Getting embarrassed by No. 1 Syracuse last week angered Seton Hall seniors Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope so much they vowed to make the Pirates’ upcoming opponents pay.
West Virginia was the first to feel the wrath, and the Pirates followed that on Tuesday night with their biggest victory under coach Kevin Willard, a stunningly one-sided 75-63 upset of No. 8 Connecticut that ended nearly 11 years of frustration against the Huskies.
”We liked our chances at home,” said Pope, who had 15 points and eight rebounds. ”After last week, ever since we got blown out by Syracuse, they punched us square in the mouth and we didn’t like it. I watched what they did to us over and over for like 48 hours straight and it left a bad taste in my mouth. So I think we all decided that we had to be tough at home. We had to be the ones to terrorize the other teams when they play here, make them afraid to come here.”
Seton Hall (13-2, 2-1 Big East) dominated Connecticut (12-2, 2-1) and in the process put themselves on the map.
”I’m sure we’ll get some national attention, because this was a great win against a great program,” Willard said.
After building a 13-point halftime lead, Theodore helped close out the game by scoring all 19 of his points in the second half. The Pirates did the rest on defense, holding Connecticut to a season-low 35.1 percent from the field.
Fuquan Edwin and Aaron Cosby had 12 apiece as the Pirates beat Connecticut for the first time since March 3, 2001 — a span of 11 games. The win also snapped the Huskies’ current seven-game overall winning streak.
Jeremy Lamb had 19 points as Connecticut played its final game without coach Jim Calhoun, who is serving a three-game NCAA suspension. Niels Giffey was the only other Huskie in double figures with 11.
Seton Hall also did an excellent job limiting point guard Shabazz Napier to six points on 2-of-12 shooting.
”We came out real well and they came back and punched us in the mouth a little bit and we failed to punch back the rest of the game,” Connecticut forward Tyler Olander said.
Theodore said the Pirates felt Lamb was going to get his points, so they concentrated on guarding Napier.
”We just fought hard all night and controlled the game all night,” said Theodore, who also had 11 assists. ”The coaches did a great job of getting us prepared. We knew Lamb was going to get his, because he’s a top five NBA pick in the draft. We weren’t going to stop him. But as long as we worked on stopping everyone else, we had a good shot. I knew I had to change the game a little in the second half.”
Associate head coach George Blaney ran the team in Calhoun’s absence and he picked up a crucial technical foul early in the second half for arguing with the officials on a non-call on a shot with his team down 10.
Theodore made both free throws and that seemed to get him untracked after missing his first seven shots in the game.
With the Pirates leading 45-36 with just over 12 minutes to play, Theodore hit three 3-pointers and Cosby added another in a 12-6 spurt that pushed the lead to 57-42 and put the game away.
”Once I got it going, I just couldn’t stop,” Theodore said. ”I felt it, felt the shot. It was great to get this win, because I never beat them before. I always wanted to be able to beat UConn.”
By the final minutes, Willard cleared his bench and the fans at the Prudential Center were chanting ”Overrated” at the young Huskies, who will probably be met by an unhappy Calhoun on Wednesday. He will coach his first game back on Saturday at Rutgers.
This game, however, was all Seton Hall after a slow start. That was remarkable, considering the Pirates had lost 25 of the last 27 games against Connecticut.
Seton Hall never trailed after closing the first half with a 16-3 spurt that Cosby ignited with a 3-pointer and Pope finished by putting back his own shot at the buzzer.
Things didn’t look good for the Pirates early. Lamb hit a 3-pointer to cap a game-opening 11-2 spurt and Willard was forced to call an early timeout.
The next 16 or so minutes belonged to the Pirates. They outscored Connecticut 33-11 and took a 35-22 halftime lead. Edwin scored eight points in the run, Pope had seven and reserve Brandon Mobley added eight points and seven rebounds.
Connecticut did little right during a game in which the officials let the teams go at it, especially underneath. The Huskies made 4 of 19 shots after their initial run, turned the ball over 13 times in the half and had trouble getting the ball inside to Drummond.