NEWARK—DePaul was trailing by eight points on the road to a nationally ranked team with five minutes left and its best player was soon to foul out.But Blue Demons coach Oliver Purnell gave his team one message down the stretch as they faced No. 24 Seton Hall on Thursday night.
”It’s simple: Just believe,” Purnell said after his team rallied in the closing minutes for a 64-60 win. ”These are the things you have to do. The game was not over. I tried to preach to them that they had done it before, coming back from 13 against Marquette and 10 against St. John’s. This was like that. We had experiences like that.
”They had to believe.”
But not on the road and against a Top 25-ranked team. DePaul had lost 51 straight games against ranked teams dating to 2008 (No. 17 Villanova at home) and 2005 on the road (No. 16 Wake Forest).
”I wasn’t aware of that, but I’m not surprised,” said Purnell, in his fifth season at DePaul. ”A lot of that happened before I got here, but I knew we hadn’t beaten once since I’ve been here.”
The Blue Demons (11-9, 5-2 Big East) are off to their best start in any conference since DePaul left independent status in 1991. DePaul joined the Big East in 2005.The Blue Demons rallied after trailing 55-47 with 5:05 remaining. Soon after, the team’s leading scorer Billy Garrett Jr., whose father was once an assistant coach at Seton Hall, fouled out with 14 points. But the Blue Demons didn’t get demoralized.
”We certainly believe and have confidence that a team can build off things like this,” Purnell said. ”We were behind, so that made things hard. Billy fouling out made things harder. But we’re in a good mindset right now. We had other guys who stepped up offensively and made big plays. This is a really nice win for us.”
Myke Henry also scored 14 for the Blue Demons, who defeated Seton Hall (13-5, 3-3) for the first time on the road after four previous losses.Darrick Wood (11 points) and Rashaun Stimage (10 points) each hit clutch free throws in the closing seconds to enable the Blue Demons to get the win. Stimage, who came in averaging just 1.8 points per game, also grabbed a huge rebound with 3.9 seconds to ice the victory.DePaul outscored Seton Hall 17-5 over the final five minutes.Angel Delgado set career highs with 19 points and 19 rebounds for the Pirates. Khadeem Carrington added 12 before fouling out. Brandon Mobley added 10 points and eight rebounds.Leading scorer Sterling Gibbs scored just four points, shooting just 2 of 16 shots from the floor and missing all seven of his shots from beyond the 3-point line.
”He’s been playing at such a high level and getting a lot of attention, but tonight, he just had a bad night,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said.”It’s a good learning lesson for him. When he’s not making shots, he still has to make plays for his teammates.”
It looked as if Seton Hall had the game won, going on a 10-1 run, thanks to Mobley, who had two free throws, then had a monstrous breakaway dunk. Jaren Sina capped the run with a long 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 55-47 with 5:48 left.The Pirates held the Blue Demons for more than five minutes without a field goal.But the Blue Demons crept back into the game, courtesy of clutch plays from Wood and Stimage down the stretch. Wood’s power drive to the basket with 1:49 left gave the Blue Demons the lead for good.
”He’s never lacked for confidence,” Purnell said of Wood. ”He hit that 3, then made that play. He has offensive ability. We’re just trying to make him more consistent. He’s had games where he didn’t play at all, but hung in there and tonight he helps us win the game.”
The Pirates turned the ball over on two possessions with a chance to tie in the final minute.
”We just got happy,” Mobley said. ”We have to grow up. There’s not much more to say about it. We let them take this from us.”
NOTES—The Blue Demons are enjoying their best start in any conference since leaving independent status in 1991. DePaul joined the Big East in 2005 after stints in the now-defunct Great Midwest and Conference USA. … The Blue Demons have made at least one 3-point field goal in 664 consecutive games. … DePaul began a three-game, six-day road trip with the visit to the Prudential Center on Thursday night.DePaul is at Xavier Saturday at noon EST