DePaul flips the script in the second half in comeback win over Central Michigan


Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

The DePaul bench celebrates during the second half against Central Michigan on Tuesday at Wintrust Arena. The Blue Demons won the game 88-75.

DePaul received a rude awakening in the first half against Central Michigan, then they responded like a perennial NCAA Tournament team would in the second half. 

The Blue Demons strolled into their match against Central Michigan standing at 6-0 after defeating Boston College 72-67 on the road on Saturday. It’s fair to say that their confidence was at an all-time high heading into Tuesday’s game, as it should have been considering that was the team’s best start since the 1986-87 season. 

The confidence that DePaul possessed before the game was in shatters inside the first 10 minutes of the game. The Blue Demons looked like a team that had never played together, unable to make simple passes on offense and leaving Central Michigan players open for easy shots from all over the floor.

By the eight minute mark in the first half, Central Michigan had built their lead to 35-20. At that point, it was clear that the Blue Demons was not prepared to play this game. It wasn’t that the visitors were more talented, because they weren’t, it was about one team playing with more energy and effort on offense and defense. While the other team, DePaul, thought their talent was good enough to overcome any team — including Central Michigan. 

The Blue Demons learned that lesson the hard way. 

After head coach Dave Leitao called a timeout in an effort to wake his team up, the Blue Demons went on a mini 4-0 run to cut the lead to 11 points. But that didn’t faze Central Michigan because they closed the first half on a 15-8 run, taking a 50-32 lead into the break and leaving Wintrust Arena in a state of shock. 

It was the sort of performance that brought back memories of the old DePaul squads, the ones that would struggle to beat teams like Central Michigan. 

But as the start of the season has shown, this isn’t the old DePaul team that could barely squeak out 10 wins a season — this is a new roster that is looking to put the Blue Demons back on the national map. For that reason, the Blue Demons came out a completely different team in the second half. 

It wasn’t a fire and brimstone halftime speech to inspire, all that it was just a reality conversation about who you want to be, and that’s not us,” Leitao said.

DePaul began the second half on a 7-0 run, forcing Central Michigan to call a timeout. That didn’t work. By the first media timeout the lead was down to nine, 54-45. Another chance for the visitors to change the momentum of the game. Again, that didn’t work. The ensuing two minutes saw no response from Central Michigan, with the Blue Demons cutting the lead down to four points, 60-56. Another timeout was called by head coach Keno Davis, but by that point his team had lost control of the game. 

“It started defensively,” senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands said. “That’s the biggest key for us this year and you saw it today. We gave up less shots, rebound the ball, push the ball and then if that breaks down, then we run our offense so we get good things. It starts on defense.” 

The defense was the first aspect of the game that switched from the first half to the second half. The Blue Demons were more relentless with their defense in the second half, pressuring and suffocating the Chippewas into submission by the final buzzer.

The big run for DePaul came after Central Michigan called a 30-second timeout, with the Blue Demons erupting for 18 straight points to take a 69-60 lead. But the run would not have been possible if not for Coleman-Lands’ three important 3-pointers to. The Illinois transfer scored nine of his 18 points in the second half during that run. 

“It really is just confidence shooting,” Coleman-Lands said. “So, after the first one, how it feels is clear. It’s repetition, shooters shoot.”

It was the type of performance that Leitao needed from his senior because the rest of the team was struggling to hit anything from the 3-point line. With Coleman-Lands sparking the Blue Demons on that 18-0 run, he also simultaneously sunk Central Michigan’s hopes of pulling off an upset in Chicago. 

“I think in the first half we came out lackadaisical, we didn’t have as much energy,” junior guard Charlie Moore said. “In the second half, coach and the coaching staff told us we have to come out in the second half with more energy and execute out there. We did that. The energy picked up in the second half and that led to some defensive stops into [fastbreaks]. We got out in transition and that led us to a comeback.”

Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia
DePaul freshman Romeo Weems celebrates after a play against Central Michigan.

Moore finished the game with 18 points and 13 assists, while his fellow junior Paul Reed posted his sixth double-double of the season with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Reed scored 15 points in the second half, including two blocks that flattened one Chippewas player to the floor with Reed left standing over him. 

With the Blue Demons in complete control of the game with seven minutes remaining, DePaul did not allow for Central Michigan to creep back into the game. Like all good teams do, they kept their foot on the accelerator. With DePaul turning around an 18-point deficit at halftime to win 88-75, the crowd was on its feet by the end of the game to give team a standing ovation. 

I really heard them, I really heard them today,” Leitao said. “They energized the team, which is what a home court supposed to bring about for a team is provided the team with energy and we really did that today. So, kudos to our fanbase.”

The game on Tuesday night was truly a tale of two halves, but it’s one that Leitao hopes is an outlier. With two tough games coming up against Minnoesta on Friday and Texas Tech on Dec. 4, Leitao recognizes that his team can ill afford to get off to another slow start. 

“We got to take care of business a couple of different ways,” Leitao said. “We got to watch film and see what we did and what we didn’t do. Then, we got to practice in a way that understanding you aren’t going to be great every single night, but you gotta control the controllables. To me, defense is always controllable. Some teams are going to make shots against you whether you play defense or not. So, we’ve got to really buckle down and understand if we continue to do that, if we look at what we did in the second half versus the first half then things can happen in a very positive way against a lot of teams. We will take on Minnesota on the road and go from there, but we’ve got to make sure that we got the right and proper mindset to do it.”