DePaul men’s basketball was already down two forwards heading into their game with Rutgers, which meant that they’d have a size disadvantage. It turned out to be a huge part of the game as the Blue Demons were out-rebounded 46-27 as they fell to Rutgers (3-0) 66-59.
Sophomore guard Eli Cain led with 24 points on the night, while the rest of the DePaul (1-1) starters combined for nine.
“My fear going into the game was kind of how it transpired,” head coach Dave Leitao said. “Trying to control the backboards was something that we needed to do and we didn’t do a good job at the outset. We got beat on the backboards by 19, and we can’t give away possessions like that and expect that things are going to happen.”
The size difference between Rutgers and DePaul was very apparent in the first half. The Scarlet Knights out-rebounded DePaul 29-8 at the half, which is what helped them take a 33-26 lead going into the break, despite shooting the same 32 percent that DePaul shot. Cain, who was playing with a shoulder sprain, led the game with 10 points at halftime.
“I think the first ten minutes we played pretty well,” Cain said. “I think the beginning of the second half killed us pretty badly. That’s when they went on a run and we couldn’t do anything on the offensive end.”
The second half was full of misery for the Blue Demons. With just under 12 minutes to play, freshman guard Devin Gage went down hard on the floor and had to leave the game with a shoulder injury. He would not return. A few minutes later, senior guard Billy Garrett Jr. fouled out with only five points on the night.
Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights started to pull away. They shot significantly better in the second half while DePaul only was marginally better. DePaul did make a run to cut the Scarlet Knights’ 22 point lead in half going into the final minute and eventually got to within six, but could not come back all the way. Cain helped lead the charge with 14 points in the second half.
“I was just trying to do anything I could do,” he said. “Chris (Harrison-Docks) kept finding me time after time.”
The Blue Demons ended up in defeat to Rutgers 66-59 with their run at the end closing the deficit and giving them a chance for a miraculous comeback.
“We did cut into the lead while providing energy,” Leitao said. “Part of the thing that I talk about all the time is if you have sustained energy you give yourself a chance.”
DePaul missed senior forward Peter Ryckbosch due to a kneecap injury that could keep him out until January. For the second straight game, freshman forward Levi Cook was out with a knee strain. Leitao said after the game that Cook is on a 7-10 day timetable and that they don’t want to rush him back.
With those two forwards out, it means DePaul is playing with a small lineup, and Leitao has been trying to instill in his team that being small doesn’t always mean it’s a disadvantage.
“There’s a theory that if you look at a point guard and he’s 5-foot-8 you wonder how he survives in a big man’s game,” Leitao said. “Damn near 100 percent of the time it’s because he’s got a big time heart. I’m not saying rebounding is all about heart but it’s a lot of it.”
However, they were not able to use that against Rutgers, who had a sound advantage on the boards.
“We had too many times where I looked up and we had guys watching,” he said. “There were three guys maybe four guys battling for Rutgers and we had two. Rebounding, as I’ve said my whole life, is a mindset. I’m not sure if we approached it with a proper mindset.”
DePaul next plays Milwaukee in a home game on Sunday at 12:30 at Allstate Arena.