MBB: Pirates seek to regain rhythm
Amanda Boyer/Photography Editor
The Pirates’ men’s basketball team returns to action on Thursday, Jan. 22 to take on the DePaul Blue Demons at home.
The Pirates (13-4, 3-2) return to the Prudential Center, after an unusually-long break between games. In their last outing, the then-No. 21 ranked Pirates fell at home for the first time all season in overtime to Butler 79-75. The Pirates battled hard after trailing for much of the second half. A jumper from freshman Khadeen Carrington with 23 seconds to go evened the game, forcing overtime. The Pirates trailed by four with 2:32 left in overtime, then junior Sterling Gibbs hit a shot for three to make it a one-point game, part of a 30-point night for the Scotch Plains, N.J., native. But, the magic faded shortly thereafter. Gibbs fouled out seconds later and the Bulldogs, led by juniors Roosevelt Jones (23 points) and Kellen Dunham (21 points) handed the Pirates their first home loss of the season.
Since their last outing, the Pirates have fallen from their No. 21 ranking to 24.The team gained national recognition for the first time this season after a pair of wins at home to open the conference schedule, defeating then-No. 15 St. John’s 78-67 on New Year’s Eve, then taking Villanova to overtime, before handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season, 66-61.
Since that 2-0 start to Big East play earned the Pirates a No. 19 ranking, they’ve slowly dropped week-by-week, with a pair of losses in their last three games, including the loss to Butler at home on Jan. 7 and a road loss to Xavier, 69-58.
The blue and white have also dropped in the Big East standings, sitting fifth in the conference, just behind the DePaul Blue Demons, who will look to keep the Pirates comfortable in that fifth spot, and seemingly knock them out of the AP Top 25 with another home loss.
DePaul, after going 10-9 in non-conference play was not on the radar of most in the Big East. The team stumbled into the conference schedule, dropping their final six games of non-conference play, including four at home. Surprisingly though, the Blue Demons entered the conference schedule with a New Year’s Eve victory over Marquette, 61-58, a 71-78 defeat over Xavier on Jan. 3 and a win at Creighton, 70-60.
Since the 3-0 start to conference play, the Blue Demons have fallen to Villanova and Georgetown, but battled St. John’s into overtime before defeating the Red Storm, 71-67 in overtime on Sunday, Jan. 18.
Leading the way for DePaul offensively has been sophomore guard Billy Garrett Jr. and junior forward Myke Henry. The two both average 13.3 to lead the Blue Demons offensively, while 6-foot-11 inch sophomore-center Tommy Hamilton IV leads the team with 6.2 boards-per-game.
Versus St. John’s, DePaul entered the second half down by 10, but battled back, drawing the game even at 56 with 2:08 to go. Helping the comeback was Garrett Jr., who went 3-for-9 from the field on the day, but made his impact felt from behind the line, going a perfect 13-for-13, including 11 in the second half. DePaul grabbed a late lead in the second half thanks to the free throw shooting from the team that went a collective 25-for-29 from behind the line. In overtime, tied at 61, the Blue Demons would take an early lead, but traded chances until the teams were even at 67 with 13 seconds to play. A pair of successful free throws from Myke Henry and later Durrell McDonald put it away by a 71-67 final.
With a shooting percentage that strong from behind the line, it’s fair to say the Pirates will need to stay out of foul trouble. While Gibbs was the only Pirate to foul out versus Butler, the Bulldogs still had 31 opportunities from behind the line, going 20-for-31. The team has had one player foul out in each of their last four games. Discipline will be crucial for the Pirates against DePaul’s .760 free-throw percentage, ranked first in the Big East. The Pirates .648 from behind the line is currently ranked last in the conference.
Another crucial match up on Thursday will be the battle from perimeter. DePaul leads the conference with 8.2 threes-per-game. Seton Hall sits atop the conference as well with 7.8 per-game. The key factor here though will be containment. The Pirates have contained teams from the perimeter, opponents averaging .265 against the Hall, the best in the conference.
With all the stats and averages considered, it’s a much simpler notion for the players, who are just looking to win and rebound from their first home loss.
“We needed time to put new things in, and just get back to where we started at the start of the season, which got us the victories,” Carrington said on the unusual nine-day break between games.
“We got to do a little bit better on defense,” freshman Angel Delgado said. “We got to come back, we had like a week off, we got to come back strong and back to get this win…We got to get this win.”
Delgado will have to be a factor on Thursday, the 6-foot-9 inch freshman had 12 points and 15 boards versus Butler.
Freshman-star Isaiah Whitehead will miss his sixth-consecutive game for the Pirates.
Last season versus DePaul, the two teams traded home wins, with the Pirates routing the Blue Demons, 86-69, behind a 30-point explosion from Fuquan Edwin.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
Neal McHale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @nealmchale.