Young, Blue Demons take down Pitt 84-81 in final seconds

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As the crowd rushed the court in a celebratory mob, a sense of relief and victory swept over Allstate Arena, DePaul players had one general thing going through their minds.

“I loved it, I loved every moment of it. I hope we get some more like that,” sophomore guard Brandon Young said.

“That was the best feeling of my life,” said sophomore forward Cleveland Melvin.” It was a great experience, I loved it.”

Neither Young nor Melvin had experienced a rushed court in their two seasons at DePaul.

DePaul’s thrilling 84-81 upset victory over Pittsburgh (11-5, 0-3) broke the Blue Demons’ 15-game home losing streak in Big East play. This win was also the first over the Panthers as a member of the Big East.

With the students back on campus for the start of the winter quarter, the “Section 6” student section was as loud and crazy as it had been all season. It had an effect at the start of the game as the Blue Demons jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead. From there, Pittsburgh used a grind-it-out defense to slow the game down and cause turnovers, leading to easy Panthers buckets.

“I thought it was a tale of two halves for us. We kind of just hung in there in the first half. We were close enought to where we could just see them. The second half I thought we were really really good.” head coach Oliver Purnell said.

Really really good described freshman Derrell Robertson Jr. to start the second half. Pitt’s Cameron Wright drove down the lane for the layup, but Robertson sent the attempt back to sender. Nasir Robinson grabbed the loose ball and went back up, only to see the same result as his teammate. The ball went out of bounds, but sent the 8,110 in attendance into an absolute frenzy.

That seemed to be the turning point of the game.

DePaul (10-4, 1-1) slowly chipped into the Pittsburgh lead thanks to big shots by Moses Morgan and Jeremiah Kelly, the on-ball defense of backup point guard Worrel Clahar on all-conference guard Ashton Gibbs, and the dominant Baltimore duo of Melvin and Young. The two combined for 46 points on 17-of-38 shooting.

“We got a little Baltimore connection. I told him, ‘when we get out there, I need 20 from you tonight,’. He stepped up for us and had big plays tonight.” Young said about the two close friends.

The Blue Demons took their first lead since early in the game with 8:47 remaining, thanks to a pair of Melvin free throws. From there, it was a back and forth battle that saw the lead change hands six times.

The final lead change was the most important.

With Pittsburgh up two, Panthers guard Isaiah Epps missed two free throws that could have put the game on ice. Donnavan Kirk grabbed the rebound and gave the ball to Young who coasted up the court. The lane was wide open and Young took advantage, driving on Gibbs and hitting the layup with the foul.

“I saw the defender playing me and I saw the wide open lane so I took it to the lane. I knew I was either going to get fouled or I was going to score. He fouled me, and one and I knocked the free throws down.” Young said about the last sequence. He grabbed the subsequent long inbounds pass, sunk two more free throws and then reveled in the rush of DePaul students.

“He was the hero for today, he did a great job the whole game. He kept us in it the whole game.” Melvin said about Young.

The Blue Demons don’t have much time to celebrate however as they head on a three-game road trip, starting in Philadelphia against Villanova. Purnell talked about saying “what’s real” in regards to making sure the team doesn’t have a hangover after the big victory.

“Work hard and prepare and believe in yourself and you’re going to have a chance to win in this league. But if you don’t work hard in practice and you get the big head and those kinds of things you’re going to get thumped.” he acknowledged.

The importance of this game did not go unnoticed on any of the players or coaches however.

“It definitely sends a message,” said Young. “We’re back in the Big East now, definitely not a sweet team. I hope a lot of teams get to respect us now that we’re coming out, playing hard and getting more wins. This is not the old DePaul, this is the new DePaul.”