Cohane resigned two nights later, and the 38-year-old Witherspoon, who had guided Erie Community to a 24-5 record and a regional title last year, replaced him. (Eisenberg was retained, but two other assistants—presumably loyal to Cohane—were reassigned to positions outside the athletic department.) The players, relieved that the soap opera was over, tried to give North Carolina a dose of new reality three nights later in front of the first sellout crowd in Alumni Arena's 17-year history. The Bulls took a five-point half-time lead and had a one-point advantage with 16:26 left before the Tar Heels pulled away to win 91-67. "We didn't have time to worry about who we were playing," says guard Louis Campbell. "We just enjoyed playing."
The evening was quite a whirlwind for Witherspoon, but three days later he was still inside his TV screen, sitting on the visitors' bench in Bloomington moments before last Friday night's tip-off, with Bob Knight walking toward him. "My assistants were joking that he would tell me to go back to the locker room," Witherspoon says. He got to shake Knight's hand again after the game, which Indiana won 106-55. "You're in a tough situation," Knight told him. "I hope it works out for you."
Last Saturday night the Bulls lost to North Texas 102-91, leaving Witherspoon oh-for-Division-I. It's worth noting, however, that North Carolina and Indiana both lost the night after they beat Buffalo (to Cincinnati and Indiana State, respectively). Coincidence, perhaps, but at least it's a start.
Long Shot Scores Big
Brian Merriweather, a 6'3" junior guard at Texas-Pan American, knows from long shots. He came into this season as the nation's leading returning scorer after averaging 23.7 points a year ago, and he has picked up right where he left off, averaging 22.6 points through Sunday while hoisting 65.1% of his field goal attempts from three-point range. "It's weird because I don't really look to shoot three-pointers," says Merriweather, who is converting 41.4% of his attempts from behind the arc. "I just shoot from where I'm open."
That Merriweather got to play in Division I at all might have been the biggest long shot. Coming out of North High in Evansville, Ind., in 1996, he didn't qualify academically, so he enrolled at Cumberland College, an NAIA school in Williamsburg, Ky. At the end of his freshman year he sent videos to a half-dozen coaches, hoping to transfer to an NCAA school. One of those tapes got to George Morgan, who was then an assistant at Western Kentucky. When Morgan moved on to Texas-Pan American shortly thereafter, he called Merriweather and offered him a scholarship.
Merriweather scored three points in his first game, but he followed that by hitting double figures 26 straight times. After he lit up DePaul for 27 points in December 1998, Blue Demons coach Pat Kennedy said, "Merriweather's got to be on some all-something team. He's got the quickest release I've seen in a long time."
Merriweather's star quality has been the lone bright spot for the Broncs of late. On Aug. 23 Texas-Pan American fired coach Delray Brooks for allegedly depositing the $25,000 check the Broncs got for a game against Southwest Missouri State into his personal account (a charge Brooks denies). Under new coach Bob Hoffman, the Broncs, who have not made the NCAA tournament in their 31 years in Division I, are off to a 1-4 start and have extended the nation's longest road losing streak to 62 games. Merriweather says winning the scoring title isn't his top priority, but at this point he doesn't have much else to shoot for. "Sometimes it feels like I'm playing for nothing," he says. "Until we start winning some games, I don't think I'll feel complete as a player."