DePaul was shorthanded on Saturday, dropping their fourth straight in a 77-72 loss to Providence. Given the score, you wouldn't have expected the Blue Demons to be down three starters. That's because the game felt less like a loss and more like a coming out party for freshman R.J. Curington.
The freshman came off the bench against the Friars and had a career day, putting up 22 points to help offset the less-than-stellar games from guards Brandon Young (12 points on 30% shooting, nine assists ) and Durrell McDonald (four points). His performance overshadowed the defeat and quickly made folks take notice of a hidden gem Oliver Purnell's been keeping in his back pocket.
Curington has almost instantly inserted himself into DePaul's long-term plans, along with fellow freshmen Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton, who returned to the starting lineup Saturday with 13 points and eight rebounds. Curington, a product of high school hoops dynasty Oak Hill Academy, gives Purnell a guard in the same role as Young, a shooter that is able to drive to the basket and distribute the rock. With Curington, Hamilton and Garrett in tow, if Purnell gets a few more pieces, the next few years will be very interesting in DePaul basketball.
Losing Streak Continues
Villanova Coasts to Big-5 Title
The Villanova Wildcats used an offensive explosion in the second half to rout the Temple Owls and secure the team's first outright Big-5 title in three years.
Saturday's 5-point loss to Providence extends the current DePaul losing streak to 4, and drops them to 2-7 in the Big East. With their starters combining for nearly 35 more points than DePaul's on the season, the Friars ran to a 30-14 lead in the first before the Demons began to rally back behind Curington, who knocked in a few threes along with Forrest Robinson (nine points), to close the half on a 23-12 run.
With three starters down, DePaul played "next man up" and stayed with the Friars until the very end, tying the game at 62 with seven minutes to go after eight straight points from Edwind McGhee. Then, down seven late, DePaul cut the deficit to four with 33 seconds to go, but it wasn't enough as Providence pulled away for the 77-72 victory.
Providence shot over 60% in the first half, but were held to just eight field goals the rest of the game, relying on 18 second-half free throws to seal the win. DePaul shot around their usual 42%, but not having Cleveland Melvin (suspension), Garrett Jr. and McKinney (ankle) really hurt the Blue Demons.
Assessing the Hoyas
Georgetown opened up the new Big East with a 61-54 nailbiting win over DePaul back on New Years Eve. Markel Starks (16.4 PPG) gave the Hoyas a huge jolt with a game-high 21 points, while his partner in the backcourt, D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera (16.6 PPG) contributed 12 points. This isn't the same Georgetown team though, as center Joshua Smith was ruled academically ineligible for the remainder of the season last week. The Hoyas came out the gates with a 10-3 start before losing six of their next seven.
If there was ever a boost of confidence needed, Georgetown got it this weekend with a 64-60 upset over No. 7 Michigan State. Starks and Rivera combined for 28 points while Mikael Hopkins added eleven in his new starting center role. Granted, Sparty were without Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawson, and guard Keith Appling battled through injury for a quiet seven points, so this wasn't a healthy Michigan State squad. That shouldn't discourage Georgetown, whose defense, anchored by Nate Lubick, held the Spartans to 21-of-53 shooting. They got a pick-me-up at the perfect time in their schedule, with DePaul and Butler coming up before a rematch with Providence.
At this moment, the status of Melvin, Garrett and McKinney are unknown, so their absence will play a huge role in tonight's outcome. Curington and Robinson have stepped up and provided Oliver Purnell with some numbers to call on if Brandon Young struggles, and that is a huge positive for DePaul.
The question of this game will be the same as their last meeting: can DePaul stop the Georgetown backcourt? Rivera and Starks had a tough time getting out the gates in December's match-up, but they ultimately recovered. Without Joshua Smith, the Hoyas can't afford another slow start, especially against a banged up DePaul team. If their starters return, and they can limit Georgetown's guards to under 25 points, DePaul can end their losing streak. If Starks & Rivera be allowed to get open and knock down shots, it could be a rough game for the Blue Demons.
Georgetown 62, DePaul 59