Instead of joining in the celebration that followed the University of the District of Columbia's 84-74 triumph over previously unbeaten and North Carolina Central, UDC Coach Wil Jones was stalking around like an angry bear.
"We won, but, no, I'm not happy at all," he said after Tuesday night's victory. "We are capable of playing better and we didn't do it."
North Carolina Central is ranked first in Division II. But Jones feels he has his best team in his nine years at UDC. "But think about it. We played bad and won by 10."
He probably is more peeved at what he refers to as a lack of respect for his 17-3 Firebirds. Before the season, several publication did pick UDC as the division's best. After all, it does have nine of the top 10 players returning from last years' 17-10 team, plus Lyndon DeBellotte. UDC's leading scorer two years ago, he was redshirted last year with a hand injury. And the team has a handful of talented freshmen and transfers.
But before the first rankings appeared, the Firebirds had lost at Kutztown (93-87), at fourth-ranked Gannon (87-75) and at North Carolina Central (65-64).
The Firebirds since avenged the losses to Kutztown (76-67) and to NCCU Tuesday night, stretching their winning streak to nine and to 17 at home. Unranked thus far, they will host St. Paul's (7-12) tonight at 7:30.
They have eight games left, including two against eighth-ranked Virginia Union (16-3). UDC will probably need to win six of those to gain one of the four South Atlantic playoff berths. The region champion will go to the Final Four.
Jones, whose team won the NCAA divisional title in 1985 and was runner-up in 1984, is a bit antsy going into the home stretch because he can see the untapped potential of his players.
"This team is skilled at every position and plays well together, at times anyway," he said. "I work with them everyday, and I see the skill they have. But you have to have role players and we don't have any players willing to accept that role."
The Firebirds are an explosive team, averaging 84 points. Jones looks to DeBellotte, a senior guard, for leadership
"We have more talent overall and depth at every position," DeBellotte said. "I have to sacrifice some of my minutes, playing only 25-28 minutes instead of 35, but that is what we have to do to win. Everyone has to sacrifice for us to be a good team.
"We are just now starting to jell and this is the right time to put things together. We still need to work on a few things but beating NCCU gives us an added boost of confidence. But we've felt we were No. 1 all along."
Offense is not a problem for the Firebirds. DeBellotte, averaging 14 points, is one of five players averaging double figures. Junior Richard McLean, who is 6-8, averages 14.0; 6-3 junior Tony Harris 13.0; 6-7 junior Tim Stanfill 10.0, and 6-9 sophomore Terrence Ball 10.0. Jones has also gotten quality minutes from 6-9 Vincent Copeland, 6-4 Dexter Johnson and 6-7 Cyril Cox. But the key to the Firebirds is 6-3 point guard Darryl Wilson.
The junior, whose brother Kenny is the starting point guard at Villanova, has been a steady influence . He averages seven points, seven assists and three steals per game.
"Darryl is a true point guard," Jones said. "He handles the ball, hits the open man and can make the shot if he has too. We have shooters. We needed someone to run the team and get the ball to the right people. Darryl does that."
Jones admits he would be disappointed if this team does not win 20-plus games and a playoff berth.
"You would be, too, if you had this much talent," he said. "When we won the national title, I didn't have this much overall talent or depth. We haven't been ranked this year but we just beat the No. 1-ranked team. That should tell you something, shouldn't it?"