DePaul Discovers Why Syracuse is No. 1
Jan. 1, 2012
ROSEMONT, Ill. – Nothing like opening the BIG EAST Conference season against the best team in the country.
DePaul found out first-hand on New Year’s Day why Syracuse sits atop the polls during an 87-68 loss at Allstate Arena that snapped the Blue Demons’ five-game winning streak.
It was the first time DePaul (9-4, 0-1) had played a No. 1-ranked opponent in Allstate Arena.
“I’ve seen a lot of Syracuse teams and this may be the best Syracuse zone defense,” said DePaul coach Oliver Purnell. “A lot of that has to do with the 7-foot Fab Melo (12 points, six blocks) who gives them a shot-blocker in the middle.
“Their guards in the zone also do a good job. It makes you play under duress in a different way.”
After falling behind by 19 points at halftime, the Blue Demons could not put together a big run in the second half to get within striking distance. They pulled within 16 in the middle of the second half after a pair of Donnavan Kirk free throws.
But Syracuse (15-0, 2-0) was able to counter every DePaul thrust through the final 20 minutes. Cleveland Melvin led the Blue Demons with 23 points and eight rebounds while Kirk had his best game with 14 points.
NBA prospect Kris Joseph had 22 points and seven rebounds for the Orange while C.J. Fair added 16 points.
“I knew Syracuse would be physical and play a good zone,” Melvin said. “We weren’t playing hard from the start and they just took it to us.
“They are No. 1 and have proven themselves so far. Every BIG EAST team knows about Syracuse.”
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim saw improvement in the 2011-12 version of the Blue Demons.
“I think they’re a much better team and Melvin is a terrific player,” Boeheim said. “Our zone gave them some trouble because they didn’t shoot it well from the perimeter.
“It takes time in this league to get to where you can compete. It’s going to take three or four years to compete in this league.”
DePaul’s second-leading scorer Brandon Young was held scoreless by an Orange defense that targeted the sophomore point guard who did wind up with eight assists and two steals.
“Syracuse is great defensively, and they made a decision to make it tough on Brandon,” Purnell said. “The defense shaded towards him, and he only had two open looks all night.
“When that happens, someone else has to pick it up.”
The 6-foot, 9-inch Kirk tried to pick it up with an inside presence.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable and getting into game shape,” Kirk said. “No matter what, I want to be ready when my number is called.
“We learned today that you can’t give up and that we’re still a work in progress. Trust me---our heads are not going to be down.”
Syracuse showed why it’s ranked No. 1 in the nation with a series of runs in the first half. The Orange went on an early 15-2 burst that provided an eight-point lead. The Blue Demons battled to within 19-15 on a Melvin basket inside. Syracuse promptly went on a 14-3 offensive for a 33-18 advantage.
After DePaul had clawed to within 11, backup 6-8 forward Fair sparked a 12-2 Orange outburst that left DePaul with a 45-26 deficit at halftime.
Syracuse’s celebrated zone defense gave the Blue Demons problems as the home team shot just 31 percent in the first half while the Orange converted nearly 66 percent of its shots. DePaul was 0-for-8 from three-point range in the first 20 minutes and 3-for-18 in the game.
“We didn’t guard the dribbler very well or keep him out of the lane,” Purnell said. “And, we didn’t rebound well. They shot too many layups or stick-backs.
“We’ll regroup and go after it the next game.”
DePaul returns to Allstate Arena on Thursday to face BIG EAST adversary Pittsburgh with a 6 p.m. tipoff.