“You got 20 minutes to figure it out.”
That was the mantra head coach Kevin Willard set down on his team during halftime, down 34-24 to Creighton.
The Pirates needed to “figure it out” if they wanted to avoid a seventh consecutive loss.
They “figured it out” in a big way Saturday with a big come-from-behind 67-66 win over the Bluejays.
How did it happen?
It certainly was not easy.
The Pirates trailed for the entirety of the first half and it was clear the offensive lacked continuity, with 8 first half turnovers as a result. And when leadership has been a question for the better part of the past month with this team, an unlikely player stepped up in a big way.
Senior Haralds Karlis, who had not scored more than ten points all season, came up clutch in the win, finishing with a season-high 14 points.
After the game, Willard was not quiet on the emergence of his senior.
“He played terrific, played under control,” Willard said. “There wasn’t anything about his game I didn’t like.”
For Haralds, the coming out party of his season could not have come at a better time, especially with his career with the Pirates coming to a close.
“I felt great,” Karlis said. “I didn’t try to force anything, just trying to make the right play and I guess scoring was the right play.”
Karlis’ leadership Saturday was just what the streaking Pirates needed.
“It was very important win for us to keep our season alive a little bit and hopefully we can get some momentum going,” Karlis said.
On a personal note, it was also what Karlis needed as well.
“I’ve been waiting for a long time, it felt good,” Karlis said.
The second half was all about freshman Angel Delgado, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, including the game-winning put back with nine seconds left.
Delgado logged just nine first-half minutes, which raised question. But Willard said it was due to an emotional rift more than anything.
“Angel’s emotional…he got scored on twice and missed two shots,” Willard said. “When he gets down, he gets down.”
Delgado was crucial for the Pirates down the stretch, without even noting the game-winning layup. A series of layups brought the Pirates back in the second half. In fact, the center scored eight of the Pirates 12 points during a 12-5 stretch in the second half.
Trading shots at the tail end of the game is what led to the wild finish in Newark. The Pirates finally tied the score for the first time since 0-0 at the nine-minute mark. Freshman Khadeen Carrington helped keep the Pirates in the game, scoring eight of the Pirates final 15 points.
Willard offered words for his freshman guard after the game.
“Khadeen has had such a steady year,” Willard said. “I thought he played terrific.”
The win moves the Pirates into seventh place in the Big East standings, jumping DePaul who lost earlier in the day to Xavier. From here the Pirates will take on the Providence Friars, who come to town next Wednesday. The Pirates will honor the three seniors on the team, Haralds Karlis, Brandon Mobley and Stephane Manga, who will play their final games at the Prudential Center of their careers.
“I hate senior night because each group is special in their own way,” Willard said. “Brandon and H (Haralds Karlis) have been with me now for four years.”
Willard added the three seniors have all represented the University “very well.”
Tip-off for Wednesday’s contest is scheduled for 7 p.m.