Capel: 'I'm proud of them'
Jeff Capel met the media after Pitt's 65-62 loss at N.C. State on Sunday. Here's a full rundown of what he said.
Capel: Congrats to N.C. State. They’re a hot basketball team right now; since we played them last, they’ve won three in a row and they’re playing with a lot of confidence. I’m really proud of our team. I thought we fought, we gave great effort and put ourselves in position to win the basketball game there in the second half. It was a tale of two halves. I thought the first half, we looked like a team that hadn’t competed in over a week. Then in the second half, I thought we settled the game and gave ourselves a chance. We obviously have to do a better job of not turning the basketball over and we have to do a better job at the free throw line. But my guys fought. I’m really proud of them for that. And we’ve got a quick turnaround to be ready for Tuesday.
What seemed different about your team today compared to what you had seen from them and what they had been over the past several weeks?
Capel: I’m not sure much has been different. We lost a game, which we have a lot over the past few weeks. With the exception of the Notre Dame game, every game that we’ve played, around the 3, 3-and-a-half minute mark, it’s been a one or two-possession game. So we’ve been in position where we’ve had a chance to win; we just haven’t done the things necessary to earn the right to win. So I don’t see anything different, except, you know, we missed free throws and we turned the basketball over.
At one point they said in the broadcast that you guys were 8-of-24 on layups. Is that something that N.C. State did with their size or is that just something where you have to do a better job finishing?
Capel: We have to do a better job. That’s been one thing also that’s been consistent this year. In the first half, we got the ball right there at the basket several times, many times, and we didn’t finish. Certainly, their size has something to do with it. They are a big basketball team, especially when they have both big guys in. But we did a decent job in the first half of getting those guys in foul trouble and they were on the bench, both Bates and Funderburk. So we have to be able to finish when we get it around the basket. We can’t design an offense better to get it there, so we have to be able to finish those plays.
How do you think Femi handled the offense? I think he only had one turnover.
Capel: I thought he was terrific. I thought he was really good. Not surprised by that. I think he’s a really good player.
Did he seem to be a little more excited or ready to go because he knows that he’s the top point guard now?
Capel: Yes, I think he was, but Femi’s played well for us all year, and as the season’s gone on, I think he’s gotten better.
What can you say about the collective defensive effort? You guys only allowed - that was the second-fewest points you’ve allowed in a loss this year.
Capel: I thought, if we didn’t foul some of these shooters, I thought we did a pretty good job defensively. I thought some of the things we tried to do - I’ll tell you what: I thought Will Jeffress was tremendous. For him to come in and make some of the plays he made and to make that three in transition, but I thought his defense on Hellems was really, really good. He contested him, he didn’t get knocked off-balance. I thought he played a really, really good basketball game for us. And also Terrell. For Terrell to have a double-double and to battle those guys down there, I thought he did a really good job as well.
I thought my team - I’m proud of them, man. It’s been a long week, and we came out and we battled after not playing well in the first half. Our defense allowed us to be in striking distance. I told them at halftime, our offense will get going, keep defending and we’ll put ourselves in a position to win and we did. We just have to shore up some of those mistakes, the finishes, the free throws and the turnovers. And not foul shooters.
There was a point, not long after halftime, where N.C. State went up by 14 and it looked like you guys might have been on the ropes, but you answered back pretty strongly not long after that. What did you learn about your group during that stretch and how good was it to see that?
Capel: We’ve fought all year. I don’t know what the narrative is out there about us, but [indecipherable] leads against us, and we’ve been able to battle back. Whether it’s at Virginia, North Carolina at home, Georgia Tech, I mean, you can name every game except for Notre Dame where that’s happened. It was a different group of guys that was going today for extended minutes, so again, I’ve said it over and over, I feel really positive and strong about the future of our program, because we were doing this with young guys out there today and they put us in a positon where we had a chance to win.
With those first-half struggles, how much of that do you think can be tied to a team fairly rapidly trying to adjust and move forward after losing two guys who you relied on fairly heavily? Capel: I don’t think it had to do anything with that. I think it had to do with the layoff of not playing. We haven’t had competition since Florida State, and it’s been a long time. That was last Saturday. So it’s been seven days, eight days since we played. When you don’t have competition, you know…and then our practices, obviously, this week have been disjointed. It’s been a lot. We came back for practice on Thursday or Friday, I can’t remember, but Karim couldn’t practice because he wasn’t feeling well so we had to send him home for COVID protocols. So it’s been a long week, but I think it had more to do with the rust of not playing than it had to do with anything else.
You mentioned over a month ago about the contact that Justin Champagnie has been getting when he’s had the ball and when he’s not had the ball and how you see it not getting called as much as it used to. In this game it seemed like, not only did he get that contact, but you saw some of the frustration come out in him about it. How do you address it as a coach and how do you help a player work through stuff like that?
Capel: Well, you can’t let your frustration show and get the best of you. That’s one of the very first things. You have to play. Justin, you know, has to understand that, for the rest of his career, this is how It’s going to be. When you become one of those guys that’s one of the better players in your league and college basketball, teams defend you very, very differently.
I just know, in this league, I’ve been around this league for a while. I’ve played in it and coached in it for awhile and grew up in it - you know, the really, really good players normally, they get some of those - you know, it’s harder to bump those guys. I’ll just say that. It’s harder to bump those guys and play physical against them. But Justin’s got to be able to adjust, because for as long as he’s playing basketball, it’s going to be physical for the rest of his career.
What was the explanation that you got on Justin’s two technicals? It looked like the second one might have been for hanging on the rim too long.
Capel: The first one was for something that he said. The second one was for slapping the backboard.
Did he slap the backboard?
Capel: He slapped the backboard. He’s done it all year. He’s dunked a lot this year. And he’s done it all year. But that is a rule. I mean, that’s something - I know last year, it was a thing, and the years previous, it was a thing. I just, I’ve watched a lot and I’m not sure I’ve seen it called this year.
Ithiel only played 18 minutes. Was that foul trouble or something else?
Capel: He didn’t play well. That’s why.