Dec. 14, 2014 was a disaster for the Pirates in Athens, Ga. A 65-47 drubbing at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs knocked Kevin Willard’s Pirates down a couple notches, who were previously riding a 10-1 start.
The narrative for Saturday night’s game was revenge—whether it was declared so or not. And the Pirates got exactly that—en route to a 69-62 win over the Bulldogs to move to 5-1 on the season.
“This is a big win,” Isaiah Whitehead said. “We had four days off and that’s all we thought about. We watched the tape. We saw how bad we played and we knew we had to get them back—just kind of a revenge game, just off of what they did to us last year and I thought we stepped up well.”
The Pirates got 13 points combined from guards Isaiah Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington in last year’s loss. This year? The two tallied 22 and 20 points, respectively. While the Pirates were able to come away with the victory, things weren’t always smooth sailing, as a rock fight of a first half kept the two teams tied at 30.
“Coach got on us, he said we were playing like a bunch of babies, a bunch of freshmen,” Carrington said. “So, we took it amongst ourselves to come out and play like we know we can play and how we’re supposed to.”
In the second half it was all Whitehead and Carrington, with the latter scoring the team’s first eight points out of the break and Whitehead knocking down clutch shots to seal the victory.
“You’re talking about two big time guards,” Willard said after the win. But Willard hinted more on the team’s defensive play. In fact, the two guards did as well.
“It was way better,” Carrington said of the team’s second half defensive play in comparison to the first half. “We gave up a couple shots. First half we didn’t rebound well, they kind of killed us on the glass, but second half we got down and played defense.”
The Pirates offense, while consistently led by Whitehead and Carrington for the entire game, hit a lull at times in the second half, particularly with under seven minutes to play. But solid defense kept them ahead.
“I think the key to victory was when we started struggling offensively we went down and got stops,” Willard said. “I was really happy with how they responded defensively.”
“We know if we get defensive stops it’s going to lead to offense,” Whitehead added. “So that was basically the game tonight.”
Sophomore Angel Delgado was one Pirate in particular who stepped up defensively despite having a rough offensive night. He finished with just five points, but two clutch blocks at the end of the game kept Georgia from chipping away at Seton Hall’s lead.
“I told him to stop crying (at halftime),” Carrington said. “I said ‘you got to pick it up.’ He’s (Angel) my brother and he came through for me.”
“It was huge,” Whitehead added. “And I think that’s a learning curve. Last year, he (Angel) would’ve just shifted down. It would’ve been just downhill. But I have to hand it to him; he picked us back up and came through in the clutch.”
The biggest play of the entire game came with under 30 seconds left, when Whitehead hit an NBA-range three-pointer as the shot clock expired to put the Pirates up eight, burying the Bulldogs for good. It was the defense-leading-to-offense that he hinted at after the game.
“That was a great feeling,” Whitehead said. “Just for the team to put the ball in my hands even though I wasn’t shooting really well, it just shows how much confidence they have in me and how much they believe in me. I’m glad I gave them a chance to keep believing in me.”
The Pirates have another test ahead of them as they will travel to take on George Washington on Wednesday, Dec. 2., at 7 p.m. The Colonials upset sixth-ranked Virginia last week.
David Heim can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @davidheim12.