In thrilling fashion the DePaul University basketball team improved to 3-0 on the year for the first time since the 2008-09 season. The Blue Demons found a way to win despite some alarming statistics and early and late-game struggles.
The most important player in tonight’s game was arguably sophomore big Jaylen Butz who finished with eight points and 15 rebounds. “He’s a naturally quick jumper and pursues the ball on both ends,” said Coach Dave Leitao. “We could be a really good rebounding team. That second half led by JB, we controlled the backboards.”
Butz was crucial in DePaul out-rebounding Penn State 47-36 and beating them in points in the paint by a 36-20 margin. He helped the team stretch the lead in the second half with his offensive rebounds and put back layups. “JB is an absolute warrior,” said senior guard Max Strus. “He does everything no one else wants to do.”
Max Strus finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, scoring 15 of those points in the 2nd half. “He,” said Coach Leitao, “puts so much energy into his work and being as good as he can be and sometimes it kind of gets him. He relaxed. He made a couple of plays on both ends that were really good.” Strus took over the 2nd half when they needed him to. On an inefficient night shooting, 7-of-20 (35%) from the field and 3-of-11 (27.2%) from three, Strus made his hay by gobbling up rebounds and attacking the rim to get to the foul line.
Although finishing with more turnovers than assists, starting point guard Devyn Gage played a crucial role with four steals to go with 14 points on the day. Gage created the most important play of the first half by stripping Lamar Stevens (25 points, 12 rebounds) of the ball and scoring at the rim while drawing a foul from Josh Reaves (13 points, six rebounds), which took him out of the game for the remainder of the half due to foul trouble.
DePaul started the game looking like the lesser team. Miscommunication on defense. Carelessness with the ball on offense. At the first media timeout, DePaul found themselves in an 11-0 hole with the crowd quickly growing quiet.
“There was no panic. Long game. Usually games at this level with two really good teams there is some ebb and flow,” said Coach Leitao. He added, “We were a little tight and had to loosen up.”
Coach loosened his team up but subbing in Paul Reed and Femi Olujobi off the bench. The impact on the flow of the game was immediately apparent. The two players combined for DePaul’s first eight points of the game by dominating on the low block and swallowing up rebounds. “I thought Femi played a lot more like the expectation when we brought him here,” said Coach Leitao. “Paul had some really good minutes. I wish there were more although (there was) foul trouble.” Femi Olujobi finished with 13 points and four rebounds and Paul Reed with eight points and six rebounds.
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