November 20, 2001:
Davidson 58, UNC 54
CHAPEL HILL -- Merely astonishing became unthinkable Tuesday night. A home loss to Hampton is one thing for North Carolina, but back it up with one to Davidson -- whew, man --it's chaos at the Smith Center.
Can you believe this?
"Nah," Jason Capel said. "Nah. No way."
Believe it. After Tuesday's 58-54 loss to the Wildcats -- who were without their best player -- Carolina is 0-2 for the first time since the 1982-83 season. The Tar Heels have never, ever started a season by dropping their first two games at home in 92 years of playing basketball.
"We've got to get better," UNC coach Matt Doherty said.
Better, and then some. Break this one down by itself, and there are glaring weaknesses. The Tar Heels turned the ball over 20 times -- 14 in the first half --against the same kind of zone defense they're likely to see all year. They shot just 30 percent from the floor, but continue to say they're good shooters. For the second straight time, a team came to the Smith Center, shot less than 40 percent, and won.
UNC's two seniors, Jason Capel and Kris Lang, combined to hit 7 of 28 field goals. When the Heels needed them most --down by two with 15 seconds left --Capel jumped up in the paint, looked for Lang underneath, and fired a hard pass that ricocheted off Lang's chest out of bounds.
After that play, the Heels stood on the floor, blank stares across their faces. There was nothing else to do. This was not just about Davidson or Hampton. This was about what could be one of the longest, most difficult years in Carolina basketball history.
"When I took the job [two summers ago], I had a feeling that this could be a challenging year," Doherty said.
"I can't tell you what the stock market's going to do next month, but I had a feeling that this would be a challenging season. And it is. And it will be."
Several people told Davidson coach Bob McKillop -- who coached Doherty in high school on Long Island and later hired him as an assistant --that he was catching the Heels at precisely the wrong time. They would be mad. They would want revenge.
McKillop thought otherwise, even though he came into the game with junior guard Wayne Bernard -- who led the team with 13.7 points a game last year -- suspended for academic reasons.
"What we did realize was that the mentality of their players would be somewhat in doubt, their confidence would be rather fragile, much like a glass that drops and shatters," McKillop said. "It's pretty tough to put that back together in a 72-hour period."
It will be even more difficult now. So afterward, Doherty went around a quiet locker room and told his charges, who now have a couple of days off for Thanksgiving, to go home and find their favorite park, their favorite gym, and shoot. Get comfortable. He wants them to rediscover their confidence, not to mention their shooting strokes. In two games, the Heels are hitting just 34.6 percent from the floor.
"It baffles me," Doherty said. "But you're talking about young men that are fragile, and right now, we're fragile."
Capel, for one, was supposed to be the strength of this team. But after hitting just 1 of 9 3-pointers against Hampton, he failed to make one from long range until his shot from straight on with 55.6 seconds left things tied at 54-54. He finished just 1-for-6 on 3-pointers and scored nine points.
"I had the opportunity of a lifetime to lead this team," Capel said. "And I'm just not doing it right now."
Still, he had forged a tie. The announced crowd of 14,705 was ready to celebrate a win, any win, against anyone, and because UNC had trailed almost all night -- and by as many as 12 -- a tie with a minute left seemed pretty good.
But on the next possession, Davidson's Michael Bree drove by UNC freshman Melvin Scott -- who led the Heels with 15 points -- and fed a wide-open Chris Pearson for an easy jam. Davidson led, 58-56.
"I thought it was over," said Davidson guard Peter Anderer, who led the Wildcats with 18 points.
That's when Capel tried to find Lang.
"I had a shot," Capel said. "But I really didn't have a good look at the basket, and I saw Kris open, so I threw it to him."
And it went out of bounds. Anderer, who went to the line and made both ends of a one-and-one, said he was nervous before the game. But at the tip ...
"We're all equals when we step out on the court," he said.
Right now, the Heels would like to be anybody's equal. No matter who, no matter how.
"I don't know," Capel said. "I don't know."
The only thing to know: Carolina is 0-2, and things have never been quite like this in Chapel Hill.