Coach Bill Coen had a huge task before him on Saturday evening. His Northeastern team was playing VCU in the Richmond Coliseum in a "neutral" site game. But as most people who follow the CAA know, that's about as neutral as Rush Limbaugh being a moderator in a Planned Parenthood debate. Still, the man whose suit jacket started a Twitter account would have his team ready, especially after a tough first round win over William and Mary.
The Richmond Coliseum was a sea of yellow as the Evening Session was sold out. An announced crowd of 11,200 roared as Shaka Smart walked on the court. The inventor of "Havoc" has a rock star following with Rams' fans, not unlike Anthony Grant did when he was the previous coach. The difference is the VCU administration made a huge investment after last season's Final Four run to keep Smart here hopefully for the forseeable future.
The Rams started out strong, quickly jumping out to an 11-3 lead as they forced three quick turnovers on the Huskies. Coen called timeout as he needed to find some way to calm his team down and quiet the raucous, but "neutral" Coliseum crowd. Much to their credit, Northeastern hung around, due in their large part to their defense. VCU continued to force a lot of turnovers on the Huskies, but couldn't cash in. Over the last seven minutes and 42 seconds of the first half, the Rams scored a total of three points. As a result, what was a nine point lead slowly whittled away. Jonathan Lee buried a 3-pointer to tie the game at 26 at the half.
The great thing about the CAA Tournament is all the wonderful bands. ODU, Drexel, JMU and Towson all have good bands. George Mason is probably a step above them and VCU is right there with Doc Nix and the boys. So, I had to take a video of them in action.
At the start of the second, VCU went out to a lead but Northeastern kept within striking distance. When the Huskies weren't turning the ball over, they had success scoring against the Rams. Northeastern shot nearly fifty four percent in the second half and fifty one percent for the game. The score was only 40-34 with fourteen and a half minutes remaining.
But then the walls came crashing down as VCU turned up "Havoc." The Rams forced five Huskies' turnovers in the span of eight minutes. This time, the Rams cashed in on those opportunities as their bench spurred them on. Rob Brandenberg and Treveon Graham combined for 22 points in a 24-9 run, which included five 3-pointers. Brandenberg nailed three shots from beyond the arc and the score was 64-43 with about seven and a half minutes left.
Northeastern did not quit and actually cut the lead to eight, 71-63, with a little over a minute left. But the hole was too big for the Huskies to climb out from and the Rams went onto win 75-65. Brandenberg had 19 points and Graham added 18 to lead the way for VCU. The Rams forced 25 turnovers and their bench outscored the Huskies' bench 46-4 on the night.
Northeastern gave a spirited effort. Lee, Joel Smith and Quincy Ford, all who are coming back next season, combined for fifty points on 17 of 35 shooting. Coen has a terrific nucleus to work from next season. But in this game, that nucleus just wasn't enough in the end. Havoc and a 3-point shooting frenzy was just too much for the Huskies.
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 75, NORTHEASTERN 65 03/03/2012
NORTHEASTERN 14-17 (9-9) -- H. Thorns 8-21 4-6 25; J. Smith 5-13 4-4 17; J. Lee 6-11 2-3 16; Q. Ford 6-10 4-6 17; R. Spencer 1-2 3-5 5; A. Bigby 3-4 0-1 6; K. Black 0-0 0-0 0; D. Pollard 2-2 0-0 4; K. Edwards 0-1 0-0 0; R. Pierson 0-0 0-0 0; M. Banegas-Flores 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 23-45 13-19 65. VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 26-6 (15-3) -- R. Brandenberg 6-11 4-6 19; T. Daniels 1-4 0-0 3; B. Burgess 4-9 0-0 10; J. Reddic 3-8 3-9 9; D. Theus 2-5 1-2 5; T. Graham 6-9 1-2 16; D. Haley 1-4 0-0 2; T. Okereafor 3-4 2-4 8; B. Weber 0-2 3-8 3; D. Hinton 0-1 0-0 0; J. Guest 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-57 14-31 75.
Three-point goals: NU 6-16 (J. Lee 2-4; J. Smith 3-8; Q. Ford 1-4), VCU 9-20 (B. Burgess 2-5; T. Daniels 1-4; D. Theus 0-1; R. Brandenberg 3-5; T. Graham 3-5); Rebounds: NU 29 (Q. Ford 11), VCU 30 (D. Haley 8); Assists: NU 8 (J. Smith 2), VCU 12 (D. Theus 3); Total Fouls -- NU 21, VCU 19; Fouled Out: NU-None; VCU-None.