NEW YORK – The locale and stage may have changed, but the teams were the same. It could have, perhaps even should have, produced the same result.
But deja vu, it seems, is a fickle thing.
DePaul entered its opening round game of the 2013 Big East Tournament slated to face Rutgers, the very team the Blue Demons earned just their second conference win of the season against.
That six-point victory on Feb. 16 was far from what transpired Tuesday night, as the Scarlet Knights overpowered the Demons en route to a 76-57 win and a date with Notre Dame the following night.
A big 16-3 run to open the second half gave Rutgers its legs, extending a one-point halftime lead to 13 (52-39) with 15 minutes left to play. The Scarlet Knights executed an effective inside-outside attack, led by junior forward Wally Judge and sophomore guard Myles Mack.
Judge finished the game with a dominant 20 points on 9-9 shooting, tying Craig Smith and Ricky Wright’s Big East record for individual field goal percentage in a game. Mack contributed 19 points.
“Wally and the whole team, no matter what happened this year, continued to work,” said Rutgers head coach Mike Rice. “It’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s improved every single day because of it. It allowed him to have a record-setting night like this.”
According to DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell, Rutgers’ scoring stretch in the second half “proved to be our undoing.” The Blue Demons were unable to shake their pessimism of lacking stops on defense, a debilitating mental splinter.
“I thought they made six or maybe even eight of their first eight shots in the second half. That kind of gave them a little bit of a working margin,” said Purnell. The Demons made a bit of a run to cut the lead to eight, which featured five straight points from Cleveland Melvin, who led all scorers with 25 points (10-16 FG).
But bad offensive trips mounted precipitously, burying DePaul’s hopes of keeping the run going.
“We just turned it over, shot turnovers and just didn’t do anything sound or solid offensively,” said Purnell. “Their inside game, that stretch I mentioned at the beginning of the second half, our inability to generate some sound offense … we just didn’t play well enough to win.”
The first half may have been dull and sloppy, but DePaul’s full-court defense gave Rutgers issues and benefited the most from the grinding pace, showing their most promise. The Blue Demons excelled by feeding off its opposition’s carelessness with the basketball, scoring 13 points off 11 Rutgers turnovers.
Guards Brandon Young and Worrel Clahar were particularly bent on attacking the basket, even when Rutgers switched to a zone defense halfway through the first period. Young finished with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Clahar added nine points.
But, as has become customary with this Blue Demons team, defense cost them, shutting down when Rutgers made its game-changing run.
Melvin agrees that he and the rest of the Demons will have plenty of aspects of their game to smooth out if they hope to compete in a new Big East Conference.
“(We need to do) a better job on the defensive end, rebounding, crashing the ball,” said Melvin. “Just doing a better job in those areas.”
“Defensively, we struggled there all year long,” said Purnell. “Our defensive field goal percentage, coupled with our rebounding, which have to do with each other, totally. I mean, tonight was a good example.”
For now, DePaul has almost seven months to think about what needs to be improved and improve them. Rebounding, defense and a more disciplined offense are on the agenda. They leave this iteration of the Big East losers, but things can always be turned around in the new league if given the necessary effort.