The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Sunday, June 23, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Peppers Makes Most of 1st Start

Julius Peppers got his first collegiate start for the injured Kris Lang and scored a career-high 18 points.

The day after UNC defeated Wake Forest, Lang woke up with a sharp pain in his right ankle.

The pain in his ankle continued to bother him throughout the week, so when UNC coach Matt Doherty asked him how he felt about playing, Lang had a simple answer.

Start Julius Peppers.

"I went to him after I told Coach I wanted Julius to start in my place," Lang said. "I told him 'I believe in you, man. You're going to do your thing.'"

Peppers justified Lang's faith by scoring a career-high 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in UNC's 96-82 victory Saturday.

The sophomore power forward came out of the gate aggressive, taking a jumper for UNC's first field goal attempt.

He missed, but that didn't matter.

Peppers got the Tar Heels rolling to an early lead in the first half with a mixture of foul shots, layups and assists.

"It was a lot of fun," Peppers said of his first career start. "Something new, something different. I just wanted to help the team and not have a dropoff with Kris not in the lineup."

After the first media timeout, Peppers really got into the action by using a nifty spin move to befuddle his Maryland defender, Terence Morris, and give North Carolina a 14-7 lead.

"When I saw Pep do that spin move in the lane, I knew that things were going to happen," said forward Jason Capel, who led the Tar Heels with 27 points. "He played with so much confidence out there.

"A lot of times, he's passive as far as making his move offensively but tonight, I guess he knew he had to step up because Kris wasn't exactly 100 percent."

Passive isn't a word many would ever associate with Peppers, who is better known for his nation-leading 15 sacks as North Carolina's star defensive end during the 2000 season.

Peppers continued being aggressive throughout the game, continuing to wow the Smith Center crowd, harass Maryland's shooters and earn points with Doherty.

Doherty joked after the game that Peppers might be thinking of going pro in the wrong sport. Peppers decided earlier this season to return for his junior year to play football.

Peppers' teammate on both UNC squads, Ronald Curry, could only laugh and said, "I don't know about that," after hearing about Doherty's joke.

But Peppers concedes the NBA might not be totally out of reach.

"Yeah, definitely," Peppers said. "If I played basketball 12 months out of the year, I could go to the NBA."

Although comments like that could scare North Carolina football coach John Bunting or NFL scouts, Peppers said basketball is still just a hobby for him.

His hobby has been a boon for the Tar Heels this season because Peppers' size helps UNC assemble one of the biggest frontlines in the country. At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, he adds a physical presence and intimidation underneath when 7-foot Brendan Haywood and the 6-11 Lang are out of the game.

"He's physically blessed," Haywood said. "Athletically, he can do a lot of things -- block shots, rebound and highlight dunks."

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Forte Keeps Streak Alive

During halftime, Doherty was trying to think of a way to get Joseph Forte more involved in the game. After the first half, Forte had only seven points, threatening a six-game streak of 20-plus points.

Doherty's solution presented itself in the person of Haywood.

"I just said, 'Coach, we need to run this play for Joe.' Just get him open, because I knew he needed the shot and if he hit the shot it was going to be big for him," Haywood said.

Forte scored UNC's first six points of the second half en route to 23 on the afternoon.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

North Carolina's been No. 1 in the country for a week now, but the Tar Heels don't feel like they're getting any respect from the rest of the ACC or the country.

"I'm looking at (Duke's) Nate James' comments, 'We're still No. 1 in the ACC,' -- well, you're not," Haywood said. "Not right now. I'm looking at Billy Packer -- one of our managers asked if he thought we were going to win and he was like, 'No, I think Maryland's going to win.' Those are the types of things that stick with you."

In the Tar Heels' locker room in the Smith Center, James' comments are posted. James said after North Carolina defeated the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium 85-83 on Feb. 1 that Duke was the only team that could beat Duke.

James' opinions might come back to haunt him and the remainder of UNC's ACC opponents.

"We take that stuff personal," Capel said. "So, we have something to prove every game to everyone in the league and in the country."

The Sports Editor can be reached sports@unc.edu.