There are growing pains throughout the course of the season, and boy did this one hurt.
DePaul men’s basketball blew a six-point lead in the final three minutes of the game Sunday as Illinois State knocked off the Blue Demons, 78-72.
Turnovers were the main downfall for the Blue Demons, who coughed up the ball up five times after taking a 66-60 lead with 3:28 left in the game. DePaul (6-3) committed 18 turnovers total, and Illinois State (5-3) scored 23 points off of them.
“Obviously we’re extremely disappointed in losing that ball game,” DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell said. “Clearly, we let that one get away. We didn’t do any of the things we needed to do in the last two minutes to win.”
It was the way DePaul unraveled late that was even more remarkable. Besides the five turnovers, the Blue Demons made mind-numbing questionable fouls that swung the game back in Illinois State’s favor.
DePaul forward Myke Henry fouled Illinois State guard Lee Paris for a four-point play conversion that gave the Redbirds a 70-69 lead with 58 seconds remaining. On the very next play, the Redbirds stole the inbounds pass and then converted a three-point play.
“This is part of the game,” DePaul guard Billy Garrett Jr. said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve lost a heartbreaker so we have to bounce back from this. That’s our job. There’s nothing we can do about that now.”
DePaul led by as many as nine points, having a 58-51 lead with 8:16 remaining. The Blue Demons had crawled their way back into the game after being down 33-30 at halftime.
Forward Jamee Crockett scored a career-high 22 points and center Tommy Hamilton had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The two were often on the same page, finding each other on cuts which led to some highlight worthy dunks.
Yet the Redbirds kept chipping away until the mistakes cost DePaul. Knight led all scorers with 25 points. His aggression got him to the free throw line, shooting 8-9. The Redbirds repeatedly got the line in the second half, going 15-23 after shooting 6-6 in the first.
Purnell said that the Blue Demons inability to get to the free throw line in the final two minutes also played a hand in letting the game slip away.
“We should have been parading to the free throw line there at the end,” Purnell said. “Obviously, Billy had been shooting 91 percent there and we normally count on him to get us eight or nine free throws to end the game. We didn’t get him the ball enough to get him there, and he missed the ones that he had.”
Garrett finished 4-7 from the line and DePaul shot 12-21 for the game as a whole. Still, Purnell added that even if the team shot 50 percent with eight or nine attempts, it would have been enough to hold onto a lead.
Instead, the Blue Demons were a team giving up a four-point play that decided the game. Even more astonishing, that wasn’t the only four-point play given up in the game. The Redbirds converted another attempt when McDonald fouled Paris to end the half.
Both McDonald and Henry, who were guilty of giving up those plays, fouled out late.
This was the second straight loss for the Blue Demons, who dropped an 81-68 defeat at George Washington on Thursday. Sunday’s game at Allstate Arena was the team’s last non-conference home game.
DePaul now has a pivotal stretch where they will first travel to play Oregon State on Dec. 18. The team then travels to Hawaii for the Hawaiian Diamond Airlines Classic for three games.
“It’s very disappointing, but as I told the guys after the game, I believe that this is a team that bounces back,” Purnell said. “We have a real challenge to bounce back, but we have the opportunity to go on the road and beat a good opponent — which we need to do.”