), “(Smiling) It came off right into my hand. He missed and I followed up.”
Though holding a lead of 30, the Tar Heel defense continued to harass the A&M ball handlers over the final 11 minutes of action and after a slick pass from Morrison to Lang for the easy layup, the Heels held their largest lead of the night at 85-50.
A&M finally found the range from the floor and at 10-3 run managed to get the lead under 30 at 88-60, but Doherty began emptying his bench and the Heels controlled paint over the last 1:23 as Orlando Melendez and Joe Everett each converted offensive rebounds giving the Heels the final winning margin of 34, 96-62.
For the night, Carolina hit on 54.4% from the floor while holding A & M to just 35% (27-77) from the field and a miserable 1-20 from behind the arc (0-11 in the second half). Bernard King, probably the best A & M player, contributed to the poor shooting night by hitting only four of 14 from the floor (0-5 threes) in 27 minutes of action. It was the sixth time this season the Heels have held an opponent to under 40% shooting.
“Some of those came late and (we) had some good looks and we just couldn’t hit the shots,” A & M coach Watkins said of the poor shooting effort, “Only three or four of them were questionable on our behalf, but the rest I would say take again if we had them. But tonight, we were not hitting them.”
So, the Heels reach 5-5 overall and resume ACC play in a big way, hosting Wake Forest, traveling to Maryland and then facing Virginia in the Smith Center over a week beginning Saturday at 4pm.
“Man, that (the beginning of the season) was the worst,” Scott said after the game, “But now, it feels like Carolina again. The old guys that used to come and hold their breaths. Now we are winning and they are taking a deep sigh. We know what Carolina is about. It just took us a matter of time to start clicking. Hopefully we can go into the ACC real strong and confident and I think the win tonight definitely helps us.”
Adam Boone set a career high and Brian Morrison equaled his in assists with six. Morrison also finished the night with zero turnovers for the second consectutive game.
Jackie Manuel equaled his best in rebounds (6) and assists (4).
Lang could have played 25-30 minutes if necessary but trainer Marc Davis felt 10-15 would be better in the long run. Lang finished with 15 minutes played.