Blue Demons battle Chanticleers with CBI championship berth on the line


Sophomore forward Paul Reed dunks against Central Michigan during the Roman Catholic Basketball Invitational Wednesday night at McGrath-Phillips Arena. DePaul advanced to the quarterfinals of the tournament with a 100-86 victory. Jonathan Aguilar | The DePaulia

The DePaul Blue Demon’s road to a College Basketball Invitational championship continues tonight at 7 at McGrath-Phillips Arena.

The next roadblock: the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.

The Chanticleers finished the 2018-2019 season with a 16-16 record including a 9-9 record in the Sun Belt Conference which earned them a sixth place finish out of 12 teams. In the Sun Belt Conference tournament, Louisiana-Monroe whipped the Chanticleers in the first round 50-80. But, the Chanticleers arrive in Lincoln Park fresh off a 109-91 victory against West Virginia in the quarterfinals of the CBI. These 109 points are the most they’ve scored since they put up 116 points against Division III Piedmont in November 2015.

The Chanticleers are no stranger to CBI success. In the 2017 version of the tournament, Coastal Carolina made it all the way to the championship (wins over Hampton, Loyola Maryland, and the University of Illinois at Chicago en route) before succumbing to Wyoming in three games. They’ve played in the postseason in some capacity in five of the last six seasons including earning back-to-back NCAA tournament bids in 2014 and 2015.

Led by forward Zac Cuthbertson (7.0 free throw attempts per game), the Chanticleers force the issue offensively averaging 23.2 free throw attempts per game which is the 24th highest mark in the entire country. The percentage they shoot when they get there is just average (71.6 percent), but the volume makes the free-throw shooting a significant aspect of their offense. DePaul players like Paul Reed, Max Strus, and Eli Cain have struggled with foul trouble at times this season and figuring out how to defend without fouling may be a key factor in the game tonight.

The Chanticleers also have more depth than the Blue Demons with 10 players that have averaged at least 10 minutes per game of playing time this season. Everybody among this group averages at least four points per game as well. Cuthbertson leads the way with 18.2 points per game with Sun Belt Freshman of the Year winner DeVante Jones following closely behind at 13 points per game.

Offensively, the Blue Demons have been on a tear lately. They’ve scored 90 or more points in four of their last six games and have scaled the 100 point barrier three times this season which is the most times they’ve dropped 100 or more points in a season since 1999-2000 when they also did it three times. In six games in the month of March, Strus has averaged 29.5 points per game, hit five or more 3-pointers in five of those six games, and shot 3-pointers at a 49.2 percent clip.

This season, Strus became the second player in program history [Mark Aguirre] to record back-to-back 30-plus point games on two occasions in a single season. In the Blue Demon’s too-close-for-comfort win against Longwood on Monday, Strus racked up 38 points on 15-for-21 from the field. Reed supplemented that scoring with 23 points of his own while grabbing 12 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.

The winner of this game advances to the CBI championship. The championship is a best of three series with games on April 1, April 3, and April 5 if necessary. The site of the games are to be determined.