A much-needed return, a much-needed win, and a much-needed sigh of relief as the Pirates emerged from Chicago unscathed from their duel with the Blue Demons 78-67 on Wednesday night
Let's go to The Thoughts:
- The Return of Bigg Game
The unquestioned story of the night was Jeremy Hazell returning to the Pirates' lineup following a 54 day absence. There were questions ("Will he play?") and assumptions ("He's not going to be a major factor tonight- he'll need some time."), but all of those were thrown out the window quicker than you can say "Welcome Back, Jeremy." Hazell scored 23 PTS on 10-17 from the floor (2-5 from deep), adding 2 AST and 2 STL and looking every bit like the Hazell we have all come to know over his Pirates career. He wore a splint-like apparatus on his hand and wrist area, but apart from a botched lefty layup attempt it didn't bother him one bit. His advanced skill level was on full display tonight, and Pirate fans should be excited as ever. If he can put up 23 efficient points against DePaul while wearing a splint after 54 days without real game action, can you imagine what will happen once he really gets going? I shudder to think about it. But it's a good shudder. Welcome Back, Bigg Game Hazell!
When you look at the box score, the number that pops out at you most is the fact that the Pirates shot 58.5% from the field, including an unreal 69% in the second half. A truly amazing stat. To find out why, you need only to look at this statistic- 20 AST on 31 baskets. Herb Pope led the Pirates with 5 AST, while Keon Lawrence, Eniel Polynice and Jordan Theodore each added 4. The Pirates only took 9 threes FOR THE GAME, which in Kevin Willard's system is unheard of. Seton Hall scored 50 (FIFTY!) points in the paint, as they constantly looked for cutters in the halfcourt while taking advantage of some botched presses by the Blue Demons (more on this below) to get lots of looks in close to the basket.
True to form, the Pirates outrebounded the Blue Demons 39-31. That was expected coming in. What was unexpected was exactly where those rebounds came from. FOUR Pirates had 6 or more REB- Pope (only 6 before fouling out late in the second half), Robinson (6), Polynice (7) and Lawrence (8). Yup- KEON LAWRENCE led the team in rebounding. With Pope and Robinson in a bit of foul trouble in this game, the ganging up on the boards was pretty nice to see against a team that has as many athletes as DePaul does. A lot of those rebounds resulted from about 6 players going up for it at once, and a Pirate coming down with it. Great job by all on the boards.
- Glue Guys
Another thing to support the fact that this win was a full team effort was the balanced contributions the Pirates got from their glue guys, Lawrence and Polynice. Lawrence's line of 8PTS/8REB/4AST and Polynice's line of 4PTS/7REB/4AST were indicative of the way they Pirates played and was exactly what the Pirates needed. The team didn't just sit back and relax while they watched Hazell return in a big way- they did everything they could to help out tonight. Even Anali Okoloji got 4 PTS and 3 REB in 5 minutes of action, and Aaron Geramipoor played 7 important minutes spelling Herb Pope from getting into foul trouble faster. Speaking of Pope, the junior had 15 PTS, 6 REB and 5 AST in his most balanced performance of the season.
Wierd stat of the night- Pope led the team in assists and Keon Lawrence led the team in rebounding. For anyone who predicted that, you will be rewarded with $500.
Just kidding- we don't have that kind of money.
- Looking Forward
The Pirates were clearly having more fun on the court than they had had in about two months. Everyone seemed relaxed for the most part, and although DePaul controlled the tempo for most of the game, the Pirates were able to use their superior skill to simply outlast the Demons. The Pirates did play too fast for their own good, but in their next game against Pittsburgh, they may be well-served to try and run. So many times, I have seen the Panthers pound opposing teams into the ground in their half-court sets, so perhaps the Pirates can keep the speedometer high for a little bit.
With Hazell back and playing like he never missed a thing, the sky is the limit for this team. They still won't make the tournament unless they pull a ton of upsets and/or win the Big East Tournament outright, but they certainly will be one of the more dangerous teams in the conference again. Hopefully Bigg Game Hazell can help the Pirates win a couple of those big games that are coming up. The new season started tonight, and it continues with the first of those big games Saturday night in the Steel City.