Jeff Capel and Nike Sibande talked to the media after Pitt came back to beat Alabama State on Sunday at the Petersen Events Center. Here’s the full rundown of everything they said.
Capel: I’m proud of our guys for how we responded today, especially after getting down in the first half. I thought we had a big-time response, how we closed the half – at under six minutes of the first half, with how we started defending. We were able to close the gap and get it to three. And then in the second half, we defended at a very high level and that got our offense going. We were able to make some shots. I thought we lost a little bit of confidence – I thought we were struggling a little bit with confidence coming into the game, and then the fact in the first half that we couldn’t make a shot, I thought that knocked us back. When they went on that run, it really knocked us back, but I’m really proud of how we responded. Guys stepped up, guys from the bench, the one beside me really came in and gave us a jolt, John came in and really gave us a jolt, and we’re going to need that from everyone as we go forward.
So, I’m proud of the win. They’ll start to come pretty quickly right now, so we’ll have a day to recover tomorrow and get back at it on Tuesday.
Nike, what was said in the locker room at halftime? Obviously, you guys couldn’t have been happy with what the score was; with all the different veterans in the locker room, who was someone who spoke up and got you guys on the same page?
Sibande: I would say all of us were. All of our guys. We were just talking and trying to figure out what’s best for us and what could we do to execute better and defend better. That’s what it is: all of us. All of us were talking it up and trying to figure it out.
For you to have this type of game – I don’t think you scored against VCU. To have this type of performance after earlier goes when you were struggling to find a rhythm offensively, how big is that for your personal confidence, to just get going and have a big impact on a win like this?
Sibande: It’s good but I’m looking at the next game. That game’s over with now and I’m just getting ready for Tuesday.
Feel good to throw down that dunk at the end there?
Sibande: Yeah, it felt good, for sure. Definitely.
How do you think the tone changed in the second half? Coach just mentioned the response and how you guys regrouped at halftime; how do you collect all of that together after the half you had and go back and give that response?
Sibande: I would say our defense and our communication, just our defense and our talking, it got better in the second half and that’s how we came up with more stops and were able to turn that defense into offense.
After they went up by 12, Blake backed a guy down and put up a shot and him and John both hit and-1’s in that stretch when you guys went on a 12-4 run to end the half. Did you get some energy out of Blake and John over those last few minutes there?
Sibande: For sure. Definitely. They’re big-time players, big, physical guys, and they both can do that at a high level. It was definitely a spark for our offense and a spark for our team and our energy. Our energy, for sure.
Jeff always talks about how important talk is and communication. Would it be revealing too much to tell us what you guys talk about when you huddle up?
Sibande: We talk about everything, really. It’s gelling and talking about our defense, but we keep that in the team and we just figure it out. We figure it out.
You’re a guy who has played a lot of college basketball. What can you learn from a game like this where you didn’t play great in the first half but you were able to rally? What can a team take away from something like this win?
Sibande: You can’t give in. You have to play a whole 40 minutes. It’s four-minute wars – 10 of them. We just look at it like that and we just attack each four minutes as best we can.
There was a stretch in the second half where the team shot 11-of-12; besides almost hitting 100% of your shots, what was going right for you guys in that stretch?
Sibande: Just our energy increased, our communication increased, and guys getting more confident. In the first half, they weren’t going down like we wanted them to, but we know we have confident guys on this team that can all shoot the ball at a high level, so we just continue to trust each other and continue to find each other and put each other in good positions to be able to get our shots up.
How important is a stretch like that where you’re seemingly making every single shot?
Sibande: I think it was big. It just showed us that, you know, at any moment, we can get hot. At any moment, we have guys that can hit two, three, you know, multiple shots and make multiple plays and put each other in position to score. So I think it’s huge for our team, for sure.
You’ve been here for the ugly losses to mid-majors in past years; what’s different about this group that allowed you to avoid that upset, to recover and come out on top by 19 points in a game where, in the first half, you guys looked pretty ugly?
Sibande: I think these guys just care more about it. We care more about it and we take it personally. It starts at the top with the older guys; we all care about it more and it trickles down to everybody, so just continuing to talk to our young guys and put confidence in each other to make plays.
What do you think was the biggest lesson you guys took away from the trip to New York?
Sibande: Biggest lesson? The biggest lesson, I think, was just to trust each other. We have to play the whole game. We can’t play five good minutes, 10 good minutes; we have to play a whole 40 good minutes. We can’t give in there. That’s what I think.
What did you like from Hugley today?
Capel: Obviously he gave us a presence around the basket. In the first half, we couldn’t make a shot outside. We had a guy, with him, that we could get the ball into. He really offensive rebounded well. You mentioned the and-1 earlier; that was big. He’s going to continue to get better. He’s a really good player, but he’s going to continue to get better. He sat out for six weeks; he’s not in the condition that he needs to be in yet. We all knew that, so we have to play him in spurts. As his conditioning gets better, he’ll be even better.
Do you see little things come back with him?
Capel: When you’re out and you’re not playing basketball for six weeks – for him, I would say for the first five weeks, he wasn’t walking straight. He couldn’t bend his knee. It was in a brace where he kept it straight, so he wasn’t walking regular, not straight. And then the last week, he still had the brace, but they decreased the tension so he could move it. When you do that for six weeks, you’re not going to come back and be the guy that you were. It’s going to take some time. So the rhythm of the game, the timing of the game, the things defensively, the movements – it’s not like he came back and he had a week to get ready. He came back on a Sunday and we played Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. So a week ago was his first practice of five-on-five, so we know that it’s going to take time. He’s got to get back into the rhythm of everything. Also the mental aspect of trusting it, of trusting your knee, of trusting your movements, of feeling comfortable being able to do things that you were able to do before. That takes some time. We knew that. But I thought he took a positive step today.
The guys on TV Thursday night said he banged knees with somebody in Wednesday’s game. Is that what happened?
Was it a different knee?
Capel: It was the other knee.
Any update on Burton?
Capel: It was just, his knee swelled up. He had inflammation in his knee.
Nike said that he feels this group cares more this year. Would you agree with that?
Capel: I don’t talk about last year’s team or last year’s players. I know this group cares. I care about this group. I’m not thinking about past guys. We still have a lot of games left, so it’s not like it can’t happen; we know it can happen. We have lost those games before. We’re playing a really good team on Tuesday, so we have to get prepared and focus on each day.
Alabama State came out in a 2-3 early on; did that throw you off at all? Was that something you were prepared for or saw from them?
Capel: We were prepared for that. They played a 1-3-1 zone, they played a 2-3 matchup. It’s something that we had seen. When they had success with it, they stayed with it a little bit longer, especially the 1-3-1. Also the 2-3, they were mixing it; they were going to man after the second or third pass. They were just doing things to throw us off rhythm. But the main thing is that I could sense the frustration in my group because we couldn’t make a shot. And we had some good shots, some shots that I feel like were good shots for us that we could make. They just wouldn’t go in. And for them, they shot the heck out of it. They have not shot the ball like that. I think coming into this game, they were below 40% from the field and they were a little bit over 30 from the three-point range and that was really because of two guys – Coleman and Madlock. So they had some other guys step up and make some shots for them, and that’s what dug the hole. We got out to a pretty good start. But then they went on a run.
The thing I was proud of was that we answered the run. We answered the run to close the first half, and then we went on a big run, really, for most of the second half.
You got 19 minutes out of Jorge as a starter tonight. What do you think the difference over the last couple of weeks is for him in just trying to get into that college basketball mindset and college basketball shape and catching up to the speed of the game? Where do you feel he’s at with all of that?
Capel: I think he’s getting better and better. He’s a good player. He’s got incredible spirit and energy about playing, positive energy. And he just plays. He doesn’t worry about things. He just – there’s a joy that he has in playing basketball, and I love the fact that he’s not afraid. He’s not afraid of a moment. You think about it, the kid goes up and comes in and, really, gives us a huge jolt of energy against VCU. He’s playing at the Barclays Center as a freshman, a true freshman, from a different country. To come in and to do that, I think both of their futures – both he and his brother, they have bright futures.
I thought, more than anything, today was just his energy. I thought that’s what he gave us. If you think about it, before he picked up his second foul, I think we were up 9-2 in that first half; when he went out, that’s when things changed for us. Obviously, he got off to a great start for us in the second half as well.
In the first half, your two starting guards looked like they were struggling to get on the same page with Greg and Nelly. What needs to happen for them to really play a complete 40-minute game, for both of them at the same time? Is it just something as simple as needing more time on the court together?
Capel: Yeah, that’s it. I think that’s it. We have some guys, like maybe everyone, who are battling some injuries, who are a little bit banged up, with all these games coming right back-to-back – it wasn’t smart scheduling on my part. So Greg’s a little bit banged up. Hopefully we can get him healthier as we go forward.
To go back to that stretch in the second half, hitting 11-of-12, how important is that from the mental aspect of having a run like that when your team had been struggling in the first half of the game?
Capel: It’s huge. It’s huge. Like I mentioned, coming into this game, I thought we were a little bit fragile, confidence-wise, because of the last three games. We got beat pretty good in two of them and then we had an opportunity, we just couldn’t finish the last two minutes of the last game. That does something to your psyche. We, as a staff, tried to be upbeat and positive with them. But as a player, you feel it. And then when you come out – we got off to a good start, but then we couldn’t put the ball in the basket. You start to get tight. You start to panic. You start to overthink. At times, you can get a little bit afraid. And then when you have a team that’s playing with house money, like they are, they don’t have that. There’s no expectations.
So I thought the way we closed the first half was huge, because we were able to string together some stops and get it to where it was somewhat manageable going into halftime. And at halftime, all we talked about was, we have to continue to defend like we did the last five and a half minutes. We’ll make shots, but stop taking shots where it’s like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. They’re my shots. As long as it’s a good shot, I’m cool with it. You have to live with the result, but shoot them with confidence. I could see that we were hoping, instead of just shooting. I’ve said, I think we’re a good shooting team. We haven’t since the first game, but that’s something I think we’ll get better with.
How do you coach that up in practice, the difference between shooting with confidence and shooting with hope?
Capel: I think it’s easier in practice. It’s when you get to a game. You know, practice is different, because you’re just practicing. We make a lot of shots in practice and we shoot a lot of them. But when you have someone really guarding you, an opponent that’s really guarding you, that’s coming after you, when you have the lights on, when you have people in the stands, when you have – there’s a different type of pressure that games bring that practice doesn’t.
In a bigger picture basketball question, after your first win, you mentioned that you were really happy with having 21 assists on 26 field goals. You said that’s where you’d like to see your group. So, what’s a successful figure for that metric? What’s a successful percentage that you look for every game? Is it 80%? Is that something you look to consider?
Capel: Yeah, I’m not into the analytics or percentage stuff like that. I just want us to get good shots. Normally – what I said in the first game was, that’s who we’ve been up until that point. If you look at our stuff and we graded our stuff in practice after every practice, we had a lot of assists compared to field goals. That first game was like that.
I don’t know what it will be going into each game. I don’t have a thing on my mind, whether it’s 80% or 70%; I just want us to get good shots. I want us to move the basketball. I want us – I think the ball has energy; it will find the right guy. If we’re moving it, if we’re cutting hard, if we’re executing, if we get clean looks, I think we’ll make a lot of them.
Do you have an update on Will?
Capel: Will will probably miss the year. He’s going to have to have surgery on his toe. We tried yesterday in practice but most likely it’s going to be – he’s going to miss the season.
Their coach was talking about the HBCU life. He said they might not play a home game until January this season. For coaches on this side – Pitt, Duke, Oklahoma – is there a certain level of respect for the grind that coaches and players there go through?
Capel: Yeah, I’ve always – that’s where my dad came from. That’s where my father coached. My dad coached at two HBCU’s. Division II Fayetteville State, which was his alma mater, and North Carolina A&T. So I understand the grind. I’ve always respected it. For them, a lot of times, when you’re at those schools you have to bring in money. So you go around. They did a West Coast thing; they were out there. They’re here. They play Duquesne. I think they play someone in Ohio right after that. They’re doing that to generate money for their program. So I have a lot of respect.
I’ve said it before: I have respect for coaching, period. This is a hard profession. It’s difficult. Any coach – women’s coach, field hockey, whatever it is, because it’s difficult. There’s joy in it, but it’s also difficult. The grind is real, no matter where you are; it’s just a different type of grind. But what they have to go through with all the travel and not playing home games, for them, all of this stuff is just experience. That’s what it normally is. They understand, when you’re at that level – when I was at VCU, VCU was a little bit like that, when I first got the job there, where you could be really good and the only thing that mattered was those three games in March – your conference tournament. That’s what mattered. It wasn’t until my last year at VCU when that changed. That’s when George Mason got the at-large bid and became a Final Four team.
It’s a different type of grind wherever you are, and I respect it.
What’s the next step for Hugley? You mentioned he just started practicing and he has to trust the knee; what’s the next step to where he’s ready to be back in the starting lineup and be a force in conference season?
Capel: It’s just time. It’s just time. He started when we played Michigan. We didn’t start him today. Just time, just continuing to work, just continuing to be a good player, be a great teammate, and just time. It will happen at some point.