UNC escapes Binghamton, 61-60

CHAPEL HILL, NC--It wasn't pretty, but some inspired play all around in the closing minutes helped the University of North Carolina Tar Heels to pull out a comeback victory over the visiting Binghamton Bearcats, 61-60. Jawad Williams led all Tar Heels with 12 points and Jason Capel added a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in the win.

The look on Jason Capel's face said it all as the buzzer sounded and the mid-court heave by Bearcat Jeffrey Daws -- who torched the Tar Heels on 6-10 shooting from behind the 3-point arc and led all scorers with 19 points -- caromed off the backboard into Jason Capel's hands.

"Too close, man," said Capel. "Too close for comfort. It feels good to win, but - Binghamton played well, don't get me wrong and they knocked in shots to put us on our heels - these are games we should win."

At the outset, it looked like it might be a cake walk. The Tar Heels jumped out to a 12-0 lead, but eight 3-pointers by the Bearcats in the first half, helped to pull Binghamton to within two at the intermission, 32-30.

"I think human nature is that when you get a lead -- especially against an opponent that you don't know as well -- you think it's going to be easy," lamented UNC head coach Matt Doherty. "I warned them that it wasn't going to be easy, and we had turnovers that led to shots. The defense wasn't set, and they took some long jumpers, and when there are long jumpers, there are long rebounds; it's hard to box out when the ball goes back to the top of the key."

With the score knotted at 48 points each, Jackie Manuel came off of a screen to take an inbounds pass, score the lay-up, and get the foul for a three point play to give the Tar Heels what looked like a little breathing room with around six minutes to play in the game.

"Melvin, he came off of the double-screen first, and then I came off," explained Manuel. "If Melvin's not open, then I'm coming [to the basket]. Melvin is kind of like a decoy, so if the other team overplays, I come up and get the pass."

Then it looked like the wheels were going to fall off again. Senior Jeffrey Daws hit two straight 3-pointers to give the Bearcats the lead, and junior forward Jeffrey St. Fort found a crease two more points and a five-point lead.

"Honestly, I was thinking, 'Man, not again -- Hell no,'" recalled Capel. "But our team stuck together. I became more vocal. I became a little frustrated with some of my teammates, but they are going to make mistakes, and we have to work through that.

"We showed a lot of character out there to play through the mistakes and stick together through a lot of adversity and win the basketball game -- one point, half a point; it's a good win for us."

With just under four minutes and down by five Matt Doherty called a time-out to settle down the team and discuss strategy.

"I just wanted to settle them down," said Doherty. "I felt a little panic, and they didn't have a good look in their eyes. I wanted to settle them down and make sure we got a good shot."

Down the stretch the seniors stepped to the forefront and made some key plays to get the win. Jason Capel took his man to the basket and scored on a spin move and then completed the three-point play following a foul.

Shortly thereafter, the Fayetteville native found freshman Jawad Williams all alone for a dunk and then scored the final points of the game on a 3-pointer from the left wing on a pass from Melvin Scott to give the Tar Heels a 61-60 lead and what would eventually be the final score, but it was long from over.

"I knew it was good as soon as it left my hand," said Capel. "All my shots are feeling good. They are going to fall, and when they fall, I won't have to here this any more. It was a good shot, so I took it. Melvin made a good pass, and it felt good when it left my hand. I'm glad it went in because it helped my team win, but my shooting is going to get better. I'm not worried about it."

With the Tar Heels holding ever so precariously to a one-point lead with under one minute to play, Kris Lang, who has been battling a stomach virus and who had to take two IV's at half-time, out-hustled his man for a loose ball at half court, dove on the ball for the steal, and called time out for possession of the ball.

"Kris needs to go somewhere and lay down," said Capel of his fellow senior after the game in the locker room. "For real, I don't know what's wrong with Kris's immune system, but he's not doing too well. It speaks volumes for his loyalty and his desire for this team. He made some big plays -- especially that steal and called a time out. I think if he could have lay there for the rest of the night he would have."

But it was a good thing for the Tar Heels that he did not. After Carolina failed to score on their next offensive possession, the Bearcats had another chance to take the lead. As Binghamton guard Brett Watson came down the right baseline to attempt the go-ahead basket, Kris Lang came across the lane and jumped as high as he ever has in his UNC career to send the ball into the stands with 10 seconds remaining in the contest.

"Kris has the most courage I've ever seen," said freshman Jawad Williams. "For him to be dealing with the stuff that he's dealing with -- his health is killing him. He's walking around looking really pale, but he's helping us. It inspires us to see him -- to see that he's hurt and he comes out and gives the effort that he does."

"I've never seen him jump that high," remarked point guard Melvin Scott. "He threw that into about the third row, and I was like, 'Yeah!' He was just exhausted after that."

With 10 seconds to go and the Heels clinging to a one-point lead, the Bearcats were still alive. A missed shot and a scramble for the rebound led to Melvin Scott recovering the ball with six seconds left and falling out of bounds.

"Time-out!" he shouted and the Tar Heels would have possession. "I saw them scrambling for the rebound," said Scott. "I saw it loose, so I ran in and grabbed it and called time out. I was going to jump, but I'm so little, and those guys are big. I just wanted to grab the ball for our possession. I was on the floor, but I was falling out, so I called time out."

Four game-clock seconds later, Melvin Scott was fouled and would go to the free-throw line for a double bonus opportunity, but he missed them both.

" Hey, [Coach] said he'd take a one-point win, and we were up by one, so I just listened to him and missed both," said the gregarious freshman with a grin and a tone of sarcasm.

Two seconds later a half-court prayer missed wide right, and Jason Capel stood holding the ball with a look of relief as the buzzer sounded with the Tar Heels narrowly escaping 61-60.

The Tar Heels had two players just one point shy of putting five players in double digits for the game. Jawad Williams led all Tar Heels with 12 points, Will Johnson added 11, Jason Capel scored 10, and Jackie Manuel and Melvin Scott each contributed nine points.

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