DePaul men’s basketball avoids collapse with 72-71 win over UIC

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To Billy Garrett Jr., pressure is something that doesn’t exist. Whether it’s a few seconds or 15 minutes to go, the size of the rim is the same.

In an almost identical shot to the one that tied the game against Marquette on Blue Demon day in February, Garrett hit another big three. This time, however, it was the game-winner.

Garrett came off a screen and received a pass before he nailed a 3-pointer to save the Blue Demons Friday with a 72-71 win over the University of Illinois-Chicago. The three-pointer came with 6.5 second to go after UIC had taken their first lead of the game just a few seconds prior. DePaul avoided a loss after blowing a 16-point halftime lead in their season opener.

“It’s all a matter of making it,” Garrett said. “I was able to make the shot tonight and now we move on to the next one.”

Tommy Hamilton led the Blue Demons with 17 points and eight rebounds. Myke Henry also put in 11 points in his DePaul regular season debut and Billy Garrett finished with 12.

“I just had fun, it was a good game,” Hamilton said. “I was really into it tonight, I really wanted the team to win. We had a lot of fans out and I wanted to give them a good show.”

The Blue Demons raced out to an early lead, leading UIC with a 17-10 advantage shortly into the first half. They kept adding to the lead on the back of Forrest Robinson going 3-3 from behind the arc initially, going out in front 25-17.

DePaul continued to stretch their lead, eventually leading 35-17 before settling on a 46-30 lead at the half. Tommy Hamilton and Forrest Robinson led DePaul with nine points apiece. DePaul also had five steals at the half.

“We went in up 16 at the half but we had been up 21 and we had let up,” head coach Oliver Purnell said.  “If you look at that stretch from the end of the first half to the 13-4 run coming out of the second half there was a game. Our guys got back to grinding but then the opposition had some confidence.”

The second half was not as successful for DePaul as the Flames opened up with a 13-4 run to pull within seven. DePaul was able to hold UIC off as the minutes started to tick down but the Flames were able to cut the deficit, finally tying it at 67-67 with 2:15 to go.

Hamilton briefly put the Blue Demons back up at 69-67 but the Flames responded with two free-throws to tie it back up. After DePaul turned it over, UIC hit a long bucket to give them a 71-69 lead with 29.2 seconds to go.

Garrett jr. was the hero for DePaul after he drained a three on the next possession to give the Blue Demons a 72-71 lead with 6.5 seconds to go. The Flames would get one more shot at a winner, but they were not able to knock down an open three, giving DePaul the 72-71 victory.

“I just wanted to get the best shot available,” Garrett said. “I was surprised they had stayed in a zone so we moved the ball around the perimeter and I had some daylight and luckily it went in.”

Hamilton, who dropped 30 pounds in the offseason, led the game in minutes played with 33 and matched his career-high point total with 17.

“(Losing weight) helped a lot,” he said. “I have more stamina so I can go longer, I can get back on defense, I can run up and get a couple blocks now so it helps me all around.”

Purnell mentioned some of the inconsistencies in the Blue Demons’ play that have shown in their first glimpses into the 2014-2015 season.

“We have a similar pattern to our scrimmage with Wisconsin and game with Lewis where we’re playing well in stretches,”  he said. “I think our guys know when we’re playing well. That’s when we’re really energized defensively.”

He was, however, happy the Blue Demons were able to pull out the victory despite giving up the lead at halftime.

“We were able to pull it out but that’s what happens when your best player bails you out,” Purnell said. “He made a big shot and we’re very glad our guys executed.”