Alas, DePaul continues to be the team that tends to wind up on the short end when teams exchange runs. In DePaul's 87-81 Big East home loss to St. John's on Wednesday night, the Blue Demons squandered 12-point leads in each half as they were beaten at their own game. On Saturday, DePaul lost at Cinn 74-66 to the Bearcats.
Full-court pressure caused DePaul's 31-19 lead to shrink to 31-30 at halftime. Then, after leading 43-31 early in the second half, the Blue Demons allowed open 3-pointers and easy layups in equal measure.
That leaves DePaul contemplating two all-too-common questions as it prepares for Saturday's trip to Cincinnati. Can the Blue Demons stop turning over the ball against a Bearcats defense that forces 15 miscues per game. That task would be made more difficult if senior point guard Jeremiah Kelly (8.8 points, 3.9 assists per game) has to miss a second consecutive game with a bad hip. And when will they learn how to defend the paint and the defensive glass?
DePaul, which ranks last in the Big East in scoring defense (75.1 points per game), field-goal defense (48.1 percent) and rebounding margin (minus-7.2 per game), was woeful in all three areas during the second half against St. John's.
Not only did the Red Storm shoot 73 percent in the second half Wednesday, but St. John's rebounded six of its eight misses and turned them into 12 second-chance points. In essence, if DePaul didn't force a turnover, it wound up giving up points every possession.
Saturday's game is the perfect opportunity for DePaul to find a temporary fix for its perpetual problem. That's because the Bearcats are last in the Big East in field-goal percentage (.420) and free-throw percentage (.637). The Blue Demons ought to be able to force some misses, but it will go for naught if they can't clean the glass.
DePaul's Cleveland Melvin
Cleveland Melvin grabbed 11 rebounds against St. John's, but DePaul's big-man trio (Donnavan Kirk, Krys Faber and Derrell Robertson) managed just six rebounds in 40 minutes.
TRENDING: A year ago, then-freshman swingman Moses Morgan was lost in the shuffle behind classmates Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young. While they all enjoyed immediate success at the college level, Morgan needed two months just to hit his first 3-pointer.
Morgan's long-range stroke is his best feature -- and it has gotten considerably better during his second season. He drilled five 3-pointers (tying his career high) in Wednesday night's 87-81 loss to St. John's, and he finished with a career-high 19 points in 25 minutes off the bench. Morgan found seams in St. John's zone and nailed five of nine long-distance attempts.
Obviously, it's a big benefit for DePaul when Morgan can take some pressure off Melvin and Morgan. But now it's time for Morgan to feel as confident on the road as he does at Allstate Arena.
In Big East play this season, Morgan has canned 15 of 35 3-pointers (43 percent) in five home games. But in the four road games, Morgan has hit just six of 19 3-pointers (32 percent). Not only does he shoot a lower percentage, he seems more reticent to put it up.
With senior guard Jeremiah Kelly, the team's other decent marksman, potentially on the shelf for a second straight game with an injured left hip, Morgan needs to step forward Saturday at Cincinnati.
No one is getting ready to name DePaul a contender for the Big East championship, but a victory at Rutgers on Jan. 25 to end a five-game losing streak has improved attitudes and again shined the spotlight on the progress the team is making in its effort to get into the mix.
"Any time you go on the road in the Big East and win you have to be thrilled with that," Coach Oliver Purnell said.
The upset was, once again, a sign that things are changing in the Big East.
"We may not be quite as good on the top as we have been but I think the people on the bottom are substantially better," West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins admits. "There have been some great coaching hires in this league.
"There's a lot of parity," he said. "The thing that jumped up to me is that the teams on the bottom last year have all gotten appreciatively better."
PG Brandon Young
And that includes his team, which has grown with the maturing of F Cleveland Melvin and G Brandon Young, giving him some go-to options in tough times. Melvin was averaging 17.8 points a game and Young 16.0 through Jan. 31.
--DePaul's sophomore duo of F Cleveland Melvin and G Brandon Young are scoring more than any other two sophomore teammates in the nation through Jan. 31. Connecticut's Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier were second at a combined 33 ppg.
BY THE NUMBERS: 20 -- Points G Jamee Crockett scored in 20 minutes of play off the bench against Rutgers on Jan. 25, setting a career high. He went 5-for-5 from 3-point range.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It wasn't pretty, but I didn't say it wasn't beautiful for us. That's what we needed." -- DePaul Coach Oliver Purnell after upsetting Rutgers, 67-64.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES: --Marquette Feb 6
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman G Jamee Crockett has suddenly found his stride and looks to be a legitimate third scoring option for DePaul to go along with F Cleveland Melvin and G Brandon Young. After scoring 25 points in the previous six games, Crockett broke loose for 35 in the next two games, including a career high 20 against Rutgers on Jan. 25. Crockett is an athletic guard who was measured with a 37.5-inch vertical leap in June testing.
--Sophomore F Cleveland Melvin posted 22 points and 11 rebounds in Wednesday's 87-81 home loss to St. John's, the third double-double of his career. Melvin scored 15 of his points after halftime, which sounds nice, but it's more of an indictment of DePaul's offense.
Melvin scored six points in the paint in the first 1:40 of the second half to help DePaul build a 12-point lead. But after providing a layup at the 12:17 mark, Melvin didn't score again until the 2:36 mark on a short flip. During that 10-minute stretch, and he was on the floor the entire time, Melvin got to take just two shots, as DePaul's 55-49 lead transformed into a 77-71 deficit.
--Sophomore G Brandon Young set a career high with 11 assists during DePaul's loss to St. John's. That made him the first Blue Demon to post at least 100 assists in his freshman and sophomore seasons since longtime NBA point guard Rod Strickland (1987-88).
However, Young also committed four turnovers and shot just 5-for-13 from the field. He drove into the St. John's zone repeatedly and came away with missed layups or the occasional charge.