Appalachian falls short in Capel’s return to UNC

Jason Capel won plenty of games as a player at North Carolina.

He found out firsthand just how tough it is to win there as a

visiting coach.

The Appalachian State coach and former Tar Heels guard came up

short in his first coaching appearance on the visitors’ bench at

the Dean Smith Center when No. 5 North Carolina beat his

Mountaineers 97-82 on Saturday night.

Capel, who started for the Tar Heels from 1998-2002 under Bill

Guthridge and Matt Doherty, was plenty familiar with what they

wanted to do – but that only meant they had his plays figured out,

too.

”It’s funny because everything they ran, I knew it was

coming,” Capel said with a laugh.

He received a warm ovation when his name was called during

pre-game introductions, but insisted that once the game started, he

tried to block out the surroundings and focus exclusively on the

court.

”For me, personally, once the game starts, once the ball’s

tossed up, I’m in my zone,” Capel said. ”I can be anywhere. I’m

coaching my team, trying to get a win, but it was good to come

home.”

For North Carolina, Tyler Zeller flirted with a career scoring

high, finishing with 31 points and 10 rebounds. John Henson added

17 points for the Tar Heels (9-2), whose third straight win and

22nd in a row at the Smith Center wasn’t as lopsided as

expected.

They shot 54.5 percent, never trailed and led by 29 before

allowing Appalachian State to cut deeply into that big lead.

”We were really good for about the last four minutes of the

first half and the first 4-5 minutes of the second half,” coach

Roy Williams said. ”And then we went brain dead there for a

while.”

Omar Carter had 21 points and Mike Neal scored 15 for the

Mountaineers (4-6), who lost their fourth straight. They finished 9

of 20 from 3-point range and used a late scoring flurry to cut into

the lead.

Andre Williamson and Tab Hamilton each finished with 11 points

for Appalachian State.

Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston both finished with 10 points,

while Harrison Barnes was held to nine – the first time he failed

to crack double figures this season. North Carolina was playing for

the first time in a week after being off for final exams, and

Williams said his team practiced only once all week because of the

scattered exam schedule.

Things will pick up in a hurry for the Tar Heels, who started a

nine-game homestand that includes three games in five days – they

play Nicholls State on Monday, followed by Texas on Wednesday – by

holding on to remain perfect against Appalachian State, which

didn’t get closer than 12 in the second half.

North Carolina pulled away from the Mountaineers, going up 20 on

Bullock’s 3-pointer with 16 1/2 minutes left and taking its largest

lead roughly five minutes later when Hairston’s free throw made it

75-46.

The Tar Heels then held off Appalachian State’s frantic comeback

attempt to improve to 5-0 in the infrequent cross-state series,

though the previous four victories came by an average of 24 points.

They also have won 52 in a row against nonconference teams at home,

a streak that dates to 2005.

”Nothing can prepare you for that,” Capel said, referring to

both the Smith Center environment and the Tar Heels themselves.

”Nothing can prepare you for what you were going to see out there,

but we tried to simulate as much as possible. I’m proud because we

competed. We didn’t (only) play hard. We competed. We didn’t take a

step back when they punched us in the mouth. We kept coming

forward.”

Kendall Marshall had 13 assists – his fifth game this season

with at least 10 – and North Carolina is 13-0 when he has at least

nine.

Zeller finished one point shy of his previous high of 32 points,

which came against Long Island last March in the Tar Heels’ NCAA

tournament opener. He had 20 points in the first half on 8-of-11

shooting and helped North Carolina build a big lead at the

break.

The Mountaineers briefly made things interesting late in the

half, hitting three 3-pointers in a 2-minute span to pull within

34-30 with 4 1/2 minutes left.

The Tar Heels reeled off 12 straight points and took their

largest lead of the half on James Michael McAdoo’s steal and dunk

that put them up 46-30 in the final minute. Zeller’s layup with 2

minutes left made it 48-32 at halftime.

Capel ”told us at the beginning of the game that they were

going to make a couple runs, and we just had to keep our poise,”

Neal said.