UPDATED: DePaul men’s basketball loses fourth straight game to Providence 77-72

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Once again shorthanded, DePaul men’s basketball head coach Oliver Purnell needed his players to fill the void created by their missing teammates against Providence.

The Blue Demons were without three starters Saturday with Cleveland Melvin (indefinite suspension), Billy Garrett Jr. (illness) and Charles McKinney (ankle). This was the second straight game that the teammates were out and the first result wasn’t pretty, having been blown-out 86-69 against Seton Hall.

“Agent Zero” answered the call.  Freshman RJ Curington scored 22 points in his best game as a Blue Demon.

It wasn’t enough.

Despite a tremendous effort from Curington and his teammates, Bryce Cotton scored 28 points to lead Providence over DePaul (10-12, 2-7) as the Blue Demons dropped their fourth straight in a 77-72 loss.

“We didn’t do a good enough job on Cotton, who’s obviously a tremendous basketball player,” Purnell said. “They played hard. It’s a good college basketball game. It’s never going to be a great game unless we win it. Our guys played hard, they played better. It’s playing better, and we need to play better in order to win.”

The game looked like it was going to get out of hand early.  Without McKinney, the Blue Demons’ defense couldn’t stop anyone and Providence was shooting 65 percent. Without Melvin, the team’s offense was even worse – shooting 25 percent in the team’s first ten shots. 

Providence (16-6, 6-3) led by as many as 16, beating DePaul 26-10 with seven minutes left in the first half.

Curington, however, and Forrest Robinson had something to say about that.  Both seldom-used players sparked a 21-10 run to close half and left DePaul trailing only 42-37.

Curington scored 14 of his 22 points in that stretch and Forrest Robinson hit a pair of 3-pointers.

“In practice, everyone is on me to get better and keep my head up,” Currington said. “Brandon (Young) and Nugget (Durrell McDonald) found me were doing a good job of finding me the ball.”

In the second half, Providence again got out to an early lead. The Friars were up by 11, but DePaul fought back.  

DePaul went on an 8-0 when down 62-54 and another unexpected Blue Demon found his touch. Senior Edwind McGhee, who made the team his freshman year as a walk-on, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 62.

“I thought we played very well down the stretch until probably about the last four minutes,” Purnell said. “Pleased with Forrest Robinson and RJ and Ed and the effort they’re giving us, and production for that matter. I thought we did a good job as a basketball team on the backboards against a good offensive rebounding team.”

With six minutes left, DePaul couldn’t get a key defensive stop.  Cotton drove the lanes and got his teammates to the free throw line. The Friars finished with 29 free-throw attempts, 24 of them coming in the second half. 

Brandon Young kept the Blue Demons in the game, cutting Providence’s lead to 72-68 with 33.3 seconds left.  Young finished with 12 points and nine assists.

The Friars got the ball back and Cotton sunk another pair of free throws. Cotton went 8-11 from the foul line.

“We knew we had a shot to win, but we made a couple of mistakes,” Young said. “That’s the game of basketball, everyone makes mistakes but we have to fix it on defense. We sent them to the free throw line too many times in the second half.”

DePaul has a quick turnaround when they face Georgetown on Monday. Purnell said he didn’t know if any of the missing players would return, leaving the Blue Demons with another shorthand.

“We played better and I told the guys after the game the reality of it is we’ve got to play better to beat Georgetown,” Purnell said. “We played better but we didn’t play well enough to get the job done.”