DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell has said that this year's team is one of the fastest he's ever had. His team lived up to its coach's lofty praise Saturday night, en route to an entertaining victory.
DePaul won its first and only exhibition game of the season Saturday night, defeating Lewis 91-74 at McGrath-Phillips Arena. Cleveland Melvin led DePaul with 25 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. Jamee Crockett added 14 points, six assists and three steals. Donnavan Kirk had his own double-double, with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Five Blue Demons scored in double-figures, and DePaul shot 54.4% as a team from the field. The Blue Demons also out-rebounded Lewis 41-32 and forced an eye-opening 15 steals. But DePaul played much better in the first half compared to the second half, especially defensively. Their play in the second half left much to be desired. It was a tale of two half's for DePaul, one impressive, the other not so much.
The Blue Demons got off to a very fast start, playing intense full court defense and bullying the Lewis frontcourt down low. Crockett and Kirk paced DePaul early on, as they combined for 21 points in the first half. Melvin had a mediocre showing in the first half, scoring 8 points. He only shot 4 of 10 from the field. DePaul took a demanding 52-27 lead at the half, excelling offensively, and most importantly, defensively.
DePaul shot 59.5% from the field in the first half, and also made 5 of 9 three pointers. They were clicking on all cylinders offensively, but it was their defense (a severe weakness last year) that stood out. Lewis shot 38.7% from the field in the first half, thanks in large part to the consistent defensive pressure DePaul was applying. When Lewis players managed to break free from the pressure, DePaul had athletic shot-blockers waiting for them in the paint. Lewis had no answer for the Blue Demons stellar defense. But the second half proved to be a much different story for both teams.
Lewis actually outscored DePaul 47-39 in the second half, thanks to guards David Bryant and Gabe Williams. The backcourt duo torched DePaul in the second half, peppering the Blue Demons with a barrage of three pointers. The tandem combined for 46 points and 10 three pointers for the game, with much of the scoring coming in the second half. Lewis made 9 of 16 three pointers in the second half, while DePaul missed all 6 of its attempts from beyond the arc.
DePaul still shot well overall in the second half, converting 48.4% of its attempts. Much of that can be attributed to Melvin's aggressive play. Melvin had his way with Lewis in the paint, scoring 17 points in the second half on 7 of 8 shooting from the field. He proved to be too athletic for Lewis, as most of his points came within close proximity of the basket. Where Melvin did struggle was the free throw line, where he only made three of nine attempts. As a team, DePaul only made 12 of 22 free throws.
It's only DePaul's first game of the season, and it was an exhibition. Their offense was expected to perform well, with all their returning players, and they certainly lived up to the high expectations. The defense played an amazing first half, but cooled off in the second half. Consistency will be key for DePaul's defense, as it seems to be its main hurdle going forward. The team's free throw shooting must also improve, as they shot poorly from the line Saturday night. The season opener is Friday night, at McGrath-Phillips arena against UC Riverside.
-Starter Moses Morgan struggled, scoring six points on 1 of 7 shooting from the field. The forward whom Purnell has called one of the Big East's best shooters, never seemed to get in rhythm. He did look for his shot more in the second half, but it just wasn't falling. Interestingly, the 6 foot 6 Morgan got some minutes at the four spot. With DeJuan Marrero out for the year and Montray Clemons not cleared to play yet, Morgan may very well get time at the four.
-Charles McKinney had a nice showing, scoring 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting from the field. His three steals are a testament to his aggressive defensive pressure. Similarly, Worrel Clahar provided instant energy off the bench. He had seven points and three assists. Clahar and McKinney have fully entrenched themselves in the Blue Demons rotation.
-Freshman Durrell McDonald got valuable time on the court, logging in 14 minutes off the bench. He went scoreless, but had two assists and two steals running the point. Most importantly, he had zero turnovers. Brandon Young slid over to the two when McDonald was on the floor.
-Junior walk on Edwind McGhee also got solid time, playing 10 minutes, some in the first half. Purnell has spoken very highly of the walk on and it showed. He only had two points (from a fastbreak dunk on a steal he forced) but Purnell clearly has confidence in the guard. He played four more minutes than freshman Jodan Price, another shooting guard on the roster.