Before Thursday's third game — the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams (1-1) versus the Pirates of Seton Hall (2-0) — I hardly had enough time to go to the bathroom, let alone indulge in a fresh selection at the hospitality buffet. I rushed, though, and was able to accomplish both. I even had enough time to thaw my virtually frostbitten hands out a bit. You'd think this was a hockey tournament with the tundra-like temperatures we're experiencing inside the TD Arena. I returned to my seat to find that VCU's incredibly obnoxious pep band had set up shop behind me, with megaphone, full drum kit, and douchey band director all included. They really brought the whole shebang with them to Charleston, with the cheerleading squad shaking their pom-poms at the other end of the court. I was able put up with the band, though, because despite their dreadfully unoriginal chants, their music sound quite good and their presence made this game's atmosphere the most intense thus far.
At the start of the game, it seemed like it would be a difficult task for these two squads to top the competitive nature of the LSU/Northwestern match that had just concluded. Quick cuts and offensive rebounds allowed Seton Hall to get a few easy baskets to start. With their burly 6'8" senior Herb Pope, 6'11" sophomore Aaron Geramipoor, and 6'9" sophomore Patrik Auda, the Pirates appeared to have the height advantage early on. With that being said, the Rams definitely had the crowd on their side, with about three-quarters of the bleachers displaying their patented black and gold team colors.
Seton Hall maintained a three point lead, 14-11, halfway though a relatively low-scoring first half. Whenever a Pirates player made it to the free throw line, the VCU band performed some sort of ritual shriek, comparable to an injured hyena being forcefully prodded in its anus. Another one of their go-to chants was "Ram It," and the combination of the two had me feeling a little uncomfortable. Regardless, Seton Hall earned a good portion of their points from the line, going 10 of 13 for the first half.
VCU struggled from the floor in the first half, shooting only 19 percent from the field. Pope was having his way with VCU defenders in the post, but had trouble finishing what should have been easy buckets. Regardless, his continued efforts led to open opportunities and a total of 11 rebounds, troubling the Rams and getting them into early foul problems.
As the first half winded down, it was quite apparent that Seton Hall was outplaying last year's Final Four Cinderella. A last-second tip-in by the Rams cut their deficit to seven, and the first half ended 29-22. A group of youngsters took the court to shoot around during halftime, and I think VCU might have benefitted if they recruited a few of them for the second half. Perhaps the band could have used them, too, to add some wittier chants to their horrid repertoire.
VCU came out cold to start the second half, and Seton Hall quickly ran up a 12-point lead, capped with a deep triple from sophomore Fuquan Edwin. Shaka Smart was forced to take a time-out and try to regather his struggling troops. Coming out of the time-out, the Rams sank an easy bucket on an erratic offensive rebound, following that up with a steal on the inbounds and a three from freshman Briante Weber at the top of the key, cutting the Pirates lead to 36-29. Continuing on the offensive, the Rams thinned the gap to six with 13 minutes left. However, Seton Hall's swarming defense continued to cause problems for Smart's squad, forcing turnovers in all forms; 24-second violations, walks, and errant passes prevented them from getting in any sort of groove. A coast-to-coast drive to the hoop by senior Jordan Theodore with 9:30 on the clock gave the Pirates their biggest lead of the game, 48-35, and his impressive jumper with two defenders in his face on the next possession extended that lead even further.
With 5:44 to go, Seton Hall's lead had grown to 19, and VCU, last year's most lovable underdog, seemed out of gas. Their shots continued to rim out, and the frustration was visibly growing, both amongst the team and their panic-stricken band. Their hackneyed cheers of "DEFENSE" still rang out, but the tone was void of hope.
Approaching the one-minute mark, Seton Hall fans took to their feet and applauded their team who, barring a comeback of miraculous proportions, would finish off Smart's Rams in blowout fashion. Unfortunately for the Rams and their comrades in the band, no such supernatural phenomenon took place at TD Arena on Thursday, and the Pirates knocked them off, 69-54. Senior leaders Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore were both too much for the Rams, leading Seton Hall with 20 points each in the victory. With VCU senior Bradford Burgess as the only player still on the roster from last year's Final Four team, it is clear that the Rams have a long way to go if they want to experience similar success this season.