CHICAGO- The DePaul Blue Demons (4-4, 0-0 Big East Conference) have continued to thrive since playing in the PK80 tournament two weeks ago. Wednesday nights 85-57 victory over Central Connecticut (5-4, 0-0 Northeast Conference) was DePaul’s third straight win. Getting to the .500 mark is important for the Demons as they only have four non-conference games remaining. Any momentum they can get heading into Big East play at the end of the month is crucial as head coach Dave Leitao continues to rebuild this program.
Leading the way for DePaul was junior guard Eli Cain and senior forward Tre’Darius McCallum. Both players scored in double figures as Cain led all scorers with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting (3-of-5 from three-point range) along with four assists and three rebounds. McCallum had 13 points, shot 5-of-12 from the field, and added six rebounds, two steals and one assist. Sophomore guard Brandon Cyrus pitched in 16 points off the bench. DePaul had five total players finish in double figures.
“Our energy was better overall and was sustained,” said Leitao in his post-game press conference. “I told the guys in the locker room that we grew today.”
DePaul showed energy and growth on defense as well as they collectively gathered 28 defensive rebounds, seven steals, five blocked shots and 13 CCU turnovers led to 15 DPU points. DePaul also held their opponents to just 37-percent shooting.
“We didn’t have the effort we should have had in the last game defensively so we just wanted to come into this game and fix it,” said Cain after the game.
This was the first ever meeting between the Blue Demons and the Blue Devils, and it was somewhat of a bittersweet win for Leitao as he previously coached CCU head coach Donyell Marshall. Leitao personally recruited Marshall who was a star at the University of Connecticut from 1991 to 1994, Leitao was an assistant coach there at that time. Because of that past relationship, Leitao said that this win was somewhat “pain staking”.
“I root for him like it’s nobody’s business,” said Leitao about Marshall. “It was hard to root for him today…. At the end of the game, during our embrace, I kind of felt bad because I know how much (Marshall) wants to win and how he’s growing his program in his second year and how much potential that they have,” he added.
The Demons however seem to be creating potential of their own, especially on the offensive end of the floor. A fact that isn’t lost on coach Leitao.
“We haven’t been where we want to be and will be defensively as we’re growing. But I think more than anything our offensive is coming around. It’s another game where we scored in the 80’s. We’re not (just) one guy, but four, five and six guys contributed today.”
DePaul has scored 80 or more points in every game during this winning streak. They’re actually 4-0 in games in which they’ve scored that many points with Cain and McCallum leading the way. This was the 22nd career game in which McCallum finished in double figures and the 45th such game for Cain. Both men are averaging 11 points and 13 points per game respectively this season.
“We want to just attack and take advantage as much as possible,” Cain said.
“If we understand the balance that’s necessary to share the basketball like we did today, and not worry about who gets the shot, then we can continue to grow in that area,” added Leitao.
The only bad news to come out of this game was regarding Blue Demons sophomore guard Devin Gage. He left the game very early in the first half due to what appeared to be a sprained ankle. Ankle injuries have become an issue for Gage this season as he sustained similar issues against both Delaware State and Illinois back in November. Coach Leitao didn’t have any specific information about Gage’s condition after the game.
DePaul hopes to have him back when they travel to Chicago’s west side to take on Illinois-Chicago in a local matchup this coming Saturday. The Blue Demons are now 3-1 in their new home, Wintrust Arena, which is just outside of Downtown Chicago.