Wednesday, March 27, 2019

DePaul 92, Coastal Carolina 87: Blue Demons advance to the CBI finals behind Strus and Reed’s dominant showings

Photo Credit: Geno Green- College Sports Overload

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

CHICAGO— Fans on the Lincoln Park campus have clamored for the last 12 seasons to see the DePaul Blue Demons make a meaningful run deep into the month of March. 

While it is not the prestige of the NCAA tournament, the Blue Demons (18-15) punched their ticket to the College Basketball Invitational best-of-three finals in a 92-87 win over the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (17-17) behind a combined 48 points from Paul Reed and Max Strus.

Strus’ 24-point effort would be highlighted by an elaborate crossover drive to the rim 1:17 into the second half to give a lethargic crowd a shot of excitement to extend DePaul’s lead to 47-43.

Moments later, Reed electrified the McGrath-Phillips Arena crowd up another notch with a thunderous dunk off Strus’ feed from the wing. Reed’s dunk highlighted a 24-point outing, on 11-of-14 shooting.

Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao recognized how those plays changed the psyche of his players and morale on the court.

“We are dealing with young guys and they are very emotional,” Leitao said. “When they are in a positive frame, they tend to play better and those plays allowed them to feel good about themselves coupled with the fact that energized the crowd and that’s the experience of playing in college basketball. Those two plays were exciting for the crowd and for everybody, which was something we were able to build off of.”

DePaul managed to build on the momentum as its lead grew to as many as 11 points with 6:38 left in the second half, but Coastal Carolina did not go away as it countered with a 9-2 run, highlighted by a pair of three-pointers by Tyrell Gumbs-Frater.

The Chanticleers’ ability to not go away impressed DePaul senior Eli Cain, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds and played all 40 minutes.

“I think [Coastal Carolina] is a really well-coached team,” Cain said. They have a lot of movement on offense and got to their spots and made some shots. A lot of credit to them for not going away, but in the end, we got defensive stops and made some free throws to win the game.”

The Chanticleers pulled to within four points of the Blue Demons with 2:39 left in regulation, but could not get any closer as a pair of blocked shots from Reed iced the game in the late stages.

Coastal Carolina went 12-of-31 (38 percent) from three-point range in defeat as the majority of its makes came from the left baseline with ease. Coastal Carolina’s leading scorer Zac Cuthbertson finished with a team-high 21 points, on 7-of-13 from the field in defeat.

Free throws played a vital role in the outcome as the Blue Demons clicked on cylinders going 22-of-23 (95.7 percent) from the foul line.

“We made our free throws, which is a testament of how locked in we are and going 22-of-23 is really special,” Cain said.

Game notes:

- Max Strus’ streak of consecutive free throw makes stands at 24. The senior’s last miss came at Creighton on March 9.

- Devin Gage (concussion protocol) did not play due to the lingering effects of a collision with one of the Longwood players in the quarterfinal round. Gage’s status for Monday’s Game 1 will be determined on a day-to-day basis.

Looking ahead:

The Blue Demons await the winner of Thursday night’s CBI semifinal matchup between the Loyola Marymount Lions and South Florida Bulls in the best-of-three finals on April 1.

CBI Championship schedule (All games on ESPNU):

Game 1: April 1- DePaul at LMU/USF winner, Time TBA
Game 2: April 3- LMU/USF winner at DePaul, Time TBA
Game 3 (If necessary): April 5- LMU/USF winner at DePaul, Time TBA