Blue Demons make it five in a row with win against Alabama A&M


Brandon Cyrus averaged 7.2 points this past season in his second year with the program. (Photo courtesy of DePaul Athletics)

Monday night’s 83-59 win against the Alabama A&M Bulldogs (0-9) felt like an appetizer for the DePaul Blue Demon’s (6-4) main course meal on Saturday against Northwestern.

The matchup featuring a talented DePaul team and a still winless Alabama A&M one manifested exactly as you’d expect with the Blue Demons taking control early and winning comfortably by double digits. The Blue Demons have now won five games in a row, the program’s longest winning streak since they won seven consecutive games from Nov. 27 until Dec. 22 in 2012. What has been the key to all the winning?

“Attitude and teamwork, everything we’re doing off the court,” freshman guard Justin Roberts said. “Just hanging out with each other and doing more team bonding stuff. We’ve gained more of a brotherhood.”

The Bulldogs led 3-2 after the first possession for both teams, but that lead slipped away quickly. At the first timeout of the game at the 14:12 mark in the first half, the Blue Demons had already seized control of the game, accumulating a 18-5 advantage behind a barrage of 3-point field goals. They shot 3-for-5 from 3-point land during this stretch and spread the wealth around as Max Strus, Eli Cain, and Brandon Cyrus all nailed one from deep.

While Strus continues to lead DePaul’s scorers, Eli Cain has handled some point guard responsibilities with Devin Gage sidelined. The junior guard had eight assists for the second straight game against Alabama A&M. (Photo Courtesy of DePaul Athletics)

The Blue Demons rolled into halftime with a 48-22 lead behind a scorching 60 percent shooting from the field and a stifling defense that held Alabama A&M to 29 percent from the field and forced eight turnovers. Roberts led all scorers at halftime with nine points behind a 3-for-3 shooting half from behind the 3-point line.

The Bulldogs tested DePaul briefly in the second half. The visitors outscored the Blue Demons by four points through the first 4:30 of the second half behind six points from junior guard Arthur Johnson, and cut the deficit to 19 points by the 14:50 mark.

“I challenged the guys when we were up 48-22 (at halftime), and those things (big leads) sometimes get along where you have complacency,” DePaul Blue Demons head coach Dave Leitao said. “They got more aggressive and they aren’t a 44 point team so if they scored 22 in the first half, in the second half I didn’t think they were just going to score 44 points. When they got more aggressive, it’s part of our growth to not look at it in terms of scoring but look at as a play-for-play. There were times in the second half where we didn’t have the same defensive intensity, and they rose to the level of gaining confidence and I think that’s part of what changed the momentum in the second half.”

However, DePaul amped up its defensive intensity after a timeout and a lineup led mostly by backups shot the lead back up to 25 in just under four minutes and played the Bulldogs even up to the 7:52 mark. The Blue Demons slowly began to extend their lead back into the mid 20s, with a Joe Hanel dunk late in the game (marking his first points of the season) eliciting the loudest reaction from the Wintrust Arena crowd of 4,508 people.

After playing 39 minutes each in a 65-55 win against the University of Illinois at Chicago on Saturday, Blue Demon stars Cain and Strus played 26 and 27 minutes respectively tonight. Cain continues to run the offense brilliantly in the absence of injured starting point guard Devin Gage. He followed up a career-high eight assist game against UIC by matching that number with eight assists tonight.

Sophomore guard Austin Grandstaff poured in his first points of the season, finishing with 11 points on 4-for-10 from the field while dishing out a career-high five assists. Every time he touched the ball he drew the vigilance of the defense, leading to easy scoring opportunities for his teammates.

“It was great to just get a rhythm in the game,” Grandstaff said. “That’s the toughest part especially when you’re coming off the bench, I’ve never really came off the bench like that. It’s tough to get into the game. I tried to make simple plays to start and try to get everybody involved. It just kind of came.”

The Blue Demons host the Northwestern Wildcats (6-4) at Wintrust Arena on Saturday at 1 p.m.

“They are about as veteran of a team as you can play against,” Leitao said. “When you have a team that is one as good as they are and two as good as they are, they aren’t going to beat themselves possession by possession. We have to be efficient on both ends over the course of the game, we can’t have those lulls we’ve had today. If we play to our capabilities and our fans are energetic and create an energy in there we can finish the deal.”