Jeff Capel, Nelly Cummings and Blake Hinson spoke to the media after Pitt’s win over Syracuse on Saturday.
Capel: Well, what an unbelievable atmosphere. The crowd and these guys, especially the Zoo, have an unbelievable connection, and it’s been that way all year and we’re incredibly, incredibly grateful for that. We’re grateful for the seniors, the seniors that are in the band, cheerleaders, dance team, the Zoo, to be able to close this out at home, our home stand, with an unbelievable win today.
Really, really proud of my team. I thought our preparation was good and I thought we really did a great job of executing, to have 27 assists on 32 made field goals and only five turnovers. Really happy for the seniors, or the graduates, here in our program for all that they’ve meant. It was an unbelievable moment at the end to get Fisch in and then for him to score. It was emotional for all of us, and I think you saw that and know what he means. That shows what he means to our program. For Nike, to endure what he’s endured for three years, to not be able to play for the first eight games, find out 56 minutes before the first game, the Miami game, that he can play, and then the next year, tear his ACL and to accept and star in his role this year.
For Jamarius, these are guys that are holdovers, for them to have this moment, man, and to experience the Pete like this, it’s really, really cool and grateful for him sticking with us. Greg is a guy that believed and wanted to be a part of something. And then this guy right here, Nelly, I remember sitting in his living room when I went to go see him when we were recruiting him, and I remember some stuff he and his father said about this program. They grew up here and he dreamt of coming here and what he thought, what they thought, we could do and what he could do, and to see it like this – that’s one of the things I told him when I took him out, you know, ’It’s amazing to see the things we talked about in your living room, to see that come true.’
So, really special evening for us. Grateful for the win and look forward to our next one on Wednesday.
Nelly, as the hometown kid, what did tonight mean to you and how can you put it into words?
Cummings: It’s definitely hard to put it into words, but I would say it was just special, man. It meant a lot to me. The crowd was electric. It’s the last time we’re going to play, so it means a lot to go out that way, for sure.
Nelly, you waited a long time to have the opportunity to play in a Pitt uniform. Now that your season is over as far as home games at the Pete, would you say it lived up to your expectations?
Cummings: For sure. Tonight, I think, was a culmination of everything. It led up to all of this and it was very, very special.
Nelly, you’ve played three games in your career against Syracuse going back to Colgate and you’ve kind of just dominated them in all three. What’s the secret and what do you think can you point to that gives you that success against a team like Syracuse?
Cummings: Two great coaching staffs that had me prepared to go out there and do what I do.
Nelly, how important was playing offense in transition today?
Cummings: I think it was very important. They run a zone, obviously, so when they set the zone, you’re kind of locked into whatever that defense allows you to get. But when you’re in transition, you can kind of get what you want and take control of the game in that way.
Blake, you didn’t start today; obviously Nike got the start in your spot. What’s it say about a team where you’re willing to come off the bench and give a guy like Nike that start on senior day and let him have his moment?
Hinson: Nike – what Nike does and has been doing for this program is one of the most unselfish things I have maybe ever seen and experienced first-hand. The truth of the matter is, he would start on most teams in this country, in my opinion, and he’s willing to accept the role of not doing that for our team for the betterment of this team, and that just embodies what this team is about and what he’s about. I mean, he totally deserves it, man. That’s just what it is, you know what I mean? He would start everywhere else. Coach did a good job assembling the talent and that’s what his role is for us, so that’s what he deserves.
What was it like mobbing Fisch after he made that bucket?
Cummings: I’ve never done anything like that. That was probably the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life. Pure adrenaline.
Blake, did Coach approach you about putting Nike in the starting lineup?
Hinson: Of course he told me.
Blake, you started your relationship from the first exhibition game. What has that been like and how much do you appreciate the support they’ve shown?
Hinson: Oakland Zoo, man, that was – in the history of the Oakland Zoo, I don’t know if there was anything – that has to match what the best has been or maybe even better, man. That was everything. That was great. And we appreciate it so much. I even had people, part of my family, telling me, ‘Make sure you tell that crowd and that Oakland Zoo, they did an amazing job.’ So shout-out to you guys, sixth man of the year, that’s you all.
Right around the point when you guys were going to halftime, Florida State hit a buzzer-beater to beat Miami. Did you guys see that score at halftime when you went back to the locker room? I know they announced it during the second half, but did you guys see it in the locker room?
Cummings: No, we were really kind of just focused on our game at halftime. We didn’t really even have a chance to think about –
Hinson: Did you hear it? I didn’t hear it. They said they announced it but I didn’t hear it.
Cummings: I did hear it. I was trying to act like I didn’t hear it.
Hinson: I swear, I didn’t hear it.
Blake, what’s the significance of 1,000 points for you?
Hinson: It’s great. I didn’t know it until I got into the locker room. Just being around my friends and stuff that I started college with, they always post their thousand points on Instagram, and I always wondered, like, where am I at on that scale? I don’t even know – you know, I transferred a couple schools, so I’m like, has that stat just been broken? I don’t really know where I’m at. So it was cool to find out that, okay, I’m there.
Nelly, what went into the preparation? You guys had 27 assists and only five turnovers but also forcing 11 turnovers on the other side.
Cummings: I think we were just really focused on getting the ball to the middle of the zone and making plays out of that. And defensively, we were just locked in on the scouting report, really just executing everything the coaches told us.
Nelly, I’m sure you guys were aware of what their coach said a couple weeks ago about this team and how they operate. Were any of those comments fuel for you guys today?
Cummings: No. I mean, every game we play, we kind of approach it the same way. 1-0. We always want to come out of the game 1-0. So this game didn’t have any extra juice on it. We were just locked in.
Did you feel like this was, if not the best, one of the best displays of how you guys are able to play in your element?
Capel: I thought it’s one of them. I thought Northwestern was the other. I thought we did an unbelievable job of attacking the zone, and in the second half, we made shots. We got shots in the first half; we just didn’t make them. I was pleased that we were able to put some stops together at the end of the first half to give us a lead, and one of the things we talked about at halftime was just that, keep taking those shots, keep moving it, let’s get some stops, we’ll make shots this half. And we did. But our guys did a great job of attacking the zone, of understanding the points where we wanted to attack and when you make shots, it makes everything look better.
You guys had a huge day on the offensive glass. I think it’s the most offensive rebounds you’ve had against any ACC opponent this year. How big was that in allowing you guys to hang around in the first half?
Capel: It was huge. It was huge. It’s something we talked about, we emphasized in practice and scouting and walk-through, that those opportunities would be there. With the way we’ve shot the basketball, we knew the zone could maybe be a little bit more extended, especially the way we shot it against them up at Syracuse. I think we had 14 offensive rebounds when we were at Syracuse, or 12 or something like that, but we felt like we would be able to do that. That kept us afloat in the first half when we couldn’t make a shot. So really proud of our guys for doing that.
Did your defense make the kind of improvements you were hoping for?
Capel: We did okay. I mean, in some ways, yeah. They had a guy – I mean, Benny Williams was unbelievable today. I mean, he made five three’s; I’m not sure how many three’s he had made coming in. It was 10. Exactly. So he was a guy we wanted to help off of, and he made us pay for that.
Look, they’re a good offensive team. Judah Mintz is a really good offensive player. Girard is a really good offensive player. Edwards is a really good offensive player. And when they get that production from Benny Williams, who hasn’t been a good offensive player but he made shots today, that makes them even more dangerous.
You guys edged Syracuse in all the hustle stats – the offensive rebounds, the second-chance, the bench and everything – how much does that add up to eventually what became that huge run you guys went on in the second half?
Capel: Well, it’s huge. Again, we wanted to get extra possessions, so the offensive rebounds gave us that. We tried to have a – one of the things we want as a goal for our program is, any 50/50 ball, any ball on the floor, should be ours. And we did a better job as the game went on of doing that. There were some plays in the first half where we had an opportunity to get on the floor, even early in the second half, where we had an opportunity that we didn’t do a good job there. But for the most part, I thought we did a really good job of playing hard. Obviously we played together, we were connected and we made a lot of shots.
I know that Greg can quickly get a bad moment out of his mind, but the first half, he shoots 0-for-5, second half, he shoots 5-for-6; what makes it so easy for him and other guys on this team to continue flipping the switch to making the plays that you guys need?
Capel: One of the things as a shooter, you know, you have to be okay with missing shots, as long as they’re good shots, because it can turn. You always have to think, like, ‘I can make the next one, I can go on a run.’ One of the things I told Greg at halftime as we were walking back out was, ‘Do not drop your head’ and ‘Be ready to shoot.’ Those are my shots, as long as they’re good shots. I’ll tell you if they’re not good shots. And be ready to shoot the ball when it’s swung to you. He got into a rhythm in the second half and he was able to knock them in.
We’ve seen Blake all year take shots that –
Capel: Are not good shots.
But you’ve talked about how he’s got that – does he have a different idea of what is in range versus your idea of what’s in range?
Capel: I’ve said over and over: I have learned Blake. One of the things you have to do as a coach, you have to learn your team. And I’ve learned with him, you’ve got to give him some leeway, because he can make and it can be the one that gets him going and gets us going. I will tell him, at times, slow down. I did that today. Just let it come to you, because at times, he can go where he’s trying to chase it. But I give him some leeway with that.
Are those kind of offensive players fun to coach?
Capel: They’re very fun to – if you coach guys who can make shots, they’re pretty fun.
He scored his 1,000th point on that corner three where he was double-covered. Were you holding your breath on that shot?
Capel: I don’t remember. I don’t remember it. I don’t remember the defense. I’m not sure.
A lot of coaches don’t like their guys to know what’s going on in other games. Did you mind that your guys knew Miami lost?
Capel: Well, I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I didn’t know until after the game that Miami lost.
But they put it up on the scoreboard and made a big thing about it.
Nobody mentioned it?
Capel: No. In competition, I don’t want to know. I’m trying to focus on us and trying to figure out how we can extend the lead against them. So I’m not really worried about what’s going on anywhere else.
When Blake started this season, he took a lot more shots on the inside and would drive to the basket more. As the season progressed, he became more of a pure three-point shooter. Was that an adjustment that he made or was that something you guys talked about over time?
Capel: Well, we wanted to have more spacing on the floor, and with the way we were playing, we wanted to be able to drive and kick and then open it up for Federiko to rim-run off of ball screens, to play off penetration. Obviously, when Guillermo is in there, it gives us a little bit different look because he can pop and do some things on the perimeter.
I thought Guillermo was unbelievable in the second half, man. I mean, some of the passes he made, you know, rolling to the middle of the zone, getting off of it quick, some of the decisions he made, he blocked a shot, I mean, I thought he was unbelievable in this game, and I’m really, really happy for him because he works his butt off all the time.
What’s your reaction to being in first place with two games left?
Capel: No reaction, really. I mean, I’m just focused on – I’m happy that we won today, I’ll enjoy it and then we’ll start getting ready for these guys, as you see me look up here, trying to check that out, looking at that one back there, see what happens there – we’ll just enjoy this and then we’ll start getting prepared for the next one.
I know he picked up two fouls in the first half, but what did you think of your defense’s efforts on Judah Mintz?
Capel: I thought we did a good job on him in the first half. Look, he’s a really good player. He’s a really talented offensive player and he’s a difficult shot-maker, and he does an excellent job of drawing fouls, he gets to spots, he’s crafty with the ball, he’s strong and the thing that he’s done in the last five games is that he’s shot the basketball well from three. In the last two, he was six-for-six; I think over the last five he’s seven-for-nine from three prior to this game, so that adds another element to his game.
He’s a really good player, and he’s going to be a really good player.
I know that your guys said it was one of the best feelings; what was it like when the final horn sounds and you see your guys going and mobbing Aidan after what he’s been for you guys?
Capel: I actually didn’t see it. I just went to go shake hands. I saw the reaction when he hit the shot and we all reacted that way. I mean, Fisch has meant so much to this program, man. To start as a manager and to earn the right to be a walk-on, he has the respect of everyone in that locker room. He’s a leader, he’s a believer, he’s a guy that shows up every day and he’s incredibly grateful and appreciative. So for him to be able to have that moment, for those guys to look for him and for him to – you know, when I saw that ball go through the basket, man, just the energy in the building, the fans, him, his teammates, it was one of the most special things that I’ve ever experienced as a coach.
Does it further embody the thing you talk about how your team cares about each other?
Capel: Yeah. I mean, you saw that. You saw that. A guy like that inspires them and it shows what a great guy he is, but we have some really good guys in our program right now.
You spoke about Federiko’s ability in the half court to rim-run and finish down there. How important is he in transition for you guys?
Capel: He’s huge. He’s huge. Because he’s a guy we can throw it up to, he can catch and finish, he can catch lobs and it flattens the defense out so it opens things up for our other guys. He gets our shooters shots, he opens the floor for drives for us in transition. That’s a weapon for us and it’s something that we’re going to keep utilizing.
Syracuse went with a six-man rotation. You’ve taken huge advantage of the portal and everything. How important do you think bringing in those portal guys is for this program?
Capel: It was huge for us. It was huge for us. I mean, we got really good guys, talented guys, but as equally as huge as that was, getting Guillermo, Jorge and getting Federiko was just as big, those three guys.
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