Turnovers, zone defense doom DePaul men’s basketball against Providence

Three Providence defenders filled the paint, two more anchored the arc and DePaul men’s basketball struggled with a zone defense once again.

DePaul committed 16 turnovers en route to an 84-57 loss to Providence Wednesday at Allstate Arena. It was the Blue Demons’  third consecutive loss as DePaul (12-15, 6-8 Big East) shot just 34 percent.

The 27-point loss was DePaul’s largest margin of defeat this season. Comically, the Blue Demons were just two-point underdogs heading into the game.

“I’m very disappointed in the way we played tonight,” DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell said. “When you don’t play well against a very good team, this can happen. What happened tonight is that we just didn’t respond well to anything.”

The zone has been a problem the Blue Demons haven’t been able to solve all season long. DePaul wasn’t able to penetrate the paint, which they have used to open up shooters on the outside. The Blue Demons were sloppy in the first half, coughing up the ball 13 times.

It led to 17 points and let Providence’s lead to grow to 15 in the first half, which Purnell said was the difference.

“We talked at halftime that it wasn’t their zone, but it was us taking of the basketball,” Purnell said. “We kept giving them pick-sixes. As good as a player (Providence guard) Kris Dunn, we turned it over to him four times in the first half. He got layups out in transition, and he’s pretty acrobatic and so he’s not going to miss those.

Dunn, who posted a triple double in the first meeting on Jan. 29, finished with 21 points. Dunn and senior forward LaDontae Henton carved up the Blue Demons on the inside, proving again they are one of the best 1-2 combinations in the Big East.

Henton, who leads the conference with 20.5 points per game, scored 22 points and added 11 rebounds. DePaul, as a whole, was out-rebounded 35-32.

“I thought we had some good energy defensively,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said. “I thought bodies were moving. Our offensive execution was good. We attacked the rim. We were able to get to the foul line in the half. Kris and LaDontae, they lead the way, they’re one of the best duos in college basketball.”

This was DePaul’s first home game in just over two weeks since taking the season sweep against Seton Hall Feb. 3. The Blue Demons started fast with a 7-2 lead in the first two minutes, but then turnovers led to Providence finding their rhythm and then stayed in it.

In the second half, DePaul still wasn’t able to solve the Friars’ zone. The Blue Demons’ ball movement was stagnant, often just passing it back and forth on the arc before hoisting up 3-pointers. DePaul shot 3-for-11 from three-point range in the second half, well below their season average of 36 percent. They did, however, finish the game at nearly 39 percent because of a strong first half.

DePaul wasn’t able to get in the paint because of Providence’s size.

“We just didn’t do it together,” DePaul guard R.J. Curington said. “We didn’t come out ready. We went through in practice what they were going to run, but we just weren’t strong enough.”

Curington, who hasn’t had a lot of playing time this season, scored 10 points. He was one of three Blue Demons to break double figures, along with Jamee Crockett (10) and Billy Garrett Jr. (11).

It became so bad for the Blue Demons that even Providence walk-on Joe Planek scored four points in the final three minutes. Plank, from Oak Park, had the Providence bench standing up and smiling while a section of his family and friends in the crowd cheered him on.

For DePaul, the three-game losing streak marks the third time a losing streak has reached at least three games.

The Blue Demons responded the first two times, but after tonight, they’ll have to come up with another answer.

“The question is how we respond now,” Purnell said. “We got our butts kicked. It’s really important we respond in the right way. We use it for motivation, that we’re ticked off and know we can play better than that. The key will be how we respond.”