Battling Bears at Wintrust


DePaul senior Eli Cain flanked by sophomores Jaylen Butz and Paul Reed get ready for a defensive possession against Rockhurst on Thursday night. Richard Bodee | The DePaulia

For the first time since the 2014-2015 season, the DePaul Blue Demon men’s basketball team has an opportunity to begin the season 2-0.

A Monday evening appointment with the Morgan State Bears (0-2) 7:30 at Wintrust Arena stands in the way before the Blue Demons can accomplish that feat. And don’t worry, these Bears aren’t nearly as good at basketball as the Chicago Bears are at football right now.

After an underwhelming showing in an exhibition contest against Division II Rockhurst University the Blue Demons played much better basketball in their season opener against Bethune-Cookman last Wednesday, winning convincingly 80-58. After only playing nine minutes in the exhibition game with a nagging injury, senior Max Strus exploded for 25 points in 37 minutes of playing time against Bethune-Cookman. The sophomore big man tandem of Paul Reed and Jaylen Butz each scored in double digits while neutralizing a veteran Bethune-Cookman frontcourt that finished 30th in the nation in total rebounding last season.

For the second straight game, the Blue Demons will battle an opponent from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference this time via Morgan State who finished 13-18 overall (7-8 in the MEAC) last season and have started this season 0-2. Tiwian Kendley and his 26.1 points per game buoyed that team. He’s since graduated and now has latched on with the Washington Wizards G League affiliate the Capital City Go-Go. The Bears also lost their second leading scorer and leading rebounder Phillip Carr from that team a season ago.  The Bears also had five players transfer out of the program, so this is a bit of a transition season for them with four new transfers in the helm and three freshmen playing significant minutes

Unsurprisingly, this season’s iteration of the Morgan State Bears is off to a tough start. The Villanova Wildcats trounced them 77-100 at The Pavilion and then the St. Francis Red Flash proceeded to beat them by 20 points last Friday. Through two games, the Bears have been inefficient from the field, shooting 41.2 percent as a team, good for 258th in the nation so far in this young season. Former DePaul assistant coach Brian Ellerbe (2010-2013) has latched on as an assistant coach at Morgan State and will face off against his former team for the first time since leaving Chicago. The Bears have three players on their roster from the Chicagoland area.

The Blue Demons have seen what the top of the MEAC looks like (Bethune-Cookman), and now will get to see the middle tier (Morgan State was picked sixth out of 12 teams in the MEAC preseason poll). Strus should continue to feast on a team that has given up an average of 90 points in two contests. The development of Reed and Butz has been the story of the early season. The Blue Demons would like to get a more efficient shooting night from Eli Cain and Devin Gage who shot a combined 3-for-13, however Cain did finish with just eight assists as opposed to one turnover.

This is a game you’d expect the Blue Demons to roll in, but in college basketball nothing is a given.

CORRECTIONThis story has been updated to clarify that Eli Cain did have eight assists and one turnover.