Leitao began his second stint as head coach of the Blue Demons with a 69-63 season opening win over the Western Michigan Broncos (0-1).
It was a tale of two halves for DePaul (1-0) who trailed by 11 points at the intermission.
The Blue Demons let the Broncos shoot 46.4 percent from the floor in the first half, but then put on the clamps allowing only 26.9 percent overall in the second half.
“I think in the first half, our effort was there,” said junior guard Billy Garrett, Jr. “We were playing hard, but we were making a lot of mental mistakes. It took some time to get comfortable. I’m proud that we fought back. That’s probably where we’ve grown the most.”
Garrett and Myke Henry led the way for the Blue Demons down the stretch.
“I thought that Tommy (Hamilton), Billy, and Myke especially did a really good job of leading us and making sure that we gave ourselves an opportunity on the defensive end,” said Leitao.
Garrett led the way for DePaul with 18 points and four assists. Billy managed to get inside, draw fouls, and then went 10 of 11 from the free throw line.
Henry started the game after returning from a slight shoulder injury. He contributed with 16 points.
Hamilton added 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
After trailing at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half, DePaul turned the corner when freshman Eli Cain scored inside, drew a foul, and knocked down the subsequent free throw to put the Blue Demons on top 43-41 with 9:35 to play. DePaul never trailed again.
DePaul got it done by taking the ball to the rim more in the second half. After scoring just eight points in the paint in the first half, the Blue Demons took the ball inside repeatedly and scored 22 points in the paint in the second stanza.
“I thought that once we realized how much we had to drive the ball into the paint, that it was big for us,” said Leitao. We could get to the line and get easier baskets and not settle.”
Western Michigan forward Tucker Haymond led all scorers with 24 points, tying a career-high. Sophomore guard Thomas Wilder contributed with 16 points. It was the scoring of Haymond and Wilder that sustained the Broncos in their first half run.
The Blue Demons now face the challenge of heading out on the road to face the Penn State Nittany Lions in Happy Valley on Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. Central Time.
- Curie High School guard Devin Gage was on campus for his official visit and attended the game. The 2016 recruit signed with the Blue Demons this week.
- Per an official with the McCormick Place Events Center, groundbreaking on DePaul’s new arena in the South Loop will happen at a 9:00 a.m. ceremony on Monday.