The Pirates won their Big East opener for the first time since the 2006-2007 season, with a 64-55 win over the South Florida Bulls.
The Hall won the close game only being able to extend the two point halftime lead to 10 points in the second half with the Bulls able to close the gap every time.
“It was a good feeling,” head coach Kevin Willard said about closing out the game. “We made free throws, we did what we were supposed to do at the end of the game.”
Senior Jeff Robinson led all scorers with 15 points and was one of five Pirates’ scoring double figures. Fellow senior Her Pope recorded a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out with 39 seconds left in the game.
“I see everyday [Pope] getting a little better,” Willard said. “He’s getting a little bit more spring in his legs, and [Robinson] is going to give you everything he has.”
Junior Jordan Theodore, freshman Fuquan Edwin, and senior Keon Lawrence, were the other Pirates to score in double figures with 11, 11, and 10 points respectively.
“We are finally past the post Jeremy Hazell era,” Pope said. “We know we don’t have that outlet anymore and we have to be more methodical on the offensive end.”
The Bulls had four players score in double figures lead by junior Hugh Robertson with 14 points.
The Pirates forced six more turnovers than South Florida leading to a 20-12 advantage on points off turnovers.
The first half was played closely with South Florida taking the largest lead of the half at four points with a pair of free throws from junior Augustus Gilchrist with 12:10 to go in the half.
Robinson responded for the Pirates with a jumper then a lay-in to tie the score before picking up his second personal foul of the half. Despite having two fouls Robinson played most of the remaining time in the half, and picked up seven points with two fouls.
“It’s very important,” Robinson said of playing with two fouls. “It’s hard to sit most of the first half them expect to be able to get back in the flow to start the second half.
Robinson made a three point basket giving the Hall a 24-21 lead until the Bulls came down court and tied the game with a three. With the half winding down Theodore drove the lane and put up a short floater with three seconds remaining to give the Pirates the 26-24 halftime lead.
The second half started with the teams trading baskets until Robinson started a 6 point run for the Hall extending the lead to 35-28. Freshman Fuquan Edwin then extended the lead for the Pirates to eight points on a three pointer with 13:11 remaining.
After matching the Bulls next few baskets, senior Eniel Polynice stole a long pass which lead to him being able to drive to the basket to give the Pirates a double digit lead at 46-36.
The Hall’s lead would get cut to four points on a long jumper from Gilchrist with 8:58 left in the game. After trading baskets to 52-48, Bulls’ sophomore guard had two chances to make it a three point game but missed on his two chances at the three point play with a Robinson lane violation on the first shot.
Lawrence made two free throws to put the Pirates up six at 54-48 , with the Bulls turning the ball over on their next three possessions, two of which Robinson drew a charge on.
Following the final media timeout senior Herb Pope made both free throws with the Hall in the double bonus making it an 8 point game at 56-48.
The Bulls again fouled Pope with 2:13 left, and made both free throws again.
“Since coming here its been about concentration,” Pope said about free throws. “But then coach Willard discovered something in my technique which no one else has seen before.”
With little over a minute left, South Florida senior Jarrid Famous made a jumper closing the score to five but that was as close as the Bulls would get down the stretch.
Under 30 seconds to go the Pirates closed out the game with Edwin, stealing the ball leading to a lay-up followed by a Lawrence steal which enabled the Hall to run out the clock.
“Were on a one game winning streak and that gives us confidence going into Cincinnati,” Robinson said. “This game is a good teaching game with how we played down the stretch.”
The Pirates travel to Cincinnati to continue play in the Big East with a game Dec. 31 at 8:00p.m.
Stephen Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org