Blue Demons Developing a Nice Finishing Touch
Jan. 16, 2014
CHICAGO - Judging from the last two performances, it appears that DePaul is learning how to close out a game.
It began seven days ago at a historic gym in Indianapolis when the Blue Demons overcame an 11-point deficit in less than four minutes to force overtime and eventually stun BIG EAST Conference adversary Butler 99-94 in double overtime.
Memories of that rally at Hinkle Fieldhouse helped the Blue Demons maintain their poise and tighten their defense in Tuesday night's 77-75 BIG EAST win over St. John's at Allstate Arena.
In the last two games, DePaul (10-8, 2-3) has outscored its opponents by a combined 16-3 in the final four minutes of the game.
Dare we start referring to coach Oliver Purnell's players as "The Four-Minute Men?"
The Blue Demon defense held Butler scoreless for nearly four minutes at the end of regulation time. DePaul gave up just one point in the final 4:35 in overtaking St. John's as Cleveland Melvin's two free throws and Billy Garrett Jr.'s layup set the stage for Melvin's jump shot and a 76-75 lead. Brandon Young added an insurance free throw.
"The game at Butler had a lot to do with the win against St. John's, and we referenced the Butler game late in the second half," said Garrett who has a total of 43 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in the last two games. "We were down by four, but we stayed together and kept fighting. We've been here before, and it paid off for us. And it will pay off in the next game, too.
"We can get on a roll, and our fans are hoping we can get more wins. We can build on this."
Purnell was encouraged by the attitude and the looks of his players when they trailed St. John's 74-70 in the final four minutes.
"You have every reason to be woe is me at that point," Purnell said. "But you don't see that in the faces of our guys in the last several games and hopefully that's a permanent thing. It does show growth in your team.
``I'm not going to call that turning a corner. But we talked before the St. John's game about making a statement with a win at home.
``We continued the theme that we have to play better longer. We had a stretch in the second half where we struggled to score, and our defense kept us in the game."
In the span of six days, DePaul (10-8, 2-3) has gone from last place to sixth in the BIG EAST and is looking to keep on climbing.
"It's very refreshing," said Young who has 37 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals in the last two games. "It feels so good right now with two wins. We want to get more wins and we want to win bad. You can see it on our faces when we're playing. It's always a good feeling getting two in a row. But why not get three?
``We went through a lot of adversity at Butler, so we knew what to expect against St. John's. We play six-minute games in practice. We don't want any turnovers and have to make free throws. We know it's going to come down to the last four minutes or so.
"Winning always gives you confidence. We talk about the importance of playing together. If we can keep this going, the sky's the limit."
Nobody thought the sky was falling when the Blue Demons trailed Butler by double digits.
"Even when we were down by 11, our mindset was that we were not going to let Butler beat us," said Melvin who has totaled 46 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks in the last two games. "We stayed aggressive and stuck with our game plan. We picked up our defense and had more energy on the defensive end.
"We were executing and moving the ball well on the offensive end. We were sharing the ball and finding the guys who could score. The team was focused on what we needed to do to win the game."
Tommy Hamilton IV and Melvin hit back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite the Butler comeback. With :54 to go, Garrett drained a clutch three, and Melvin's jumper forced overtime.
In the extra period, the Blue Demons led by six points with :28 left when Butler drew within one. Melvin's foul shot with :11 on the clock provided an 87-85 lead until Jackson Aldridge's 12-foot buzzer-beater mandated a second overtime.
DePaul jumped out to a five-point lead, and Melvin's jumper and a pair of Young free throws clinched the 99-94 victory. Melvin finished with 30 points and eight rebounds while Garrett had a career-high 22 points along with five rebounds and five assists. Hamilton contributed 17 points and 12 boards while Young had 18 points and three steals.
"The difference between the Butler game and other close ones we had lost was that we all said to one another: 'We're not going to let this one get away.'" Melvin said. "We became more focused and aggressive on both ends of the court.
"I saw the smile on Tommy's face after he made one big shot after another, and he really seemed to be enjoying the game. He was making big shots, and you could see his confidence growing. When he is hitting shots like that, it can really spark our offense. It definitely felt great to win that game.
"We were more confident after that game and we did well under pressure. We were all so excited afterwards. I couldn't get to sleep and just kept thinking about that win. It was an exciting night on the road."
Extending the BIG EAST winning streak won't be easy as DePaul tips off at 3 p.m. Saturday at No. 6/6 Villanova (15-1, 4-0) who has beaten No. 14 Iowa and No. 15 Kansas and lost to No. 2 Syracuse.
But if the Blue Demons can hang around long enough, maybe they'll have a chance to work that four-minute magic.