Throughout each of their nine contests, the Blue Demons have allowed a lack of energy in one half to sputter into a rut of selfishness. In the final 20 minutes, head coach Dave Leitao’s unit shot 30 percent from the field despite generating a 62.1 percent clip in the first frame.
Additionally, the inefficient ball movement spilled into their poor transition defense, especially from behind the arc. Although a pack-line defense prevents a strong wind of resistance on the perimeter, the Flames managed to receive numerous clean looks, hitting 4-of-9 threes in the second half. None of them loomed larger than forward Kyle Guice’s wide-open triple with 54.6 seconds to go, which handed UIC a 76-73 edge.
“The score is just an indication of the lack of responsibility of what we’re supposed to do everyday defensively,” Leitao said. “That’s a passion thing.”
In total, Guice notched 14 of the Flames’ 37 bench points, compared to the Blue Demons’ seven points via that department. Freshman center Levi Cook brought the most toughness among the reserves, accumulating four points, four rebounds and three blocks in eight minutes of action.
Nevertheless, similar to its back-to-back wins over Missouri State and Drake, DePaul possessed a chance to claim another gritty victory in the closing minutes. Facing a one-point deficit with 4:19 left, guard Eli Cain drilled a triple to push the Blue Demons in front 68-66. Yet, beyond a last-second heave, the sophomore wound up with no shot attempts the rest of the way.
“They’re (the Flames) going to try to take him away,” guard Billy Garrett Jr. said. “It just kinda played out that way.”
Albeit Cain’s career-high 27 points on a plump 11-20 shooting, his lack of touches down the stretch was fairly perplexing. Overall, he's averaging 20 points per contest, which is tied for No. 51 in the nation. The New Jersey native is also shooting a firm 49.6 percent clip from the field.
Still, the Blue Demons failed to hit a field goal after Garrett Jr.’s layup with 2:53 to go. Plus, the former Morgan Park High School star missed three jumpers in the last minute.
While he tied a career-high with 26 points, hitting 12-of-13 free throws, the senior shot only 7-of-18 from the field.
Trailing 78-75 with just over four ticks remaining, the team’s disarray hit its peak. 6-foot-9 forward Tai Odiase defended the Blue Demons’ inbounds pass beautifully, along with DePaul hurting itself with congestion on the left side of the floor. Subsequently, guard R.J. Currington fired a desperation toss from the baseline, and Odiase stole the ball.
“The best thing in coaching is when you watch that last possession, and they don’t have anybody open,” UIC head coach Steve McClain said. “You can’t be screened (defensively), and they found a way (to force the turnover).”
Once Odiase was fouled, the 50 percent free-throw shooter stepped to the line and surprisingly nailed both. Those two points over-extended DePaul’s obvious fate.
“We gotta move on,” Garrett Jr. said. “There’s no other message.”
Over the next five days, Leitao’s bunch will take on both Chicago State and Southeast Missouri State. The two programs have combined for a mere seven wins, but the Blue Demons must find a way to provide a full 40-minute effort in each game. If not, expect their inconsistency to continue to plague them.