NEWARK – Before Andre Drummond hopped on the team bus in Storrs to head down I-95 south to Newark, he was asked about Herb Pope. The 6-foot-10 center said he didn’t know who Pope was.
What was likely an honest mistake was blown up by the media. Whether or not the talented freshman actually knew who Pope was at the time or not, he does now.
That’s because Pope helped lead Seton Hall (13-2) past No. 8 Connecticut (12-2) 75-63 tonight.
While Drummond didn’t guard Pope most of the night — Alex Oriaki did — Pope did hit his final shot of the half over Drummond. After he had his shot blocked, Pope hit a put-back over Drummond at the buzzer.
His jubilation after the basket said it all. The 6-foot-8 senior took this game personally.
“I took it two ways,” Pope (15 points and eight rebounds) said. “He could have really said it or they could have blew it out of proportion.”
His head coach made sure he thought it was the former.
“Right before jump ball it gave me a little shot in the arm hearing coach [Kevin Willard] repeat it,” Pope said. “He just told the team in general that we don’t let nobody talk about our guys. Anybody taking a shot at anybody on our team [isn’t tolerated] and we’re going to go out there and fight together.”
The guy who talked smack on Seton Hall’s side — saying he’s not afraid of the defending national champions — backed it up. After not scoring on five shots in the first half, Jordan Theodore would score 19 points while dishing out 11 assists.
Struggling to find his stroke, Theodore found it five minutes into the second half. And he can thank UConn’s associate head coach George Blaney — who was filling in for suspended head coach Jim Calhoun — for picking up a technical foul.
The senior point guard would go the line and drain the two free throws, giving him the spark that he needed to get going.
“Once those free throws went in, it just clicked for me. And I was like ok, now I got to start shooting the ball,” Theodore said. “It’s like I was shooting into the ocean.”
And his head coach is more pleased about his ability to run the point.
“I’m more happy about his 11 assists than anything else,” Willard said while also noting he feels his point guard is the best in the Big East.
Now the Pirates are poised to be ranked in the Top 25 this coming Monday for the first time in almost 11 years. (The last time was January 30, 2001). That's also as many years it's been since Seton Hall beat UConn. (They've only won twice in 27 games).
With a game on the road against a downtrodden Providence team on Saturday, things are set up for the proverbial let down game.
So Willard will be sure to drill into his players' minds the importance of each and every game and despite the school’s biggest win in recent memory, they can’t let it get to their head.
“We won seven games in this conference last year and 13 [overall]. I remind them of that. We have a goal of where we want to get. This is a great win against a great program,” Willard said. “We have 15 games left in this conference. We’re worried about Providence on Saturday.”