The final regular season match-up between the visiting St. Johns Red Storm and the DePaul Blue Demons was a battle between two small fishes in a big pond. DePaul was the bigger fish, winning by a score of 83-75.
It began as a slugfest, each team wanting the almost meaningless win so badly, that they exposed themselves. Both teams combined for six turnovers in the first three minutes. However, only DePaul was able to clean-up the sloppy play.
It was still the same disjointed team that we’ve seen all season, but the first half of the game was quite possibly the best DePaul has yet to look. It’s also important to keep in mind that DePaul lost to St. John’s on February 17th, ending St. John’s losing streak of 16: the longest streak in the nation.
“Energy,” was the difference in the two games, according to Billy Garrett. “We weren’t focused in our first game. We went out there and didn’t play hard enough.”
Eli Cain lead DePaul to a 19-8 run in the middle of the first. DePaul’s very last possession of the half was emblematic of Cain’s bright future with the Blue Demons. With eight seconds left, head coach Dave Leitao drew up an in-bounds play for Cain. It was pure isolation, Leitao handed over the keys to car to Cain, and Cain drove it straight into the paint. Garrett watched from the perimeter.
Leitao isn’t ready to look to Cain as “The Guy,” going forward, but is still optimistic for his future.
“He has a chance to be really, really good,” Leitao said. “I don’t say that to just throw that out there.”
“I’m comfortable with putting the ball in his hands.”
DePaul took a 45-28 lead into the break, their highest scoring half in Big East play this year. Cain paced all scorers with 11, Garrett chipped in nine of his own to go with six assists in the first half.
The second half opened with a frantic pace from DePaul. St. John’s Ron Mvouika dominated the second half with 15 points, hitting four three-pointers. Although they cut the lead to six, St. John’s was never able to mount a successful comeback. The steals and dunks were nullified by missed easy passes and scoring opportunities.
Garrett unleashed a full-court, Hail Mary pass to Darrick Wood with 12:44 remaining. It was a gorgeous play that effectively ended the game. Like exhausted boxers, the Blue Demons and Red Storm spent the rest of the game exchanging half-hearted blows.
DePaul doesn’t have much experience playing with the lead in the Big East, so it wasn’t a surprise when the team faltered a bit in the second half.
“We haven’t been in that position in a little while,” Leitao said. They’ve rarely faced a team that is playing with their backs up against the wall like St. John’s was Thursday night. Full court pressure and quick three-pointers can be tough to stop.
Garrett wound up with an impressive 19-10 double-double, leading DePaul in both scoring and assists. The Blue Demons shot 53 percent as a team, after their red-hot 65 percentage in the first half.
DePaul will look to have the balanced performances like this in the final stretch of the season. Time to swim with the big fish.