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Northern Illinois vs. DePaul game recap: Blue Demons defensively stifle the Huskies

DePaul managed to continue its successes from last Sunday, working hard to take down the Northern Illinois Huskies in a hard-fought game, featuring fantastic performances on both sides of the ball.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

DePaul improved to 4-1 on the season Tuesday night with a 78-67 win over the Northern Illinois Huskies.

From the get-go, DePaul couldn't manage to find their offense.  Myke Henry was 0/4 from the field before he hit his first shot, as he was trying so desperately to duplicate his production from the Stanford game.  The Blue Demons scored their first six points off of traditional three-point plays, but it wasn't until Jamee Crockett took over the offense that 'they began to close the gap with Northern Illinois.  Despite the woes, the backcourt tandem of Crockett and Garrett emerged as the dominant force, cutting to the rim and pulling down some key rebounds.  They combined for 17 points in the first half, showing exactly what can happen if they are able to provide a scoring bump.

The biggest offensive star, in my opinion, was Forrest Robinson.  Robinson finished with three made three-pointers in the first half, including hitting one at the buzzer to snap an 8-0 NIU scoring run.  He has a unique ability, as a big man, to hit the three efficiently.  It works wonders for DePaul, as it spreads the opposition thin, opening up possibilities inside for Tommy Hamilton.  At that point, the opponents are at an impasse.  Do they defend the paint or do they leave perhaps the best three-point shooter on DePaul wide open?

The big story of the first half, however, was DePaul's defense.  If there ever was a DePaul team that seems to understand Coach Purnell's pressure defense, it's this squad.  They did a superb job of continuing to pressure the Huskies efficiently, forcing a string of turnovers that served to give me flashbacks of the win over Stanford.  At around the 10:30 mark, DePaul went down by a score of 19-17.  Their defense, however, sparked a great run that entailed two steals leading to consecutive threes from Forrest Robinson and Billy Garrett Jr.  The Blue Demons scored 13 unanswered points and that was the moment that allowed them to take the reins in the first half.  Up until that point, NIU had been dominating DePaul in transition, something DePaul didn't seem to have an answer for.  DePaul found out quickly though that if you turn the opposition over, then they can't possibly win in transition.

The second started off exceptionally well for Myke Henry, who had been on the bench for a large chunk of the first half due to foul trouble.  He hadn't been able to find his offense, but he seemed to be rejuvenated after the first half, as he came out and scored five straight points to open the second half for DePaul.  The Blue Demons picked up exactly where they left off, and Northern Illinois seemed to be in a trance--they could not find an answer for this DePaul team.  Nevertheless, DePaul made sure to continue playing relentlessly, lest they fall victim to this comeback-prone Huskies squad that managed to pull off an historic win over Maine, winning despite facing a 21-point second half deficit.

DePaul would not suffer a similar fate, but God knows they sure managed to make it interesting.

With less than 10 minutes to go in the game, some solid shooting and a string of defensive stops allowed Northern Illinois to make their way back into the contest.  The Huskies went on an 11-1 scoring run, bringing the score to 63-54. Eventually, DePaul was able to get Garrett to the line after being fouled on a three point attempt.  He managed to widen the gap between the teams, where it would stay through the final buzzer.

DePaul showed a few key qualities tonight.  The first of those is resilience.  The Blue Demons struggled--and I mean STRUGGLED--early on.  They were being dominated in transition and none of their scorers could seem to get out of the slumps they started off in.  They have learned how to face adversity well after that Lehigh loss.  Old DePaul teams would have rolled over after that slump.  Not this one.  These Blue Demons were on a mission and they knew exactly what to do to revive their chances in this game.  If that isn't a sign of maturity, I don't know what is.

The Blue Demons also had an extraordinarily hot hand tonight.  They launched 22 long range shots in the game, hitting 11 of them.  That is certainly attributed to the varied amount of good shooters on this DePaul team.  Every starter (and especially sixth man Forrest Robinson) is able to shoot from anywhere on the court, something that put opposing defenses like NIU's in a tizzy.  This is one of the best DePaul teams, shooting-wise, in recent memory.  If they can continue to hit such a high volume of shots, then the ceiling on this season will be incredibly lofty.

Notes:

  • Northern Illinois hit its first three-pointer of the night at the 7:31 mark of the second half.
  • DePaul has now increased its lead in the DePaul-NIU series to 26-6.  They have won 4 straight against the Huskies.
  • Myke Henry didn't continue his streak of 20+ point games, finishing with 15 after starting off slowly.
  • Durrell McDonald once again proved he's a valuable on-court asset, dishing out 9 assists and grabbing 4 rebounds.  He may not score in massive amounts, but he continues to do what is best for the team.  You can't help but love seeing his well-rounded abilities on the court.
  • Forrest Robinson finished with 14 points after shooting 4/6 from three.  Tonight was the first game all season in which he attempted a two-point field goal.
  • Robinson also did this at the buzzer: