November 17, 2011

RAMS FALL IN CHARLETON CLASSIC OPENER, 69-54, TO BIG EAST FOE SETON HALL

CHARLESTON, S.C. – It hasn't been confirmed, but it seemed as if John Thompson III and the Georgetown Hoyas may have called Kevin Willard and the Seton Hall Pirates before the Charleston Classic got underway.

The Pirates played as if they were out for revenge after the VCU men's basketball team beat down their Big East brethren last March. Seton Hall exacted that revenge with a 69-54 defeat of the Black & Gold in the opening round of the Charleston Classic at the TD Arena on Thursday evening.

"There is no questioning that our guys are playing hard, but we obviously struggled in a lot of facets tonight," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "I thought we played ok defensively in the first half, but we have to be able to stay focused on both ends of the court if our shots aren't falling and I don't think we were able to do that tonight."

Senior Bradford Burgess (pictured, main) led the Black & Gold offensively with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Freshman Briante Weber (pictured, left) came off the bench and gave the Rams a spark with nine points, two rebounds and two steals. Junior Darius Theus had seven points, five assists, two rebounds and two blocked shots on the evening.

For the Pirates, Herb Pope finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Jordan Theodore also had 20 points, thanks in large part to a 12-of-12 effort from the charity stripe.

"We talked all preseason about how teams will be coming at us differently this year because of what we accomplished last spring. Talking about it and experiencing it is two different things and we saw that tonight," Smart said. "You hope that you can experience that in wins, but that's not what happened tonight."

It was a slow start for both squads with Seton Hall turning the ball over early and the Rams struggling to make shots. A fastbreak layup by Fuquan Edwin gave the Pirates a 23-16 advantage with just under five minutes to play in the first half.

But the Black & Gold became aggressive and got three consecutive defensive stops and pressure defense by Burges drew an elbow from Seton Hall's Patrik Auda, who was ultimately ejected because of the foul. The Midlothian, Va. native knocked down his free-throws and brought VCU within three at 23-20, but Seton Hall would extend that lead back out to seven at the break, 29-22.

Seton Hall would come out in the second half and push the lead to 12 before Weber came off the bench to give a spark and brought the Rams within six at 41-35 after a steal and jumper with 12:01 to play.

However, the Pirates would put together a 16-3 run over the next six minutes to grab the largest lead of the game at 19, 57-38, after two free-throws from Pope.

VCU couldn't get closer than 15 the rest of the way as they fell for just the third time in the past 11 contests against a BCS opponent.

"Thankfully we have another game tomorrow," Smart said. "We'll look to learn from tonight and come out better and focused on improving against another quality opponent."

The Rams will face the loser of Saint Joseph's and Georgia Tech, who took to the court at the TD Arena following their contest. Friday's game will tip off at 8:30 p.m.

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