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Capel on Sibande, defense and another second-half comeback

After Pitt's win over William & Mary on Friday night, Jeff Capel, Nike Sibande and Blake Hinson met the media to talk about the game and more. Here's the full rundown of everything they said.

Capel: Well, a good win by us. I’m proud of our effort. I think we bit a good basketball team, a team that was very confident; they won two games in a row and were playing really well. They got off to a fantastic start in the first half. For whatever reason, we have to figure out how to be better to start games and how to be better in the first half. But our guys showed resiliency. In the second half, we were obviously much better defensively. We were able to string together some stops. I thought our ball pressure was a little bit better, our ball screen coverage was better, our rotations were better. That allowed us to get out in transition. We were able to establish John inside in the second half and he scored and made some great passes. But I just thought that it was a much better effort in the second half for us.

It’s good to finish this week out the right way and to close this chapter. Now we look forward to going on the road against increased competition on Monday.

Blake, what do you think - the last game and this game, the defense in the first half; what do you see has not been working and where have you guys improved in the second half of those two games?
I think it’s more energy and more concentration and talk towards the ball. Personally, I had two mistakes in the first half and it just simply came from less focus and less talk. And then, usually in the second half as a team, as a unit, we pick it up. So just learn how to do that in the first half and I think we’ll be just fine.

Nike, you came off the bench, 15 points, you had 17 against Alabama State; not to re-emphasize it, but you talked about your recovery process heading up to this. How does it feel getting these kind of surges that you’ve had?
It feels good. Just excited about the team helping me and putting me in position to be able to to be effective in the game.

You were not only scoring but you were distributing and you were playing defense; that kind of energy seemed to feed off on guys. How did you feel with your team in those moments?
It felt good, just to help my team and help put the battery in guys’ backs, help find people and put people in position to be effective, too. Just all-around good. It felt good.

Blake, Ben Wight was scoring a lot in the first half and seemed to find a rhythm, and then you guys seemed to figure out some of the things that they were doing, at least in the paint in the second half. What were some of the things that you guys said, ‘Hey, we have to cut this off now?’
Just the energy and talk. We’re good enough to handle that, and we showed that in the second half.

Blake, after the last game, Jeff said that was maybe the second time you’ve had all of your guys together healthy playing together? After a few games, do you feel like it’s come together with your starting group and Nike coming off the bench - maybe your top five, six, seven guys coming together and playing well with cohesion?
Yeah, I mean, we get better every game, as expected. We still haven’t had everybody yet. My boy Will is still hurt. But, you know, we’re a good team put together. We just have to put it together as far as defensively and energy-wise.

What was also the change in turnovers? You guys had seven in the first half and three in the second half; it seemed like you guys found a way to protect the basketball better.
I couldn’t tell you that one. I’m not…

Sibande: Just being smarter with the ball and communicating better with each other, making sure we’re all on the same page in the second half. We just have to get better and bring that to the first half, too, and we’ll cut down on turnovers.

Blake, we couldn’t tell from up here. What happened on the technical foul?
Oh, very immature play by me. Won’t happen again.

Jamarius shot 6-of-10 from the floor. It feels like, when he starts shooting like that, it energizes you guys. What did you see from him that led to his night?
Playing his game. Being effective and taking opportunities to be effective and step in and make shots. We definitely feed off that, that energy and it definitely gets us going, for sure.

Blake, you guys played three games in six days. Was that maybe a reason for a lack of energy early in the game?
No, I would hope not. It’s basketball; this is what we want to do. But I think we’re going to figure it out. Whatever it is, I think we’re going to figure it out, for sure.

Do you like playing that many games in that period of time?
I love basketball. I love basketball, yes.

Nike, you played Northwestern a couple years ago in the ACC-Big Ten; is there anything you’re looking forward to in that game?
Yes. Just excited to play against some good talent, a good group of guys. We’re excited to go in there and get this win, for sure.

So Jeff, is there a second-half secret?
I don’t know, man. I wish I could tell you. I really do. It’s frustrating. It is. So I don’t know if there’s something we need to do, change in warmups - I really don’t know, but we have to search and figure out, because, you know, I know that as we move forward, the competition increases, starting on Monday. And if you dig yourself a hole against these next three games that we’re going to play, it’s going to be very difficult to get out of it.

It seemed like in the first half, they were running these backdoor cuts that no one was picking up, and then in the second half, they were picking it up.
Yeah, in the first half, I thought a couple of things. In the second half, I should say, we changed our ball-screen coverage. I thought that helped a little bit. We weren’t as spread out. I thought we got spread out and they got us in rotations, so we made a couple of adjustments there. And then I think our antenna was up a little bit more, because we did get beat on those cuts.

In the first half, we just - we were going for shot fakes on non-shooters. We come down and score and don’t get back, their best shooter hits a three, right in transition because we don’t get right back to him. Obviously Wight was tremendous tonight. He played a terrific game. He got some cross matches at times with our rotations. I thought, for a stretch there, I thought they played hard - they were just all over the offensive glass. It was frustrating. But we were able to come out and make some adjustments in the second half and do a better job on them.

Once you took the lead in the second half, you went on a pretty good run, maybe 18-5. John had six points in that stretch but he also had three assists; are you seeing that part of his game evolve and develop?
We wanted to play through him. Once we were able to establish that inside and then they started doubling, guys made some great cuts, John made some really good passes, whether it was for Nike for a layup, I think Nelly got a three and maybe Nike got a three out of it. He’s a guy that draws a lot of attention, and that opens up stuff for other guys and guys were able to capitalize.

Early in the season, you said you have a lot of faith and confidence that these guys can shoot. Your top three scorers tonight were over 60%. Are you pleased with how they’ve been shooting the basketball?
Yeah, I mean, again, in the second half. Not in the first half. We’ve still yet to put a game together where we’ve all played like I know we’re capable of playing. Especially shooting the basketball. We’ve got to get Greg going; he’s a really good shooter and he’s not shooting the basketball well right now. Nelly’s not shooting the basketball well. He’s a really good shooter and a really good player; we have to figure out how to help him. Just like we helped Nike get out of it. Nate Santos is the same way; he’s an important guy for us. We have to get him going.

There were a few sequences where it looked like John either looked loss or just didn’t get to the right spot. In the second half, it looked like that went away. I wondered if it was due to him still getting back into shape. What do you think goes into those type of moments for him?
I think that’s a little bit of it, just the focus and concentration at all times. I think, at times, John can turn into a personal battle with a guy. ‘I’m not going to help as much because I don’t want my guy to score, so I’m going to stay.’ Those are all areas where we have to continue to help him to get better, which he was in the second half.

What was Ben Wight doing that was getting him going?
Well, he was, number one, he was really playing hard. And he’s a talented player. He’s an all-league player in that league, and that’s a really, really good basketball conference. So that. They got some cross matches; as we ball-screened, he rolled, all of a sudden, now it’s Jamarius on him, it’s Nelly on him, because of our rotations. In the second half, we made an adjustment at halftime about how we wanted to defend the ball screens so we could hopefully stop getting into those cross matches.

But he’s a good player. And once he got going, he got confident and he was able to be very efficient in how he played as well. But he had seven offensive rebounds; that’s how you can score the ball.

Are you eager to see how this team puts it together against better competition?
Yeah these next three games, we’ll learn a lot about where we are right now, at this moment. It’s three high-major teams, three Power Five teams, Big Ten, ACC and then the SEC when we play Vanderbilt. All three of them on the road, so it will be an unbelievable opportunity for us, and we’re excited about it.

Blake had the technical foul and it definitely seems like he’s got a certain energy on the court. Do you have to manage that a little bit? It seems like it’s one of his strengths, the energy he plays with, but you also want him to be on the court and not get into that kind of situation.
Yeah, I want him to be smarter. But I want him to play with unbelievable energy. We feed off of that. We need that. We need his passion. We need all of that. Just in that situation right there, he’s got to be smarter.

You emptied the bench at the end of the game; what do those guys bring to the team, even if they don’t get as many minutes? People like KJ Marshall, Aidan Fisch; what do they bring to the team, even when they’re not playing?
Unbelievable teammates, especially those two guys. They bring incredible passion and joy to what we do. They help our guys. You can hear them on the bench. They’re all about winning. Those have been two of the better walk-ons that I’ve ever had since I’ve been in basketball.

You’ve seen Nike go through a ton. When he first got here, he wasn’t allowed to play and then he ended up playing but then he tore his ACL; you saw him go through his entire journey to get here and now he’s got two games with double digits coming off the bench. What has it done for you to see a young man fight through all of that to get to here?
Well, I believe in him. I love him. I’ve thought he was a good player since he got here. I thought he was dealt a bad hand when he first got here of being suspended - or, not being cleared to play; I shouldn’t say being suspended - not being cleared to play. We found out, I think, 55 minutes before we played Miami, that’s when they cleared all of those guys. It’s tough, because you’re already in a rhythm, you already have your rotations. He played in that game, we came back, we played Louisville that year, he played - I didn’t coach; I had COVID - but he played, and then after that, he got COVID. He was out for 10 days. That was back during that year when all the wackiness was going on. So he was just behind the eight-ball the whole year. He played well at the end of the season when those guys left, and I thought he was really poised to have a big year last year. But he got hurt.

So, just to see the resiliency, the every day, the positive attitude, the coming in and working. He’s gotten to know our trainer really well, the strength coach really well, and he’s just a really good young man and he’s growing up and becoming a man.

Life isn’t fair. Stuff happens. It’s how you respond to it. And that’s a lesson I hope all of these guys learn. These journeys aren’t easy. That’s not just a basketball journey; just life. You go through different things. But one of the great things about being a part of a team is that you can learn so many life lessons that you can apply to everything, and I think the things that he’s gone through have really, really helped him in his growth as a man.

Do you feel like that’s an asset to some of the younger guys that you’re developing - that you have so many veteran guys? Not everyone has the same story as Nike, but everyone has a story.
Everyone has a story and everyone’s been through something. I think if we - if the world had more grace with that, it’d be a better - certainly, our country would be better with all the craziness that’s going on right now. So I do think those guys, the older guys, can be a - they’ve all been through stuff, whether it’s injury, whether it’s family stuff, whether it’s personal stuff; whatever it is, they’ve been through it. These younger guys have, too, but you have someone you can look to as a pillar of strength. That’s what we want to do as the adults, as the coaches in our program, the people that work here in the University and Athletic Department - we want to be that, but then when you have older guys, they can be that as well.