Perhaps nothing signified the painful losing culture of DePaul men’s basketball more than the 51-game losing streak the Blue Demons suffered against nationally-ranked teams. Since 2008, the Blue Demons endured seven years of seeing the best teams in the nation roll over them.
In what’s already been a stunning season, DePaul (11-10, 5-3 Big East) continued to prove that these aren’t the same old Blue Demons with a 64-60 win Thursday over No. 24 Seton Hall (13-5, 3-3).
It was the team’s first win against a nationally-ranked team under head coach Oliver Purnell.
“They’re just believing,” Purnell said. “That’s something that we’ve been trying to preach with our guys. And clearly, if you’ve looked at our conference season so far, we came back from 13 to beat Marquette in the second half. Saturday we came back from 10 back to beat St. John’s, and this was another game like that.
“It’s still early, but when your team has experiences like that to draw from, it’s always helpful for your confidence,” he said.
The set of circumstances that led to DePaul’s upset over the Pirates was even more remarkable. While the Blue Demons led 43-33 with 17:44 to go, Seton Hall went on a 22-4 run to lead 55-47 with 5:47 left. Matters got worse when star guard Billy Garrett Jr. fouled out with 2:47 to go, and the Blue Demons trailed 56-55.
But one of Purnell’s main points of emphasis over and over is managing the last five minutes of the game. The Blue Demons cracked down on defense and guard Darrick Wood gave DePaul a 59-58 lead with 1:49 left.
The Blue Demons never trailed for the rest of the game.
“There were a few things we talked about, and we knew it was going to be hard. When Billy fouled out, we knew it was going to be hard,” Purnell said. “But that’s why it feels good when it’s a hard fought win like that.”
Like he did with the team’s win over Xavier on Jan. 3, Purnell admitted that this type of game was one his team would have lost last season — or even six weeks ago when the team closed their non-conference schedule with six consecutive losses.
But since the beginning of the Big East, the Blue Demons have fought tooth-and-nail in each game. Outside of the team’s wipeout loss to Villanova, DePaul was competitive in their losses to Georgetown and Xavier.
“There’s no question there’s a certain belief confidence that helps build our team,” Purnell said. “We’re in a really good mindset now, and it’s important that we continue to build on that. This hopefully connects the dots for our guys, and shows what needs to be done.”
There are still areas that DePaul needs to improve on. The team lived and died by the three against Xavier in a 89-76 loss on Saturday. DePaul led by as many as 13, and ended the first half shooting 63 percent. However, Xavier’s defense locked down and caused the Blue Demons to shoot just 30 percent in the second half.
Yet, a large part of the Blue Demons success has come from beyond the 3-point arc as they lead the Big East with making 36.5 percent of their shots. Part of that gameplan also allows the Blue Demons to play inside-out. When the Blue Demons are able to penetrate the rim, they’re able to get to the foul line, where they are second in the conference by making 74.1 percent of their free throws.
The balance on offense as well as the amount of scoring options, forward Jamee Crockett said two weeks ago, has made DePaul a threat.
“When we go down and play defense, then we can come back quickly and play offense, and they have to guard us,” Crockett said. “It’s real hard to play us.”
There’s no doubt, however, the team is buying into some of the aspects Purnell emphasized before the season began. Prior to the team’s win at Creighton, Garrett said that the group discussed sticking together after the team’s six-game losing streak. The discussion worked and DePaul followed it up with wins over Marquette and Xavier.
“We wanted to go out there and give our fans something to look forward to,” Garrett said. “We wanted to play as hard as we could for ourselves and our coaches.”
For the first time in a while, there’s a reason to watch the Blue Demons.