Jeff Capel addressed the media after Pitt beat NC State on the road Friday night. Here’s the full rundown of what he said.
capel: I’m really, really proud of my team. What a tough effort, to be able to go away, first game in the ACC against an outstanding opponent and defend like we did, play with the tenacity and togetherness we had for 40 minutes. I’m really proud of the effort our guys have made.
NC You’re coming up, they played the fastest pace in the league, averaging 83 points a game, five threes a game, and I thought our defense was great throughout. I thought we were incredibly connected, we played really hard, we made things difficult for them and we were able to make some stops, come out in transition and I thought we did a good job once we got strong. I thought there was a moment in the first half where we didn’t play strong enough against their pressure. But once that was corrected, I thought we’d be able to generate a nice look.
Jamarius was outstanding on both sides. Obviously the scoring and the big shots, but I thought he did an equally good job defensively protecting one of the best guards in the country in Smith. Our boys accepted that challenge and we knew it wasn’t a one-on-one challenge; we had to do it collectively as a group and we did. I thought Federiko was great. For him to have to defend multiple screens of the ball that far with how they shoot basketball in possession and then come back on offense and set up more screens of the ball and run on the rim and put pressure on the rim and the energy he played with.
Sibande made some huge coups for us. They kind of got into the running – a great jumped pass and he made a three right in front of our bench which extended our lead and gave us some cushion. He kind of hindered their ride a bit.
So once again, I’m really proud of our guys. Big win. We have to keep trying to improve.
You talked about — a couple of weeks ago, you talked about how your team has foul problems in the first half and that leads to a lot of different problems offensively. With Blake being fouled twice in five minutes, so your team can still hang on and then go into the locker room with an advantage, what does that say about the growth you’ve had over the past two weeks?
capel: Well, again, I thought about our guys on the bench – Nike, he’s the sixth starter for us but he’s coming off the bench. I thought Jorge gave good minutes. He rebounded well, he defended well. I thought Nate gave a really good two minutes. And of course Federiko. Four guys came on from our bench, especially in the first half with Blake struggling for fouls, Nike played with two fouls, those guys came back and gave us good minutes and were smart in those moments not to get a third. I thought that was incredible growth for us.
Nike had — we’ve talked about this in the last three or four games; What have you seen change in him since VCU that has resulted in him being arguably your most productive backcourt player in the last four or five games?
capel: You know, I think he’s getting healthier, I think he trusts his knee more, but I also think I understand his role in this team, what we need him to do, and he feels comfortable and confident in who he is. needed by him. And I think he has incredible support from his teammates, and that’s something that’s really important. Those guys are so happy to have him, so proud of him for what he’s been through and how he’s reacted and you look at the plays he makes and the things he does, there’s no one more excited than his teammates.
Speaking of roles, another quiet night for John, at least stats-wise. Do you think that over time the numbers will start piling up because they will spread out and create opportunities for him down below? Or is there something you need to do to get him a little more involved?
capel: Well, he has to play better. This is the bottom line. He has to play better. There are opportunities that are there. He’s really very important to us, but he has to play better.
You guys had a double-digit lead in the second half and two times NC State ran, and right after a timeout or a break, both times you made big shots. Nelly had the four-point game and Nike with what you mentioned. Can you talk about the importance of your guys stepping up, your veteran guards stepping up to take those shots?
capel: Our guys have a lot of confidence. They have a lot of self-confidence in what we do. They have a really good idea of what we’re looking for, things that are open. They have a great feeling about sharing basketball, trying to make the right play, and we’ve had some guys come forward and get lucky and make some tough shots. They weren’t scared of the moment — out on the road, the crowd is going crazy, they’ve got some momentum, and those guys have stepped up and made some big plays.
Do you think Nelly needs to shoot more basketball?
capel: I think… man, we just won. We just won two away games. I’m not worried about any of these things.
Do you think your defense has pushed them out of their comfort zone? In the first half, 14 of NC State’s 34 shots came from the floor from three-point range, and aside from Smith hitting those quick twos early in the game, they made just one more after that.
capel: Yeah, I just thought we did a good job. I don’t know if it forced them out of their comfort zone, but I think we did a really good job – we really wanted to try and get them out of the three point line, we really needed to play, you know, compete on basketball if you’re defending the ball, because I think they have some great one-on-one players. Our ball screen defense, we had to do it. Burns got ahead in the first half and had some great plays. We will live with that. This is disputed, it is from two points. Contested two-point shots, that’s what we want teams to take. But I just thought we’ve been battling it out the whole time and we’ve done a really good job of understanding the trends.
You talked a lot about Smith. Joyner was held to just one point. How proud are you as a coach to watch their top scorer go without a basket today?
capel: Yes, I’m proud of all our advocacy for everything we’ve done. We competed for 40 minutes. As I said, there are some things we need to improve. Certainly defensive rebound. But to be able to come in the road, first ACC game for a lot of these kids in a hostile environment against a great team and a team that’s averaging 83, to keep them to 60, to keep them to six threes, they were making nine per game, turning them 12 times, is an outstanding performance.
Nine of those 12 turnovers occurred in the second half; Were there any adjustments or was it just a way to reinforce what you were planning to do coming up?
capel: I was just trying to reinforce, fix a few things, make sure we finished a little earlier, our help defense being a little more active. We got a feel for some of the things they were doing. We were able to get into the fast lanes and get some steals. But again, it’s all down to our guys for how hard they played and competed.