The ancient Greeks had a saying for it. “More haste, less speed.”
The Roman emperor Augustus adopted it as his motto: festina lente.
Or as the Germans put it: make haste, slowly.
The phrase seems oxymoronic, but it can be the key to success in high pressure situations.
Throughout Wednesday’s nonconference matchup between 3A Chapel Hill and visiting 4A Hillside – two basketball teams looking for a win as they ready for the meat of their conference schedules – Tigers head coach Bill Walton repeatedly yelled to his players, “Relax! Relax!”
That’s the opposite of what so many coaches urge their players, wanting them to speed down the court in a faster fast break. But Walton knows the key for any athlete is to go as fast as possible, but while under control.
Especially against a team as powerfully athletic but inexperienced as Hillside (2-13), Walton wanted Chapel Hill to blunt the Hornets speed, slow them down and possibly frustrate them. Instead his equally athletic but inexperienced Tigers got into a footrace with the visitors.
The result was a 59-52 win for Hillside. Much the same was true in the girls game, where Sherry Norris’s patient-but-not-patient-enough team thwarted a talented Hillside to the point of distraction, though the Hornets still prevailed 41-29.
“We were hurrying and trying to rush,” Walton said later. “You don’t always have to do that.”
Turnovers and hurried shots plagued Walton’s Tigers in a first half that set the tempo of the game. Chapel Hill hurriedly turned over six of its first nine possessions and, on the other three, missed two of three shots as they fell behind 8-2 in the opening 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
Hillside never got the margin into double digits, and for most of the game Chapel Hill was within a basket or two of the lead, but the Tigers could never pull ahead.
The clearest example of haste making waste of a Tiger opportunity came early in third quarter, which started with Chapel Hill down 33-28. A 3-pointer by A.J. Thompson and back-to-back treys by Ben Gaynes tied the game at 37-37 with 4:52 left in the third.
But the Tigers sped back up, throwing away five of their next seven possessions. Meanwhile, Hillside used the quicker pace to score five straight points off its transition game and got some breathing room.
“Relax,” Walton again yelled to his players, and they hung close, always within two possessions, but three baskets in the last 2:37 by sophomore Max Conolly were not enough to close the gap. Hillside, more patient in employing a four-corners spread for the game’s last 4 minutes, hit five consecutive free throws in the final 30 seconds to ice the game.
“A two-possession game with 2 minutes to go, that’s an eternity. You don’t need to rush,” Walton said. “We had some trouble matching up with their athleticism, but we had some opportunities – if we could just have controlled the tempo of the game.”
Conolly led Chapel Hill (5-8) with 12 points, while Elijah Haynes added 11. Hillside’s Amyr Mohamed led all scorers with 18 points.
Chapel Hill’s girls team, a rebuilding 3A program facing one of North Carolina’s 4A powers, did a better job of denying Hillside the game it wanted to play.
After scoring the last six points of the first half, Chapel Hill trailed by just 23-17 and was still within 25-21 after a layup by sophomore Aliyah Chaplin in the third quarter. But Hillside (13-1) eventually benefited from three straight Tiger turnovers to get its fast break into gear and reeled off an 8-2 run to pull away for the Hornets’ 12th straight win.
For Chapel Hill (9-4), the result was its fewest points scored in a game since 2010.
“I was a little bit surprised at how well they handled our pressure ... better than I thought they would,” Hillside coach Ovester Grays said. “And their zone took away some of our rhythm and took us out of our offense a bit.”