Jeff Capel met the media after Pitt’s 96-76 win over Syracuse on Saturday, and here’s the full rundown of what he said.
Capel: First and foremost, really, really proud of my team. Big-time effort for us. I thought we actually got off to not a bad start; we just couldn’t make a shot early. I thought we got into a good rhythm, we were able to take a lead in the first half, but we did not end the half well, especially on the defensive end. From the under-four-minute timeout on, they scored every possession and finished on a 9-0 run. I thought we made a couple adjustments in the second half with our defense, we were able to rebound, defensive rebound, force some tough shots which enabled us to get out in transition and get some easy baskets, and I thought we did a heck of a job of executing against their zone.
For us, for our two point guards to have 15 assists and only two turnovers was big-time. For Femi to have, as a freshman, eight assists and no turnovers against the zone was huge. Xavier, seven assists and two turnovers. The guy that really got us started was Au’Diese: his energy, the plays that he was making, offensive rebounding, and he did an outstanding job defensively against Buddy. And then obviously Ithiel making shots – that’s something that we have a lot of confidence in him shooting the basketball, and he got into a good rhythm doing that.
And obviously it was great to have Justin back. We kind of knew for the last few days that he was going to be able to play. He’s been able to practice, he’s been chomping at the bit. I knew that if he was able to play, I was going to start him; I didn’t know how many minutes. But he’s done a heck of a job of working, of doing everything he can to get back to this moment. When you are dealing with an injury, you have to have two things: you have to have a really, really good training staff, and we have that. And then you have to have a really, really good patient, a patient that’s hungry, and with Justin, we had that. So he’s been chomping at the bit to play and he was able to do that and he was magnificent today.
Your team struggled the last time to start the game against Syracuse, but like you said, you were getting open shots. What were the conversations that you had on the court when you were trying to get the team together in those moments?
Capel: ‘Keep moving the basketball, keep having player movement, keep ball-faking and keep taking shots. We have confidence in you. Be strong and be confident.’ And the other thing we talked about was, ‘Look, let’s turn our defense – you know, defensive rebounding and things like that – and let’s get out in transition and let’s get the ball to Xavier and the rest of you guys run.’ Earlier in the game, for whatever reason, we would get defensive rebounds and throw the ball to Ithiel; we don’t want to do that. We want to get the ball to X or if Femi’s in the game, or if those two are together, you can get it to either of those two guys. But these other guys need to be finishing and I thought we made that adjustment and did a good job there.
Did anything Justin did out there or the way he looked, did anything about his performance surprise you at all?
Capel: With him, not really. I mean, maybe how many minutes he played, maybe the fact that – you know, I kept asking, ‘Are you okay? Are you tired? Are you tired?’ He was laughing, like, ‘No.’ So maybe that. But he’s a unique kid in the fact that he’s got great genes and he’s been able to heal quickly. He’s had two tough injuries since he’s been here, and both times, he’s been able to heal very fast. But when he’s out there – maybe the fact that he trusted it. When you have an injury, especially with a lower extremity, one of the biggest things is trusting it. He’s done that in practice but you don’t know how a guy’s going to be when the lights come on. Obviously, he trusted it fully today.
What’s your reaction when you’re watching some of those highlight-reel plays and his combination of IQ and athleticism?
Capel: Some of the shots that he makes, especially some of those left-handed shots, like, you’re just kind of – I don’t know. He made one today and I just shook my head because I actually thought it was a bad shot. But he’s got really good touch around the basket and in the midrange area. Again, he’s got a long way to go to become the player that we think he can be, but he’s on the right path doing it, and I think he’s hungry and he wants to do it.
How many practices did Justin get in before the game? And what did you like about how your team handled the zone?
Capel: He practiced full for the first time, I think, Saturday, where the doctors and the trainers just turned him loose to see how he was. Then we had off Sunday but he came in and did some individual work and got some treatment. So I would say Saturday was the first time where he did contact. He was doing some stuff in practice like our shooting drills, 5-on-0, some of the noncontact stuff, then we gradually started to introduce him to contact. So Saturday was probably the first full practice that he had.
You talked about the defensive struggles at the end of the first half. In the second half, you went up 11 and then they came right back with an 8-0 run. Then the third time you got up, it was different; it seemed like you guys played better with the lead. What changed the third time you went up big there?
Capel: I’ll come back to that. I didn’t answer the second part of [the previous] question. How did we attack the zone so well? We were able to penetrate it, we were able to get it to the middle, guys in the middle had poise to make good decisions and then we made three’s. That spreads the zone out when you’re able to make three’s.
To [the other question], we had an 11-point lead and we were in transition and we tried a lob and we missed it. In that situation, one little simple bounce pass, you lay it in, it’s 13, maybe you don’t have to get it to three. We know they’re a good team, and with their ability to shoot the basketball from three, they’re scary because they can get hot. Boeheim, Griffin, Girard, Guerrier; so I was really proud of how we responded in that situation when they cut it to three. We got back to getting starts and then we were able to get out in transition. We found kind of an action that we run that we had some success with against their zone, and we just kept doing it over and over.
On defense, you guys held Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard scoreless from three and they really struggled to get shots off; what was your plan to shut those guys down?
Capel: One of the main things was to put Au’Diese on Boeheim. One of the things we talked about was that we’re not switching; he’s got him. He’s not going to switch unless it’s an absolute emergency and he calls it. I think Au’Diese, in his first two years here, I think he’s been one of the better defenders in our league and he’s a versatile defender, and I hope people start to realize that he is because he’s having an outstanding year on both sides of the floor.
And then with Girard, we wanted to pressure him. We knew coming in, in conference play, even though it’s not a large amount, that he was shooting 47% from three. We wanted to attack him. We wanted to make him guard in that zone. We wanted to screen him, we wanted to penetrate him, and they sat him for awhile in the second half, so that helped us, too.
When were you or anyone on your staff first notified about John being the subject of a potential criminal investigation?
Capel: Yeah, I’m not able to talk about that. I’m not going to talk about that. I’ll talk about our game and our win and our next opponent, if anyone wants to ask about that.
Can you describe some of the emotions that you felt being back on the floor for the first time in awhile?
Capel: It was exciting. It was nervous, leading up to it; this morning, there were nerves, there was excitement, it was nerves, it was anxious when I’m sitting back here before the game. All of those different things. It was a little bit weird because I haven’t coached a game in here – because I didn’t coach against Louisville – I haven’t coached a game in here, I think, since Gardner-Webb. And I think that was like December the 12th. So just kind of getting my bearings back here for a game. But it was exciting. We were anxious to play against someone, and hopefully as we go forward, we’re able to get these games in.
I’m sure it’s happened in the past, but have you seen a team score almost a hundred against Syracuse’s zone?
Capel: Well, Carolina did the other day – I think they had 81. I think that’s what Carolina had. Not that I can recall, off the top of my head. No.
Ithiel Horton had another strong day shooting. This is the third of his last four games where he’s hit at least four three-pointers. What can you say about his progress? You talked earlier in the season when he was struggling that he had to keep shooting through it.
Capel: Yeah. He’s got to take good shots. He’s got to have shot preparation. He’s got to believe in it. Our guys have a lot of confidence in him and they’re looking for him. With the penetration that we have with Xavier, with Femi, he’s been able to get some clean looks and we have a lot of confidence in him knocking those down.
Was Nike Sibande available for you guys today?
Capel: Yeah, he was available to play. He was available. It was just – he didn’t get into the game. We got into a rhythm and I went with the guys that were playing well at that moment. But he’s important for us. He’ll be big for us. But he was available.
You mentioned you shook your head at one of Champagnie’s left-handed shots; can you recall which one that was? And what difference did he make in this game?
Capel: It was in the second half. I don’t know exactly the sequence and what happened. It was in the second half, right around in the paint on our bench side. I don’t know where the clock was. But obviously we scored 96 points; that’s the big difference. We had 63 up at their place. So his ability to score and finish in the middle of the zone or the baseline and obviously the rebounding. He makes a huge impact for us. He blocks shots, he’s at the point now where he’s talking a little bit more, where he has a little better understanding of what he’s doing out there and what our team needs from him.
#Pantherlair #Capel #20point #win #Champagnies #return