Defense, three-point shooting propel Blue Demons to win

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A relentless defensive attack combined with an 11-21 three-point shooting performance pushed DePaul to a 91-59 win over UC-Riverside in its regular season opener at McGrath-Phillips Arena Friday night.

The Blue Demons forced the Highlanders into turning the ball over 24 times, scoring 37 points off of their miscues. After a first half in which DePaul held only a 39-28 lead, the home team clamped down on the opposition both on the ball and pressuring all the way up the court. 

“Our on-ball defense is something we’ve been working on,” said head coach Oliver Purnell. “I thought we were a little nervous in the first half and took us a while for us to find our legs. But once we got into the game at the end of the first half, we really warmed into it, found our rhythm, and really played the way we want to play.” 

DePaul did get off to a slow start in the first half, shooting a decent 47 percent (15-32) from the field, but many of these shots were forced from the perimeter. However, the Blue Demons were fortunate to have many of them connect, shooting 6-14 from downtown.

Though their shooting in the first half kept them ahead, which Purnell said should not be their plan of attack, it was the Blue Demons’ pressure defense that really flustered the Highlanders.

“We weren’t allowing them to just drive the ball into the lane, we were keeping them on the outside,” said Purnell. “Then when they picked it up, we got better pressure on the ball so that they couldn’t just take it and toss it in there. I think that really disrupted them.”

The Blue Demons came out of the locker room determined to put their opponent away, going on a 12-0 run to push their lead to 61-37 with 12 minutes remaining. DePaul had asserted itself as the better team, and would not relinquish the lead.

“In the locker room, I stressed to the guys that we’ve got 20 more minutes of basketball and it’s not over yet,” said Brandon Young, who had a game-high 20 points, along with five assists. “So the first four minutes of the second half, we’ve gotta go out there and fight, punch them first and let them know that we’re here and still going to play hard and not give up.”

DePaul withstood some hot shooting from guards Josh Fox and Austin Quick, who were the Highlanders’ leading scorers with 17 and 15 points, respectively. UCR’s forced perimeter offense was unsustainable, as the Blue Demons all worked hard to prevent easy passing lanes.

Purnell also credited a more established inside game and improved rebounding as key aspects in the second half, in which the Blue Demons outscored the Highlanders 52-31. Cleveland Melvin and Derrell Robertson were especially strong on the glass, grabbing seven rebounds apiece.

DePaul’s bench also came in to round out an overall solid win on campus, outscoring UCR’s subs 33-10.

“UC-Riverside was a great team to play against,” said Young. “It was great for our freshmen to come in and give us a spark off the bench like they did. I’m just proud that they were working hard and were fighting for 40 minutes.”

The men will next face Gardner-Webb at Allstate Arena Thursday. Tip-off at 7:30 p.m.