On a night where Eli Cain and Billy Garrett Jr. combined to score 53 points, the DePaul Blue Demons were upset on their home court by the UIC Flames, 80-75. It wasn’t a good performance by the Blue Demons and the Flames took advantage of it, thanks to a strong second half.
Being the underdog in this game, the Flames tried to establish a presence in the post early, using their big men in Tai Odiase and Clint Robinson. But DePaul countered that thanks to some good interior defense, particularly by Joe Hanel, and sometimes switching to a zone defense. Even with UIC focusing inside, DePaul still held a solid advantage on the boards and grabbed the first seven rebounds of the game. It was a very back-and-forth game in the first half with both teams shooting well from the field. The sloppiness by both teams also factored in the closeness of the game. The teams committed a combined 20 turnovers in the first half.
A very scary moment occurred very early in the game when Dikembe Dixson, UIC’s leading scorer and the 20th leading scorer in the country, went down with a non-contact knee injury. It was a huge loss for the Flames, as Dixson is what makes their offense click and is their go-to guy when they need a bucket. Despite the loss, UIC continued to play well, jumping out to leads as large as five in the opening half. But the Blue Demons were able to battle back and take back the lead with less than eight minutes left in the half.
Garrett Jr. was DePaul’s main man early on, scoring their first nine points of the game. But once again, it was Eli Cain who led the Blue Demons in scoring. He had 18 points in the opening half and caught fire from deep late. Thanks to his outburst from deep, DePaul was able to establish control on the game and take a 43-35 lead into the half.
Unlike the first half, UIC didn’t start out well offensively in the second half. After a dunk by Robinson to make it a four point game, the Flames went a little over three minutes without scoring. In that time, DePaul was able to stretch the lead to nine with 15 minutes left in the game. Like in the first half, Cain continued to led the Blue Demons offensively. He was taking the ball to the hoop with authority and was finishing over defenders with ease. Garrett Jr. also got into the act, scoring a clutch and-one that gave DePaul some momentum just before the under-12 timeout.
UIC continued to stick around, cutting DePaul’s lead to six with a little under 10 minutes to play. The Flames were able to capitalize by DePaul’s reliance on Cain, which proved detrimental at times. It’s good using your best player on offense, but he can’t be going iso the whole time. UIC went on a 9-0 run, and took their first lead in 22 minutes when Marcus Ottey scored a transition layup plus the foul. But Hanel followed up with his own and-one to give the Blue Demons the lead back. The teams continued to switch leads for the next couple of minutes as UIC continued to hit clutch baskets while used a formula of free throws + Eli Cain to keep pace. But Garrett Jr. helped restore the lead when he scored a layup plus drew a blocking call with just under three minutes to play. But Ottey responded right back with a straight away three to give UIC the lead. Two free throws from Garrett Jr. tied it back up but a three by Kyle Guice gave UIC a three-point lead with less than a minute to go. After one made free throw, Garrett Jr. received a big bailout call and hit two free throws to cut the lead in half 77-75.
Another break went DePaul’s way when they trapped and forced a UIC turnover on the baseline. But Garrett Jr. tried to force the issue and saw his layup bounce off the rim and UIC was able to yank down the rebound. They only made one free throw, giving the Blue Demons a chance to tie the game with a three or go for a quick two. They are able to get neither as Garrett Jr. missed another layup around the rim and gave DePaul an baseline out of bounds play with 5.4 seconds left. But they were unable to get a shot off as R.J. Currington’s pass inbounds got deflected and UIC was able to close out the game and completed the upset.
3 Things We Learned
Questionable offense by DePaul down the stretch
Although UIC executed well down the stretch and made the right plays, including the go-ahead three by Guice, DePaul really helped out the Flames by making poor decisions with the basketball. Eli Cain, who lead DePaul in scoring tonight with 26 points, only had one touch in the last 4 minutes of the game. If you are DePaul that can’t happen. Although Billy Garrett Jr. is a great scorer, Cain is on another level right now. There is no way that can happen if you are DePaul.
Hanel is the teams best big man
Apart from Cain and Garrett Jr., Joe Hanel had a great game. The center had 9 points and grabbed a game high 12 rebounds. Dave Leitao played him 32 minutes and only played backup Levi Cook 8 minutes, clearly showing signs that Hanel has gotten a full grasp on the starting role. The only blemish on his game today was the fact that he went 3 of 7 from the line.
This meant a lot to UIC
Other than this being a crippling loss for DePaul, this could be a statement win for the Blue Demons. Second year head coach Steve McClain is trying to rebuild a program and a win like this over a team in a major conference is huge. As for DePaul, they have some figuring out to do. But they have to rebound quickly as they face Chicago State on Saturday.