DePaul showed their depth after rallying to win 81-78 in a tough game against Southeast Missouri State in their second game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic.
The Blue Demons managed to win, but things did not always look up for the team. DePaul’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Eli Cain, was benched after picking up his third personal foul early in the first half. Before he left, Cain had only scored two points for the team.
The solid play off the bench from freshman guard Devin Gage and senior guard R.J. Curington helped to spur the Blue Demons’ second half comeback.
“Coach tells us to do our job every night,” Curington said. “Me and Devin just did our job. He’s a great young player learning his way. He had a great game.”
Gage put up a season-high 11 points and Curington scored 13 points and both notched two assists. The two bench players kept DePaul in the game while the Redhawks were knocking down basket after basket at the other end of the court.
“I thought (Devin Gage) started off that second half just by being an attacker,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “I thought he gave us a good lift by giving us three early layups and it softened up their defense enough for (the other players) to get some baskets.”
Although the Blue Demons went down early, the team began the first half with solid play. Midway through the first half the Blue Demons posted their largest lead of 15 points at 9:18, however this lead would not last.
After Cain took his third personal foul, the Redhawks responded and began to find open men on offense. Southeast Missouri’s comeback was led by senior guards Antonius Cleveland and Jamaal Calvin who rained down threes to chip away at DePaul’s 15 point lead. Eventually, with less than three minutes left, Cleveland stole a ball and finished with a lead-changing dunk.
At half, the Redhawks lead the Blue Demons 38-33 and had a 56 three-point field goal percentage.
Southeast Missouri continued their stellar play to begin the second half. The team lead by 14 at 13:39 and would’ve led by more if Gage hadn’t made some stellar plays to get inside on offense. After almost 10 minutes the Blue Demons finally responded.
“Coach Leitao was just telling me during halftime, he was chewing me out, telling me I need to get to the basket more and do what I do to get my team a spark,” Gage said.
The Blue Demons activated the full-court press and it worked as well as they hoped. The team went on a 12-0 run in which senior guard Billy Garrett Jr. and Cain finally found their footing and the Blue Demons drew within two points.
After a few back-and-forth plays, DePaul held the lead until 58 seconds were left in the game. Garrett’s two shots put DePaul back up by one point with 44 seconds remaining and DePaul wouldn’t lose the lead again.
Although the Blue Demons’ stars Cain and Garrett weren’t big factors in the first half, the two lead the team down the stretch. Garrett finished the night with 19 points and eight assists and Cain put up 15 points.
“When you come back and win like that, it shows a lot of the grit you have to have,” Leitao said. “I thought we started the game with a good mindset, we got up early, but then it just disappeared. (. . .) But, our energy picked up. One, because we three-quarter pressed them, (. . .) and, for the first time, we switched a little zone in and it got them back on their heels.”
The team has shown they have the ability to come back and win games all season long, but they will need to shore up their defense before conference play starts in a little over a week.
The Blue Demons will travel to Las Vegas to play Wyoming on Dec. 22 and will finish the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic Dec. 23 against either Missouri State or USC.