Any time is a good time for a winning streak. Although it’s only two games, there was nothing but good feelings for the DePaul Blue Demons after they beat the Youngstown State Penguins 89-73 in Wintrust Arena.
The game started out nicely for DePaul, as the Blue Demons made six of their first seven shots. With Youngstown implementing a full court press, there were opportunities for easy baskets and DePaul took advantage of it. They were able to break the press and it led to some layups on their end.
“We played against a weird defense but Devin [Gage] did a good job breaking the press and finding guys in open spots,” said Max Strus when asked about the teams performance.
“Coach just told us to attack it and stay aggressive,” Tre’Darius McCallum mentioned when specifically asked about the press itself and how DePaul played against it.
The starters for the Blue Demons took over, with four of them finishing in double digits. It was Marin Maric who benefitted the most, with the big man scoring six points early on. Youngstown State was able to withstand the early storm from DePaul thanks to the three ball. The Penguins hit a couple in the first few minutes, and ended up knocking down four of them for the entire half.
For much of the the half, it was basically played out in the same fashion: DePaul would make a run to extend their lead, Youngstown State would cut the deficit, and repeat. The Blue Demons extended the lead to 14 with around six minutes left, but the Penguins quickly got five quick points from Cameron Morse to cut it down to single digits.
But then, a quick 6-0 run restored the double-digit lead. DePaul led by as much as 17 in the first half, but they still couldn’t put away the Penguins for good. A Devin Gage pull-up jumper with 16 seconds left in the half were the last points scored for either team.
It was a balanced first half for DePaul in terms of offensive production. They had three of their starters in double figures, with Strus leading the way with 11 points. He made an instant impact and gave the Penguins trouble with his 3-point shooting and movement off the ball. Maric and Eli Cain added 10 points each. McCallum had eight points to make it a great half for the DePaul starters.
Youngstown State was led by guard Braun Hartfield who scored 11 points, which included 2 three-pointers and also dished out 3 assists. He was the only Penguin in double digit scoring for the half.
To start the second half, Youngstown State implemented the full court press, just like they did in the first half. The results were the same as well. DePaul scored a quick eight points and for the first time in the game, got the lead to over 20.
By having Cain near center court as an outlet for Strus and Gage, the Blue Demons were able to get the ball to their best player quickly and with a numbers advantage heading towards the hoop.
Youngstown stopped putting in the press soon after, but it didn’t stop the Blue Demons. It was especially good to see their bench lineups maintain the lead. DePaul, for a while, ran a “Strus and the bench unit” lineup, and they were able to hold its own. After a not so good first half from the reserves, it must have been refreshing for Dave Leitao to see the bench step up at least a little bit.
DePaul continued to attack and didn’t let up against their Horizon League opponents. It was a 17-point lead at the U8 media timeout. You got the feeling that despite both teams playing hard, this one looked over, and Youngstown State had a mountain to climb to get back into this game. The teams continued to trade baskets as the clock continued to wind down in Wintrust Arena.
DePaul ended up clearing out their bench and that was all she wrote. In the end, it was a 89-73 victory for the Blue Demons as they picked up their third win of the year.
DePaul was led by Max Strus’ 20 points, but it was honestly a quartet of players who made an impact offensively. Maric and McCallum ended up with 17 and Cain added 15.
Hartfield was the only guy who made an impact for Youngstown and he finished with 23 points on 7-11 shooting.
The next game for the Blue Demons will be against Central Connecticut State on Wednesday.
Three things we learned
DePaul took care of business
Last year this was the type of game which DePaul would have probably struggled with. This year around, they have been taking care of business against teams they should be beating comfortably. They opened with a 15 point lead at half time and for most of the second half, were teetering with a 20 point lead. Blowing out teams they should be also helps when it come to managing minutes. Eli Cain didn’t need to play most of the last 10 minutes of the game and gave him some rest, which is very important. Especially when he will likely be playing 35+ minutes against better opponents.
A little bit more from the bench
It’s tough to nitpick wins but if there was one struggle for DePaul, it would be the offensive output from their bench players. Outside of Brandon Cyrus, there was a combined 4 points from the other bench players. If DePaul wants to compete against some of the tougher opponents they will face, they will need to maintain production. Getting double digits points from Cyrus was great but they will need just a bit more from the likes of Justin Roberts and Jaylen Butz.
Winning streaks are nice
This is a two game winning streak for DePaul and with some easy games coming up, we could see the Blue Demons go on a run here. At least before heading into their matchup against Northwestern on December 16th. This is a young team and sometimes you have to appreciate the small steps towards getting better.