DePaul seeks biggest win of the season against Marquette

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DePaul seeks biggest win of the season against Marquette

Senior guard Eli Cain drives  to the rim during the second half of DePaul's victory Saturday afternoon at Wintrust Arena. Richard Bodee | The DePaulia

Senior guard Eli Cain drives to the rim during the second half of DePaul's victory Saturday afternoon at Wintrust Arena. Richard Bodee | The DePaulia

Senior guard Eli Cain drives to the rim during the second half of DePaul's victory Saturday afternoon at Wintrust Arena. Richard Bodee | The DePaulia

Senior guard Eli Cain drives to the rim during the second half of DePaul's victory Saturday afternoon at Wintrust Arena. Richard Bodee | The DePaulia

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It’s been a heck of a season for the DePaul Blue Demon men’s basketball team.

After coming out victorious in Ohio against Xavier on Saturday DePaul now has 13 wins to its name, the most they’ve accumulated since the 2006-2007 season (20 wins). With five conference wins, the Blue Demons sit in a five-way tie for the No. 3 spot in the Big East Conference standings. Five Big East wins is the most they’ve assembled since 2014-2015, but you’d need to go back to the 2007-2008 season to find the next year where they crested five conference wins. The Blue Demons have a not-too-shabby 3-3 record on the road in conference play and their road win against Xavier Saturday marked head coach Dave Leitao’s 100th career win as head coach at DePaul.

On Tuesday evening, Leitao will go for win No. 101 when the Blue Demons (13-9, 5-6) battle the Marquette Golden Eagles (20-4; 9-2) at 7 p.m. at Wintrust Arena. Marquette has dominated the all-time series, leading 77-47 and have won 16 of the last 20 matchups between the two teams. The Blue Demons 70-62 win against Marquette last season was their first-ever Big East win at Wintrust Arena.

The Golden Eagles roll into Chicago having won nine of their last 10 contests, the hiccup coming against St. John’s last Tuesday. The most significant win in that stretch was a 66-65 victory against No. 14 Villanova on Saturday. Markus Howard (38 points) and Sacar Anim (18 points) combined for 56 points.

The 5-foot-11-inch Howard makes this team tick. He has raised his scoring average to 25.2 points per game, good for the top mark in the Big East and the fourth highest scoring average in the country (first among players in major conferences). Howard is one of three players on Marquette who is in the top 15 in the Big East this season in 3-point field goal percentage (43.7 percent is fifth best in the conference). Joey Hauser is first at 46.5 percent and his brother Sam Hauser shoots the ball at a 39.6 percent clip good for 14th in the conference (last season, he was fifth in the nation with a 50.8 percent shooting percentage from downtown). Together, they help the Golden Eagles shoot the ball at a 39.5 percent clip from deep, good for second best in the Big East this season.

In the Blue Demons 79-69 loss against Marquette in Milwaukee on Jan. 23, Howard had 23 points. However, he had to work hard for those points, shooting 4-for-10 from the field (no 3-point field goals). He went 15-for-15 from the line to pad his scoring line. The length of Eli Cain bothered Howard to a degree and perhaps that’s a strategy the Blue Demons can utilize again.

Marquette’s sophomore big man Theo John has shown flashes this season, posting three double-doubles including a 16-point, 10-rebound performance against DePaul the last time the two teams played. The Blue Demons frontcourt will test a Marquette squad that likes to play small with the 6-foot-5-inch Anim or one of the Hauser brothers having to guard the four.

After struggling in the first half, Blue Demon senior Max Strus scored 10 points in the last six minutes to help the Blue Demons gain some late separation against Xavier on Saturday. He’s slumped a bit in conference play to the tune of 34.9 percent shooting from the field and has more total turnovers than assists while continuing to cast up a team-high 13 shots per game. His backcourt running mate Eli Cain has played better lately, averaging 12.7 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting from the field (38.5 percent from the 3-point stripe) while dishing out 10 assists to seven turnovers in the Blue Demons last three contests.

If DePaul defeats Marquette it’d be the first time they’ve beaten a top-10 team in the nation since a Dec.  12, 2006 win against No. 5 Kansas. Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, and Darrell Arthur led that Jayhawks team.