Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Candy Cain: DePaul's sharpshooter responds in the second half in an 81-78 win over Southeast Missouri State

                                     Photo Credit: Geno Green

As the snowflakes fell in the apex of winter in Chicago, Eli Cain has emerged as a beacon of light in an otherwise shaky non-conference season for the DePaul Blue Demons (7-4).

Coming into Monday's game, Cain led all BIG EAST scorers at 21.1 per game and left off from Saturday's career-high, 31-point effort vs Chicago State with 15 points in a 81-78 win over Southeast Missouri State at Allstate Arena.

15 points sounds like a solid effort for any great player, but the first half proved to be a roller coaster of emotions for Cain.

Cain struggled from the field missing two of his three attempts in the first 4:20. To add insult to injury, Cain found himself in foul trouble in that span with two and was forced to sit as R.J. Curington entered in his place.

Cain cheered from the sidelines as the Blue Demons remained in command of Southeast Missouri State at 15-8 in the 11:31 mark in the first half.

DePaul remained ahead by seven, when Cain returned with 5:44 left, but picked up his third foul 37 seconds later. His presence would be missed as SE Missouri State went on a 22-4 run and faced a 42-33 deficit into the early stages of the second half.

With as many turnovers as fouls, Cain looked to be on the verge of evaporating into thin air and DePaul coach Dave Leitao addressed the errors made in the first half.

"I think where [Eli] is heading as an athlete and a basketball player is in a really good place, but foul trouble is usually a by-product of being late to things," Leitao said. "He didn't read the defense or not quick enough to get on either side of the ball."

Facing its biggest deficit of the game at 12 with 15:26 and with two points total, Cain's resurgence began as he made move a move to the paint and was fouled hard by Denzel Mahoney and knocked down both free throws.

The free throws put DePaul within 10 of SE Missouri State and later went a 12-0 run— capped by a triple from Cain from the wing to pull within two.

With both teams exchanging leads in the latter part of the second half, Cain's two free throw makes put the Blue Demons ahead at 64-63 with 5:34 left.

After a layup from Antonius Cleveland, Cain then contributed to DePaul's next eight points (two long-range makes and an assist). Cain lived up to the billing as the conference's top scorer and felt at ease as the Blue Demons clung to a 72-67 lead with 3:27 remaining and held on for the three-point win.

13 of Cain's 15 points came in the second half and Leitao acknowledged the no quit mentality of the sophomore.

"[Eli's] bounce back ability continues to tell me what I already know and that is he has a lot of good stuff as a skill player, but brings more as a person," Leitao said. 

As the Notorious B.I.G. once said, the sky's the limit for Cain, but with BIG EAST play a week away, now is the best time for the total package to come full circle.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.