Men’s basketball comes up short against Fighting Irish 84-76

The DePaul Blue Demons gave the host Notre Dame Fighting Irish all they could handle on Saturday afternoon in Purcell Pavilion, but couldn’t finish it off in a 84-76 loss.

Four Blue Demons scored in double-figures, but Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley and their outrebounding eventually did DePaul in.

“Cooley was a handful for us,” DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell said about the 6-9 junior forward who finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds. “He definitely damaged us all night long. Anytime they drove, they looked for him. We didn’t rotate well enough on the inside.”

As a whole, DePaul was outrebounded by Notre Dame 33-23. Cleveland Melvin led the way with six rebounds in addition to his 16 points. The other three Blue Demons in double-figures were Jeremiah Kelly, Jamee Crockett and Brancon Young, who scored 17, 13, and 13 points respectively.

The Blue Demons were a thorn in Notre Dame’s side all afternoon and even when the Irish looked like they could blow the game wide open, DePaul kept clawing back.

Irish guard Eric Atkins hit a layup to extend their lead to 61-54 with 11:14 remaining in the game. After a DePaul timeout, the Blue Demons came out on a 9-0 run to take the lead. From there, it was back and forth for most of the remainder of the game.

“It wasn’t going to be easy, it was going to be a grind.” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “It’s one of those things that you say if we get out, it’ll be a flat escape. It was an escape game.”

DePaul’s ability to turn Notre Dame over early on as well as wearing them down with their backcourt pressure is what kept them in it until nearly the end. The Blue Demons caused 12 Notre Dame turnovers are scored 17 points off of them.

“Everytime we looked like we had some breathing room, [DePaul] is right back on you,” Brey commented. “Eventually [against the press] you have to outscore them and we did enough to get out of there.”

The big surprise to start the game was the starting lineup, which was absent of Young, Kelly, and Krys Faber. Derrell Robertson Jr. who got the start at center, quickly picked up three fouls guarding Cooley and didn’t see anymore action the rest of the game.

As for Young, Purnell said that “he just wasn’t playing well,” as the reasoning behind benching him Saturday.

He seemed to respond to it a little bit.

“I guess so,” Young answered when asked if coming off the bench changed his game approach. “I’m not really worried about starting or coming off the bench. It was [Coach] Purnell’s decision and I don’t have a problem with it. Whatever he says goes.”

Two crucial calls down the stretch doomed the Blue Demons. With 6:38 remaining and the game tied at 68, Purnell was called for a technical foul. Jerian Grant made the two free throws, then the Irish got the ball back and Cooley made a layup, putting Notre Dame up by four.

DePaul never got closer than three the rest of the game.

“I had been giving to him [the referee] pretty good, so I guess I got on him a little harder than he wanted,” Purnell said about the foul. “I just thought it was a touch foul in the middle of the floor.”

Then, with 1:24 remaining and DePaul down by five, the referee called a charge on Young against Cooley.

Even with the loss, forward Donnavan Kirk sought out the positives and sees brighter days ahead for DePaul.

“It’s showing growth in our team,” he commented. “As you see, we are a work in progress. We just jave to keep pushing and getting better.”