DePaul downs Minnesota 73-68 on the road, improves to 8-0


Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

The bench celebrates during the second half of a game against Central Michigan on Tuesday, Nov. 26.

MINNEAPOLIS – Even the most optimistic DePaul Blue Demons fan would be hard-pressed to say they saw this coming.

The Blue Demons moved to 8-0 on the season with a hard-fought 73-68 road victory against the University of Minnesota (3-4) Friday afternoon. The victory – propped up by a 21-point, 12-assist performance from junior guard Charlie Moore, and a stifling defense that held the Gophers to 34.4% shooting – secured the programs its best start to a season since 1986.

“Well, credit to DePaul,” said Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino after the game. “They’re a good team, a well-coached team. They play hard, they’ve got really good talent.”

A key play came early, about 11 minutes into the game with DePaul trailing 17-18, when Blue Demons freshman Romeo Weems drew a foul to get to the line. His two free throws put the Blue Demons ahead 19-18. From that point on, DePaul never allowed Minnesota to retake the lead or even tie the score. 

The closest the Gophers came was at the 12:57 mark of the second half, when Minnesota’s Payton Willis hit a bucket in the paint to make it 51-50. Yet every time Minnesota made a small run to get within a field goal, the Blue Demons responded with a flurry of their own, often on the back of Moore.

When Minnesota got it to 65-63 with just under 6 minutes left, Moore hit a jumper just outside the paint to give DePaul some breathing room. He did it again, 90 seconds later with the score unchanged, stealing a pass from Minnesota’s Marcus Carr and taking it all the way for a fast break lay-up.

Three free throws put the Gophers back within 3 points until Moore tallied his 12th assist of the night, hitting Jaylen Butz on a fast break for a lay-up.

“We were doing a good job of battling back,” Pitino said. “We finally started to get to the free-throw line, but every time we got a little bit close they made a little bit of a run.”

On the other end, Moore and his teammates hounded Minnesota big man Daniel Oturu with double-teams, making the center work for the 19 points he did put up. DePaul’s rangy wings also sprinted out to challenge 3-pointers – something DePaul head coach Dave Leitao said was “a real key” – while routinely switching on defense. They held Minnesota to 21-61 from the field for the game while grabbing six steals.

Pitino credited the Blue Demons’ size and speed for his team’s shooting struggles. 

The win over Minnesota is DePaul’s second road victory over a Big Ten team, after their trouncing of Iowa in the fourth game of the season. 

“I told them this early, I could see early that there’s something going on in our locker room that we can come together with,” said Leitao after the game, via The AP. “We’ve … been able to handle adversity thus far, and then be able to maintain and know that we can still grow.”

Friday’s victory wasn’t always clean basketball. The Blue Demons suffered from spurts of turnovers, and in the first half allowed 12 Minnesota offensive rebounds that kept the Gophers in the game.

A win is a win, and looking back at this past decade, those have been particularly hard to come by. Ten seasons ago, the Blue Demons finished 7-24 under the highly touted new head coach Oliver Purnell. That team’s biggest accomplishment? Not going winless in the Big East, thanks to a single conference victory over Providence that left them at 1-17. The team muddled through the next seven seasons with little success, until a 2018-19 season under Leitao that saw the team finish above .500. 

Now they’re 8-0. But is this hot start legitimate, a sign of a new normal for a program that has struggled to find its footing? Or just a mirage along the lakeshore?

“That starting five is as good as any starting five in the country,” Pitino said after Friday’s game, commending Leitao for the recruiting he’s done. “They’re poised, they’re talented, they’re confident, they’re scrappy, they play hard, they have an identity.”