Despite the buzz of a new arena, it was a tough inauguration for the DePaul Blue Demons in their season opener. Facing off against one of the best teams in the country in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Blue Demons held their own for the first half but faltered in the last 15 minutes in a 72-56 loss.
It was a very sloppy start to the contest as both teams displayed some early season jitters. But it was the Blue Demons who especially struggled, starting the game 3-of-15 from the field (20%). A lot of it was due to rushed offense and missing easy shots at the rim. Meanwhile, it was an OK start for the Fighting Irish with top player Bonzie Colson scoring seven points in the first 10 minutes of the game. The sloppiness continued throughout the first half, with DePaul continuing to shoot poorly and Notre Dame turning the ball over. However, the frantic nature of the first half played to the Blue Demons favor as it allowed them to keep it competitive with their ACC opponents. The Blue Demons even stormed back to tie the game at 22 with less than five minutes remaining in the first half thanks to a beautiful up and under layup from Eli Cain. That got the crowd into it, something this program hasn’t had in a long time, and it sparked the game to life. It was a very close game at the half with Notre Dame’s lead just four points, 29-25.
In the first half, the Blue Demons were led by the duo of Devin Gage and Tre’Darius McCallum who both scored eight points. It was particularly impressive from Gage, who was matched up against Matt Farrell, one of the top point guards in the country. Gage was pushing the pace and being aggressive in transition, leading to some scoring chances near the rim. McCallum was all over the place offensively and performed well despite having to guard Colson on the other end. He also knocked down two three-pointers, a big boost to not only his own game but DePaul’s offense as a whole. It’s a lot more explosive when McCallum is knocking down corner three’s.
The second half started the same way the first half began with the Blue Demons rushing shots and ND looking lost offensively. DePaul had a chance to take the lead with 15:51 left in the second half when Gage stole the ball from Farrell and it was a 2-on-0 fast break. Gage decided to lob it up to Max Strus, who completely missed the lob. It was a bizarre play and one which Dave Leitao was not happy with. It got even funnier when DePaul tried a lob play to Strus again coming out of a timeout. Once again, Strus missed and Farrell drilled a three on the other end. That prompted a mini run by the Irish which opened their lead to 9 and it was danger time for DePaul.
It was a 10 point game less than eight minutes left to play in the game when Temple Gibbs knocked down his 4th three of the game, giving the Irish a 13-point lead, their largest of the game to that point. The Blue Demons seemed to have no answer for the Irish as Mike Brey’s squad seemed to hit another gear.
“An older group that won together kinda showed up in the second half" said Brey when he talked about his teams performance.
This was expected from ND but the real question was to see if DePaul could match them offensively, and they couldn’t when it happened late in the second half. Matt Farrell hit a three with less than five minutes left to make it a 16-point game and it was all she wrote in Wintrust Arena. In the end, it was a 72-58 loss for the Blue Demons as they are off to a tough start in their new home.
McCallum and Eli Cain led the way with 14 points each while Temple Gibbs led the Irish with 21 points while shooting 57% (4 of 7) from three.
The Blue Demons are back in action on Monday when they play Delaware State.
Notre Dame hit three-pointers......DePaul did not
Looking at the box score it was a contrast when it came to three-point shooting between the two teams. Notre Dame shot 44% from three, knocking down 12 out of 27 attempts. Farrell had 5 of those by himself including a pull-up three that iced the game. Gibbs also added 4 from downtown. It was the exact opposite for DePaul has they had only 5 makes from 22 attempts for a horrid 22.7%. Only two players in McCallum and Strus were able to hit from deep with the latter hitting three of them.
Against a top tier opponent, DePaul needed to be able to get the three-ball going in order to have a chance to win. They weren’t able to get it going and when Notre Dame started knocking down their chances, it was over.
Rough start for new transfers
Speaking of Strus, it was a rough day at the office for him and the fellow transfers on DePaul. Strus and Marin Maric scored a combined 14 points and went 4 of 21 from the field combined. Austin Grandstaff only got 1 minute of action in this game and that was in garbage time.
Maric, the big man who came over from NIU, really struggled to get the ball in the basket and found himself missing a lot of easy chances. You can’t be missing those against a team like Notre Dame. Hopefully he and the others can pick it up and give Eli Cain some offensive help against Delaware State
A new era begins
Despite the loss, it was a season of new for DePaul. The crowd was electric and into the game the whole 40 minutes. This is a young team and they will learn. They got the perfect lesson by playing a team with a lot of veterans like Notre Dame. There’s some hope for this DePaul squad.