Sweet Home Chicago: Blue Demons look to burn Flames


Lyrik Schreiner played a tied-for-a-career-high 12 minutes Wednesday against Chicago State. Richard Bodee I The DePaulia

The slate of opponents for the Blue Demons over the last week has had a distinctly Chicago flavor.

For the third straight game, the DePaul Blue Demons (6-2) will battle an opponent from Chicago when they play the University of Illinois at Chicago Flames (4-6) at 6 p.m. at Wintrust Arena tonight. The Blue Demons hold a 7-2 advantage in the all-time series between the two teams and are 18-6 against Chicagoland opponents since 2010-2011.

It’s been tough going for fourth-year head coach Steve McClain’s squad thus far this season. Through a difficult nonconference schedule, the Flames begin the season 4-6 with losses at Notre Dame (No. 56 KenPom), at Radford (No. 135 KenPom), at Duquesne (No. 158 KenPom), at Saint Joseph’s (No. 101 KenPom), to Loyola at home (No. 92 KenPom), and at Colorado (No. 62 KenPom). The Flames are 0-5 this season in road games.

The Flames return most of their guys from a team that finished 20-16 (12-6 in their conference) last season and in third place in the Horizon League. However, two of the three guys that they did lose were key contributors. Tai Odiase was a respected leader of that team and shattered the program record in career blocked shots with 361 rejections. He also added 9.3 points per game and 5.6 rebounds to the stat sheet his senior season (the Blue Demons battled his brother Ken on Wednesday night when they played Chicago State). Leading scorer sophomore Dikembe Dixson declared his intention to pursue a professional basketball career before the season ended last year. Finally, role player Clint Robinson graduated (averaged 4.4 points and 4.1 rebounds his senior season).

Last season, the Flames had one of the youngest teams in the entire country and many of those same sophomores are now juniors with another year of Division I experience under their belt. Point guard Tarkus Ferguson makes the team go; he has stuffed the box score this season with 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game while shooting it at a 41.6 percent clip from deep. The 6-foot-4-inch, Belleville, Ill. native missed all of December last season with an injury and once he returned on Jan. 4 the Flames finished off the remainder of the regular season with a 12-4 record that included a seven-game winning streak.

Overall, guard play has been a strength for the Flames this season. Ferguson, Marcus Ottey, and Godwin Boahen lead the team in scoring and combine for 10.9 assists per game. Ottey and Boahen are both from Canada. Irishman Jordan Blount is a feisty rebounder and good defender who has nearly doubled his scoring output this season compared to a season ago. The Flames have 10 guys who have averaged 10 or more minutes per game this season.

The Flames haven’t had an issue putting up points in an efficient manner this season. The 80.3 points they’ve averaged per game is the 71st highest mark in the nation and they do it with a 49.2 percent field goal percentage from the field (33rd best in the nation). They also shoot it from deep at a 38.1 percent clip (highest percentage out of every DePaul opponent so far this season).

The Blue Demons come off a routine 104-70 win against Chicago State on Wednesday night. Senior forward Max Strus got back on track with 27 points on 8-for-11 from the field and 5-for-8 from 3-point land after a forgettable performance against Northwestern on Saturday. Eli Cain recorded his third career double-double with his 17 point, 11-assist effort.

DePaul has a chance to improve to 7-0 at home, which would be the first time they’ve accomplished that feat since the 2006-2007 season. The Blue Demons finished 20-14 and qualified for the National Invitational Tournament that season.