DePaul basketball gets first taste of life without starting point guard


Josh Leff

DePaul sophomore guard Eli Cain drives the ball through Marquette’s defense last season. (Photo by Josh Leff / The DePaulia)

The DePaul Blue Demons have a point guard problem.

Before DePaul’s 65-55 win against the University of Illinois at Chicago Flames on Saturday at the UIC Pavilion, DePaul announced that Devin Gage, who started at point guard for each of the Blue Demon’s first eight games of the season, will miss the rest of the season after rupturing the Achilles tendon in his right foot. The injury occurred early in DePaul’s game against Central Connecticut State on Wednesday night.

So how did DePaul Blue Demon head coach Dave Leitao choose to address this problem?

By giving the keys to the offense to junior guard Eli Cain, a player who was a freshman in 2015 during the first year of Leitao’s second stint as head coach of the Blue Demons. Cain responded by dishing out a career-high eight assists in 39 minutes and he added 14 points on 6-for-18 from the field and eight rebounds just for good measure.

“I’m pretty comfortable (playing point guard),” junior guard Eli Cain said after the game. “With guys like this (referring to junior transfer Max Strus), he makes it pretty easy on me. All I need to do is put the ball in his hands and he’ll make the shot. I played point guard a lot in high school, a lot in AAU. I was pretty comfortable. (When Devin is in the game), it makes it a thousand times easier, but you know next man up so I just try to do what I can to help the team.”

With Gage out, Leitao chose to start sophomore Brandon Cyrus at shooting guard and scoot Cain over to the point guard position, leaving the starting lineup devoid of a true point guard. Although it worked today, Leitao said this setup wasn’t ideal, as he’d prefer to have freshman Justin Roberts man the point and have Cain play off the ball.

“Moving forward, we have to figure some things out because off the ball he (Cain) has great value and on the ball, not diminishing that value particularly as a scorer (but it’s not the same value),” Leitao said. “There’s a very thin line between how you handle each possession when you’re on the ball and when you’re off the ball. We have to figure it out. But right now, it’s a next man up mentality.”

For most of the night, Cain had to take over the point guard controls because Roberts was largely ineffective. The freshman has been inconsistent this season, posting 19 points against the University of Illinois on Nov. 17 and dishing out five assists in three contests including the game against Illinois, but also having five games where he posted a zero in the assist column and/or scored two or less points.

The game against UIC this afternoon wasn’t one of his better performances of the season. Roberts had the same amount of personal fouls (two) as points and finished without an assist. He struggled defensively, and after checking in with 2:08 left in the first half he blew a defensive assignment on his first possession and Leitao immediately pulled him from the game.

“Justin has to continue to grow so that we can trust that his minutes will be increased and there’s no drop off when we go to the bench,” Leitao said.

Roberts mostly played off the ball in his three second half minutes, pushing him up to nine for the game. He recorded two points on a running floater at the 11:45 mark. Injuries, including one to graduate transfer Marin Maric in the first half that limited him to seven minutes, have forced the Blue Demons to expand roles for players who haven’t seen a ton of playing time this season.

Big men Peter Ryckbosch and Joe Hanel each had season highs in minutes played this afternoon. Cain and Max Strus played 39 minutes apiece while guys who have normally seen more playing time like Roberts and freshman big man Jaylen Butz only saw the floor for nine and ten minutes respectively.

Roberts’ two best games of the season came when he had to replace an injured Gage (against Illinois and against Central Connecticut State). He’s embodied that next man up mentality that Cain talked about as so important.

That mentality will be tested as the Blue Demons navigate the rest of the season with the ranks thin at the position responsible for captaining the offense.