The DePaul Blue Demons tipped-off their season Wednesday against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. The upset-minded Wildcats came out of the gate hungry but ultimately were overwhelmed with DePaul scoring a 80-58 victory to start the season 1-0.
The Strus is Loose
After missing his first couple shots, Max Strus found his rhythm ending with a game-high 25 points to go with his six rebounds. Strus finished shooting 8-for-15 (53%) from the field and 5-for-12 (40%) from three.
When the ball gets in the hands of Strus, good things happen. Strus connected on three consecutive three-point attempts stretching a 26-24 lead to 36-25 late in the first half.
“Max,” coach Dave Leitao said, “is the unadulterated leader in a lot of different ways for us. He’s grown from that experience last year.”
Last year, Strus was DePaul’s most dynamic player averaging 16.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. However, inconsistencies stained his play and affected his efficiency shooting the ball in his first year with DePaul.
“We’ve got people around him now that gives him more space and he can defer sometimes when they crowd him,” said Coach Leitao. “He can still be very aggressive and in attack-mode when he has the ball in his hands.”
Sophomore Bigs Flourishing
The unsung heroes of the night were DePaul’s sophomore big men Jaylen Butz and Paul Reed. After getting benched early for foul trouble, Jaylen Butz finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, including feasting on the offensive boards in a first half that ended with a buzzer-beating putback dunk to give DePaul a 43-31 halftime advantage.
Coach Leitao said about Butz after the game, “Took JB out to not get two early. He’s better on both backboards, he can post up this year.”
Paul Reed was aggressive in asserting his dominance in the 2nd half. Reed finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots – two of which were in the opening minutes of the 2nd half, and several highlight dunks.
“When I was out there the first time I was kind of cold,” said Reed. “Second time I went in I was warmed up and I stated the 2nd half, so I had a better feel for the game. I could better incorporate my game into how my team was playing.”
After a defensive rebound for the Wildcats, Reed made a heady play by stealing the outlet pass and finishing off with an emphatic and-1 dunk for a 50-36 lead with 15:13 left in the 2nd half. A couple minutes later, Eli Cain zipped a pass to Reed who extended over a defender for a posterizing jam.
Coach Leitao said, “He had some tremendous, timely rebounds, and running the floor, finishes, got to the line.”
Added Strus, “That’s what Paul does. That’s what we’re looking for Paul to do, bring us energy. He does the dirty work. Sometimes it goes unnoticed.”
Every time DePaul made deflected a pass, fought for an offensive rebound, blocked a shot or came up with a towering dunk, it seemed like Reed was the guy. It certainly didn’t go unnoticed tonight.
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