Blue Demons survive another slow start to drop Florida A&M


Femi Olujobi poured in 16 points on 6-for-7 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds in the Blue Demons 65-50 win against Florida A&M Monday night. Richard Bodee I The DePaulia

Another slow start couldn’t sink the DePaul Blue Demon men’s basketball team (5-1) in their matchup against the Florida A&M Rattlers (2-7).

Behind 16 points on 6-for-7 from the field from big man Femi Olujobi and 13 points (nine in the second half) from redshirt junior sharpshooter Jalen Coleman-Lands, the Blue Demons scratched out a 65-50 victory Monday night at Wintrust Arena against Florida A&M. The Rattlers entered the game with a 2-6 record and were No. 343 out of 353 teams in the Ken Pomeroy rankings entering tonight.

A slow start made winning this game a lot more difficult than it had to be.

“Digging yourself a hole is not something you want to do when you can’t score,” Blue Demon head coach Dave Leitao said after the game. “Today, there was a certain amount of tentativeness, and adjusting to not having Max [Strus] on the floor [he was resting after tweaking his ankle against Cleveland State] was part of it. We have to figure that out whether he’s in the lineup or he isn’t in the lineup.”

Slow starts have been a theme for the Blue Demons early in the season. Against Penn State on Nov. 15, DePaul fell behind 11-0 to start the game. Against Cleveland State last Wednesday, the Blue Demons never led by more than seven points until the last 2:35 of the game.

But, the Blue Demons are 3-0 in the games mentioned above as they have found ways to grind out victories despite these slow starts.

“I think it’s the group of guys we have in the locker room,” senior guard Eli Cain said after the game when asked how DePaul has been able to recover from bad starts. “We all have the same goal, we just want to win. We’re going to have slow starts, we’re going to have fast starts but at the end of the day you have to figure out a way to win and I think that’s the main difference between this year and last year. Last year, we would lose those close games and so far this year we’ve won those close games.”

Tonight, it took until the 16:25 mark for the Blue Demons to record their first bucket, a layup from Olujobi, as they went 1-for-6 from the field to start the game. By the under 12-minute timeout, DePaul had tallied six points and it took until the 10:01 mark for the Blue Demons to have their first lead of the game (10-9 after an Olujobi layup).

The Blue Demons retreated to the locker room at halftime with a 29-24 lead after shooting 30.8 percent from the field in the half and 15.4 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Rattlers shot 47.4 percent from the field, but turned the ball over 13 times stunting their offense in the first half.

“I think we never really panicked,” Olujobi said. “When we get off to a slow start and teams get off to a lead we just come together. We know we’re going to put the ball in the basket, we just need to get stops and get into that flow and rhythm of the game. We always stay composed.”

The Blue Demons missed leading scorer Max Strus in a big way, as the 6-foot-6-inch senior guard rested after tweaking his ankle last week against Cleveland State. With points hard to come by all night, the Blue Demons finally made their run halfway through the second half.

Sophomore big man Paul Reed dove for a ball out of bounds and flipped it to Cain who was underneath the basket for an easy two allowing the Blue Demons to balloon their lead to 54-43 with 8:24 to go, capping off a 6-0 run. The Blue Demon defense tightened up as well. The Rattlers finished the last 9:58 of the game without a field goal and scored just seven points in that time period.

Meanwhile, the Rattlers didn’t have anybody who could match up with Olujobi’s combination of length (6-foot-9-inches), strength (258 pounds), and skill. This was the first-ever matchup between the two programs, so Olujobi was the only player on the Blue Demons who had matched up against the Rattlers before (it was last season when he played for North Carolina A&T). In that game, he was similarly productive with 14 points on 6-for-8 from the field and seven rebounds.

“My teammates put me in really good position,” Olujobi said. “They drew a lot of attention driving the ball and I have the easy job just catching and finishing. Staying with that rhythm, taking my time, and trying not to force the issue and force up shots.”

“When we went to him, he was simplistic,” Leitao said about Olujobi. “I think sometimes [in previous instances] he went to option two or three in his moves and didn’t have to and I thought today he was more definitive about what he was doing when he had the ball in his hands. Guys were looking for him, he had early post-ups, good screening and rolling, and he was the recipient of good passes from our perimeter people.”

In his first career start, Reed heated up in the second half and finished the game with nine points and a career-high 14 rebounds helping the Blue Demons outrebound the Rattlers 40-32. Next up for the Blue Demons is the Northwestern Wildcats Saturday at 11 a.m. at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

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  • DePaul sophomore guard Devin Gage drives past Florida A&M guard Rod Melton Jr. during Monday night’s win.

  • Senior guard Eli Cain shoots a jumper over Florida A&M MJ Randolph during DePaul’s 65-50 win Monday night at Wintrust Arena. Richard Bodee | The DePaulia

  • DePaul guard Lyrik Shreiner rises for a layup with Florida A&M center DJ Jones challenging him. Richard Bodee | The DePaulia

  • DePaul sophomore Jaylen Butz dunks one home for his only field goal of the night. Butz also finished with four rebounds and two blocks. Richard Bodee | The DePaulia

  • DePaul sophomore Paul Reed drives in for a reverse layup with Florida A&M center DJ Jones challenging from behind. Richard Bodee | The DePaulia

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