All streaks must come to an end eventually. Having defeated Seton Hall in eleven straight contests in nearly as many years, the national champion #8 UConn Huskies fell to the Pirates 75-63 at the Rock, on Tuesday night. Make no mistake, this game wasn't as close as the 12-point deficit would lead you to believe, it was a straight up rout. The Huskies managed to string together a 14-4 run in the final 2 minutes of garbage time to prevent losing to the Pirates by 20 plus.
Andre Drummond's thunderous dunk in the final seconds drew a sarcastic standing ovation from the Pirate faithful and deservedly so. After declaring he didn't know who Herb Pope was, it was the projected #1 pick of the NBA draft, Drummond, who put forth a forgettable performance. If it weren't for his unmanned, mop-up dunk in the final seconds, Drummond would have finished with just 2 points, on 1-of-4 shooting and 5 boards. He did add 4 blocks, most of which came on Pope, but still, after calling out the best player in the Big East this season, you've got to do a little more than that.
Speaking of Pope, many thought the comments by Drummond would give Pope the jitters to the point he'd play out of control, not so. Drummond did try to backtrack from his comments, but then defended himself when someone pointed out that Pope had better numbers. He even tweeted that Pope was a senior and thus had, "#MoreExperience," insinuating that his numbers SHOULD be better. Whatever. I agree with many, that this is a non-story, however, if it can be spun to make Herb Pope step his game up a notch, then that bulletin board material HAS TO be used to Seton Hall's advantage. Coach Willard did just that as Herb Pope told reporters, hearing his coach repeat the words prior to the tip-off gave him an extra shot in the arm. Obviously, Drummond will re-consider making similar comments in the future. Last word on, "Who is Herb Pope?" gate, you've got to salute the students and the arena for the rousing, "Who is Drum-mond" chant that rained late in the second half when the game was finally out of reach. It would have looked silly early in the game, but the Pirate faithful broke it out at the PERFECT time. Kudos to the fans and students. I'm sure he enjoyed his visit to the Garden State.
Let's talk basketball and start with Herb Pope. It took him a while to get going tonight, but man, did he battle. Finishing with 15pts on 7-of-20 shooting, he showed not an ounce of the intimidation or disinterest that was on display in Syracuse. Yes, Fab Melo got the better of him that night with block-after-block that took Pope out of the game by sorts, but there would be no intimidation factor against the talented bigs of the defending champions. Throughout the night, Pope utilized a combination of pump fakes, up and under moves and nifty baseline footwork, while giving his usual relentless effort on the glass to finish with 8 rebounds, 6 of the offensive variety. He also added 3 blocks and assists, one of which came on a beautiful top of the key find to a cutting Patrik Auda. His distribution skills this season are one of the most improved aspects of his game and often discussed on the Juice.
During the game, I suggested that the Seton Hall captain, Jordan Theodore put forth his most impressive performance of his career, despite hitting just four field goals all night. Why was it so impressive? For one, he finished with a double-double, finishing with 19pts/11ast/3stl/3reb and although he started the second half a little reckless and sloppy, he quickly regained composure. So much so, that he drilled three consecutive deep balls, essentially breaking the Huskies spine in the second half after they cut the lead to 10 points with 12 minutes to play. After the crushing loss to the Huskies last season, Theodore wasn't going to be denied the pleasure of ending UConn's 11 game win streak. The determination could be seen in his eyes and heard through his voice and he emphatically yelled after each made free throw with 3:30 left, putting his team up 19 points. As a senior, his play is peaking at the right time in his career. He wanted the captainship and he's earned it, unquestionably as one of the most, if not THE most impressive point guard in the Big East, this season.
Joining Theodore in dub-dub territory was none other than the ninja and the nation's steals leader, Fuquan Edwin, who finished with 12pts/11reb and 2 more swipes on 5-of-8 shooting. Prior to the beginning of the season, Kevin Willard said Edwin would be the team's X-Factor and those comments couldn't have been more spot on. To a degree, we knew what Pope and Theodore would bring to the table, but Edwin needed to lift his game to the next level if this team was going to chalk up big wins such as the one they pulled off this evening. I think it's safe to say, he's done just that and more, this year. Tonight, he was all over the floor again, finishing strong on breaks, while remaining active on defense and keeping up with, if not exceeding, the quickness of his Husky counterparts. It was Fu' who led the early charge for the Pirates when they found themselves in an early 11-2 hole. Things could have got ugly quick, but Edwin and freshman Brandon Mobley (more on him later) each hit a couple of buckets, came away with steals and forced the Huskies into calling an early timeout as momentum began to sway with the early Seton Hall lead. I've said it over and over again on the Juice, it's an absolute joy to watch Edwin mature as a player and improve as a Pirate. We're lucky to have this kid.
Freshman Aaron Cosby continues to light it up from distance for Seton Hall. Tonight he made good on 4-of-7 attempts from deep and joined Theodore in a second half shooting clinic, that only Jeremy Lamb (of the bad guys), was able to match. Speaking of Lamb, he's remarkable and was my off-season pick for BE POY, while also in my running for national player of the year. His release is ultra-quick and super-smooth, hes just a fantastic player to watch. Although, I must admit, it's much more enjoyable to watch him when he's a) not playing us or, b) the game is out of reach. Fortunately, for the majority of the second half, the latter was true. Lamb finished with 19pts, but hardly contributed in other aspects of the game. Outside of Lamb, only reserve, Niels Giffey showed up for the Huskies to join his teammate in double digits with 11pts. As discussed, Drummond was unimpressive, Napier was terrible shooting 2-of-12 with 2 turnovers and Oriakhi was nonexistent. This was as bad as this Conneticut lineup can play. Don't expect to see this again when we visit Connecticut in February. Like Syracuse this year, UConn will remember the mopping we gave them tonight. Luckily, the game is at their alternate home arena and not on their campus, which bodes well for us.
The best player on the floor in the first half was none other than freshman forward, Brandon Mobley. As the first reserve Willard plucked off the bench, Mobley went to work all night, finishing with 8pts/7reb, all of which came in the first half. At one point in the second half, he even drew the Jeremy Lamb assignment. Mobley was able to deflect a Lamb attempt from the perimeter, which if left open, likely would have fell through. The freshman has been seeing more and more time since being worked into the rotation after sitting out recovering from shoulder surgery. At first, Mobley looked like he'd be a nice addition to a roster lacking much depth. Now, Mobley looks like someone who might NEED to be considered at the starting 4 before the season is over.
There you have it folks. After false hope last season, the curse is finally history. The demons have been exorcised. Your Seton Hall Pirates are cruising, they've made easy work out of both West Virginia and Connecticut to remain undefeated at home and (13-2, 2-1) on the season. They've played out of their minds, considering this team was projected to finish in the bottom tier of the conference. So much for projections, huh? The Pirates schedule begins to soften up a bit, starting with a Saturday evening road tilt at Providence, but this team will need to bring the same focus and intensity they've been displaying each night at the Rock. If they do, they'll continue on their path to the Big Dance. One thing's for certain, come Monday, if they don't fall at Providence this weekend, they WILL BE ranked. In both polls. For the first time since, 2001. Enjoy it Pirate fans, the ship is finally sailing in the right direction. I mean, 'Seton Hall' trended, WORLDWIDE on Twitter tonight. That has to be the first time ever. How could they NOT be ranked?