Billy Garrett Jr. proves his worth vs. Villanova

When Billy Garrett Jr. maneuvered his way past Villanova guard Mikal Bridges for a game-tying three-point attempt with under one second to go, nearly every viewer’s heart skipped a beat.

Unfortunately, the missed heave will represent the only play fans recall from his 17-point outing in a 68-65 loss to the Wildcats (13-0, 1-0). Nevertheless, he still generated one of his top performances of the campaign and may have also veered DePaul (7-7, 0-1) onto a fresh path in the process.

Overall, Garrett Jr. shot only 6-of-17 from field, along with missing his first four attempts of the second half. But trailing 55-54 with less than five minutes left, he began to exhibit his well-known prowess, going back to his days at Morgan Park High School. The senior went onto help contribute to nine of the Blue Demons’ final 11 points, seven of which he scored on his own. 

First, he beat the aforementioned Bridges off the dribble for a fadeaway jumper in the lane to provide DePaul a one-point edge. While the 6-foot-7, 210-pound Bridges played a massive defensive role in Villanova’s national title run a season ago due to imposing size for a guard, Garrett Jr. is obviously no dwarf, either. The Blue Demons’ 6-foot-6, 213-pounder didn’t hesitate to attack his counterpart throughout the contest. 

Four possessions later, he scurried inside the arc, only to zip a pass to forward Tre'Darius McCallum for a dunk, tying the game at 58 apiece. That represented one of Garrett Jr.’s four assists on the night, but it was easily his finest. Rather than pull-up, he kept his dribble alive for an easy basket. 

His savviness wouldn’t turn off there, though. Following a magnificent three-point play via Josh Hart on the other end, the point guard rocketed towards the rim for a layup to cut the deficit to 61-60. Then, after the Naismith Player of the Year candidate drilled a triple to seemingly put the contest out of reach, Garrett Jr. responded again with an and-one lay-in to make it a one-point game once again with five ticks remaining. 

“We explored the paint in the second half a whole lot more,” head coach Dave Leitao said on 670 The Score radio postgame. “When you make high percentage shots in there, you give yourselves a chance.”

Through 14 games, Garrett Jr. ranks first in the Big East in free throws made (86) and ninth in the nation in free-throw percentage (93.1).

In a handful of matchups this season, DePaul has failed to deliver impressive late-game execution. For instance, the group blew an opportunity to take down the similarly inconsistent UIC Flames earlier in the month.

Yet, Garrett Jr. led a resilient 40-minute effort versus the No. 1-ranked team in the country. Plus, the Blue Demons haven’t reached this level of competitiveness versus the utmost superior opponents in years. In fact, the last time the program knocked off the top team in Division I was against LaSalle in 1952.
Although Garrett Jr. won’t be around to reap the benefits of a possible culture change in future seasons, his final shot that rimmed out might just represent how close the program is to a turnaround.

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