Seton Hall 69, VCU 54
It didn't take long for Virginia Commonwealth to learn that last year's Final Four appearance doesn't mean much this season.
Herb Pope had 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Jordan Theodore added 20 points in Seton Hall's 69-54 victory over the Rams at the Charleston Classic on Thursday night.
VCU coach Shaka Smart said his players have heard for the past six months about last season's amazing run to the Final Four and how the Rams had plenty of pieces in place to do it again. The Pirates (2-0) showed them it'll take plenty of hard work for VCU to duplicate that past success.
''I think we learned tonight that other teams are coming at us,'' Smart said. ''And we're going to have to come right back at them if we want to win.''
That didn't happen at TD Arena as the 6-foot-8 Pope controlled inside and Theodore, a senior like Pope, handled the tempo - along with going a perfect 12 of 12 from the foul line. Sophomore Fuquan Edwin took care of things from the perimeter with 18 points off four 3-pointers. Edwin also had nine rebounds.
Seton Hall used its defense to move in front in the first half, holding the Rams to six field goals and less than 19 percent shooting from the field. The Pirates got their offense going after the break and pulled away with a 16-3 run midway through the period.
Edwin began the surge with a 3-pointer before Theodore hit three straight baskets, Edwin added another long-range shot and two foul shots. When Pope made two free throws, Seton Hall was ahead 57-38 with 6:33 to play. The lead didn't dip below double-digits after that.
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard doesn't have a lot of upperclassmen on his roster. In fact, Pope and Theodore are it - and he plans to lean on them heavily as his young guys learn the college game. ''As long as Jordan plays that kind of floor game, I know Herb's going to give me 20 and 13 a night,'' he said.
Bradford Burgess had 11 points to lead the Rams, who lost for the first time since dropping the national semifinals game to Butler 70-62 in Houston last April. It was a mostly quiet group of Rams players - some wearing the ''Shaka The World'' t-shirts that sprang up from the NCAA run - that filed out of the locker room.
Smart said his team appeared frustrated as more of their shots did not fall. That was just the opening Seton Hall needed to grab the game and head to a winner's bracket match Friday against Georgia Tech or Saint Joseph's. If the Pirates are successful in that one, they'll advance to Sunday night's championship game.
Pope said VCU tried to disrupt Seton Hall's flow and did so in the opening half. ''But we just kept our poise and played tremendous help defense,'' he said.
Pope's shoulders are ready to carry whatever load Willard and the coaching staff have in mind for him. He had 11 boards by halftime, then mostly stayed outside as Theodore took the game over in the second half with his play at the point. And there were plenty of contributions from Seton Hall's newer players, Pope said.
''When they're all doing that, there's nothing left for me,'' Pope said with a grin.
The Rams recovered from their poor-shooting first half to go 14 of 28 after the break. But they were just 6 of 21 from behind the arc and only got to the foul line 11 times.
Smart, VCU's coach, liked his team's effort and thinks it's something the team can build on from here. The Rams got a lesson Smart knew was coming. ''It's one thing to expect it, it's another to get it the hard way,'' Smart said. ''You'd like to experience a win where you fall behind and fight back and find a way to win. But tonight Seton Hall was the better team.''