Wednesday, February 3, 2016

COLUMN- Out with the old and in with the new, DePaul knocks off its highest ranked opponent since 2006

                                    Photo Credit: Geno Green

A lot of things can change in a decade.

For the DePaul Blue Demons, Tuesday night shifted the course of the program for at least one night, with a 77-70 upset of the No. 11 Providence Friars at the Allstate Arena.

The win was DePaul's best against a ranked opponent since a 64-57 win over No. 5 Kansas on Dec. 2, 2006.

DePaul, then in its second season of BIG EAST play, were in a league where teams such as Connecticut, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh stood at or near the top. ESPN held the primary television contract to telecast games at the time and 16 teams were associated in the conference.

Fast-forward nine years later— a new look dominates the conference with Villanova, Xavier and Providence as the top contenders in a 10-team alignment and Fox Sports being the provider for the majority of the league's contests.

Of course, one game does not define a turnaround in college basketball, but DePaul took a huge first step in defeating Providence.

With Providence going most of the game without Ben Bentil due to a right ankle injury, DePaul managed to limit preseason All-American Kris Dunn to 14 points, on 5-of-20 shooting.

Bentil attempted to return in the second half, but Friars coach Ed Cooley ended up pulling him from the game.

"[Ben] couldn't go and it was swollen, but we will evaluate it once we get back," Cooley said.

Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao came into the game with similar strategies with how to defend Dunn and Bentil.

"Our gameplan [on Ben] was similar to Kris as we wanted to make him score around bodies," Leitao said. "You never want to see someone like him get injured and hope he comes back at a high level."

Flashes of Myke Henry and Billy Garrett getting their teammates involved have come and gone at various points this season, with the swirling pressure always being whether the ingredients could come together for 40 minutes.

Both players raised their games to another level and took control from start to finish as Henry notched his third double-double of the season with 27 points and 11 rebounds, while Garrett added 16, on 5-of-16 shooting.

"Myke's all-around play and scoring, to go along with Billy's floor leadership gave us a good rhythm and tempo," Leitao said.

"We stayed aggressive even when [Providence] came back at us. When it was tied [38-38] at halftime and I thought because we gave up 50 percent shooting and our defense in the second half hasn't been good this season that we wouldn't hold up. "I thought we were better tonight in the second half and that was what we needed."

The biggest difference maker turned out to be DePaul's ability to dominate and win the battle in the rebounds department with 48, compared to Providence's 24. The staggering +24 advantage on the boards is the most for DePaul this season and took Providence out of its comfort zone from the outset, even when Bentil played.

Despite Providence's high ranking in the Associated Press Poll, Cooley emphasized the position of team against team, regardless of records in conference play.

"[DePaul] was better than us. Just because there is a number on us, doesn't mean that games are automatically decided," Cooley said. "I was more disappointed in our effort and concentration and we were not poised. This is the best I have seen DePaul play this season."

With no heavy favorites at the moment to win the NCAA Tournament and upsets across the board this season, games like Tuesday night showed how anyone can be defeated, no matter the ranking.

College basketball can be taxing on players and coaches, but the payoff at the end of the road is always priceless, especially on the winning side.

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