Coming off a big road victory over Louisville on Dec. 3, No. 19 Seton Hall did not disappoint in its return to the court on Saturday afternoon, downing VCU by a final score of 90-67 in the Never Forget Tribute Classic.
Heading into the matchup, VCU was averaging 79.6 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the field. Thanks to some stellar defense, Seton Hall held VCU to 38 percent shooting from the field, including various scoring droughts where the Rams could not buy a bucket.
Seton Hall controlled the tempo from the opening tip, leading for about 37 minutes of the game while VCU only held the lead for about one. Michael Nzei got the Pirates off on the right foot with a quick bucket, making his return to the starting lineup after a three-game absence. Nzei got the start over Ismael Sanogo, who did not start due to an ankle injury suffered in practice during the week.
Pounding the paint worked well for Seton Hall early on, as the Pirates notched 14 of their first 18 points from inside. That trend continued throughout the game, as Seton Hall scored 52 of its 90 points on the day in the paint.
By the U-8 timeout, Seton Hall built its lead up to 24-12 aided by a poor VCU shooting effort, which saw the Rams start the game shooting 5-20 from the field. The Pirates continued to build on their lead coming out of the U-8, ripping off a 13-1 run that spanned over 5:35. While Seton Hall thrived, VCU could not figure out a way to score, going scoreless over a five-minute span.
The Rams ended their scoring drought at the 6:53 mark and caught fire a bit shooting the ball towards the end of the half, but Seton Hall still held a 43-30 lead at halftime with balanced scoring coming from its starting five.
Sophomore Myles Powell had 11 first-half points, Desi Rodriguez chipped in nine and all five of Seton Hall’s starters ended up finishing in double figures. Rodriguez led the way with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists and Angel Delgado came through with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“We got so many weapons,” Delgado said. “When you got that many weapons, it’s easy to play basketball. We’ve been playing together for so long and everyone knows their role. We don’t focus on one guy and everybody’s been doing a good job. We play as a team and we share the ball with each other to get points.”
“Offensively, we have a lot of trust in each other,” Rodriguez said. “The ball moved well today.”
The Pirates continued to cruise in the second half, building a 52-36 lead by the U-16 timeout and expanding that lead to 62-43 by the U-12 timeout. At that point, the lead was too much for VCU to overcome, as the Pirates held as high as a 26-point lead and rode the early half momentum to a dominating 90-67 win.
Saturday’s game caps the toughest part of Seton Hall’s non-conference schedule, in which the team currently holds an 8-1 record. Next up, the Pirates take on in-state rivals St. Peter’s and Rutgers, with the St. Peter’s game coming up on Dec. 12 at Walsh Gymnasium.
“The schedule’s been tough,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “The teams we’re playing are a lot like us. They’re hard-nosed and even our next two this week, St. Peters and Rutgers, I’m dreading those two. I feel like every team we’ve played has been a tough, hard-nosed defensive team. They’re all very well-coached, defensive-minded teams. It’s been a lot for us to keep our momentum going and I’m really pleased with where we are because it has tested us.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.