Merry Christmas, Oliver Purnell
Dec. 22, 2010
ROSEMONT, Ill. – What a way to head into the Christmas holiday.
DePaul's players converged on their coach, pounding his back and jostling him around as Oliver Purnell won the 400th game of his stellar career Wednesday night at Allstate Arena.
It didn’t come easy, this 71-62 victory over a Florida Atlantic team that closed the gap to three points with less than two minutes left.
But Cleveland Melvin, Jimmy Drew and Jeremiah Kelly combined to go eight-for-eight from the free-throw line in the final 51 seconds to clinch the Blue Demons’ third win in a row and guarantee a postgame celebration.
Sure enough, out came the cake to sweeten Purnell’s first historic moment at DePaul.
“I’m relieved for it to be over with on the first chance,” said Purnell, who won his 100th game at Old Dominion, 200th at Dayton and 300th at Clemson. “I didn’t want that burden for our players.
“I waited until just before the game and mentioned to our players that this meant a lot to me personally. It would be a great Christmas present for me to get it before the holidays.”
Melvin came through with a career-high 23 points, including six in the final 2:29.
“It meant a lot (to the team),” Melvin said about win No. 400 that boosted DePaul to .500 with a 6-6 record. “We came out with a lot of energy and a lot of attitude.”
DePaul took control early on the strength of a 30-7 run in the first half. The Blue Demons went from a 7-3 deficit to a 33-14 lead as Melvin scored 13 points in that span.
Just when Florida Atlantic (8-6) began creeping up, Jimmy Drew hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer from deep in the corner to give the Blue Demons a 42-28 halftime advantage.
But DePaul saw a 14-point second half lead dissolve as Florida Atlantic went on a 23-11 tear to come within 63-60 with 1:50 left. Leading the way was Greg Gantt, who finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.
“We stopped attacking for a while in the second half, didn’t rebound and didn’t take care of the ball,” Purnell said. “We shot free throws well (12-of-14 in the second half), and that was the key to holding them off.”
The Owls couldn’t get any closer than three as Melvin & Co. closed them out from the line.
“Coach told us that good teams like Florida Atlantic are not going to give up,” said Drew, who finished with 13 points and was 3-for-3 from three-point range and 4-for-4 from the line. “We knew they had one run left. We took it, and pushed back.”
Tony Freeland contributed 12 points and brought the house down with an electrifying one-hand slam dunk over 6-8 Brett Royster.
“Nasty,” is how Melvin described it.
“You’ll probably be seeing that on TV (highlights),” Drew said.
After spending Christmas with their families, the Blue Demons will get ready for the rugged BIG EAST Conference season.
They open league play on Tuesday with a showdown at Cincinnati that will be televised on ESPN3.