Wednesday, December 23, 2015

DePaul scores its biggest home win since 2008

                                     Photo Credit: Geno Green

Jan. 3, 2008. Why does the date matter? 

That was the last home victory at the Allstate Arena against a ranked opponent by the DePaul Blue Demons as they defeated the No. 17 Villanova Wildcats.

Fast forward seven-plus years later as DePaul (6-6) managed to secure a home win against a ranked opponent with an 82-61 victory over No. 20 George Washington (10-2) Tuesday night.

Sure, a lot has changed for DePaul within that time period as it has cycled through three coaches and two variations of the BIG EAST Conference.

The Blue Demons have been looking to form their own identity after Dave Leitao returned for a second term as coach back in March.

Tuesday's win represented the first of many hurdles Leitao and DePaul will have to climb in order to be a contender in the BIG EAST down the line, but making a George Washington team look like a shell of itself could be a glimmer of hope.

Patricio Garino, who came into the game as the Colonials' leader in field goal percentage, went 0-of-8 shooting, with all four of his points from the foul line.

Despite not being on the sidelines last season, Leitao knew the impact Garino had in last season's 81-68 loss at George Washington, as he scored a game-hight 19.

"My concern was that he hurt us last year given that him, Larsen, Cavanaugh and McDonald all had big nights," Leitao said. "Our guys stayed in front tonight and didn't allow too many clean drives and when they made extra drives, we were there to stop him."

DePaul led from wire-to-wire and its 10-0 run to start the game made George Washington have to play catch up the rest of the way, but Leitao kept his team aware of what could have been if it lost focus.

"[George Washington] had to play from behind and it was an uphill climb from there," Leitao said. "They are experienced and very talented and waited for them to counter-punch, but we stayed solid for 40 minutes. We made many more winning plays and it was a result of playing and believing in each other."

In that very run, Billy Garrett Jr. scored four points and got his teammates involved and active on offense. After being in foul trouble in the Dec. 19 game against Northwestern and held to seven points on 2-of-10 shooting, Garrett Jr. re-asserted himself into the offense leading all players with 20 points and dishing out seven assists in the win.

"Me and Billy watched the Northwestern film from start to finish and my whole thing with him is that he wants to please everyone and if you are going to be that guy, then you have to please yourself," Leitao said.

"Part of that is taking good shots and knowing that you are good. I thought his performance tonight was a result of being a lot more assertive on the floor."

DePaul neutralized George Washington on the perimeter to a season-low of 14 percent (3-of-21) shooting. 

George Washington coach Mike Lonergan acknowledged the inability of not getting into a consistent rhythm.

"It was a perfect storm," Lonergan said. "DePaul made three pointers, while we played lousy and had no energy, so give credit to Garrett for dominating tonight."

After a week-long layoff, the grind of BIG EAST play will begin for DePaul as it hosts Georgetown on Dec. 30.

With four teams in the conference ranked in the top 20 of the Associated Press poll, Leitao knows his team must play at a high level each night, regardless of the opponent.

"The Georgetown game will be one of many challenges for us and we can't get overjoyed over beating George Washington because we have to go back to work and play the game a certain way," Leitao said.

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