Wildcats Overcome DePaul in Big East Opener


Courtesy of 247Sports

Wildcats Overcome DePail in Big East Opener

Mike Keeley

Despite finding trouble early on once again, and having to fight back late in the contest against weaker competition on paper, Wildcats head coach Jay Wright managed to lead his team past a much-improved Blue Demons squad in the opening game of the BIG EAST season, 73-68. Although it is now no surprise when Wright relies heavily on a shortened rotation, the makeup of his used reserves did turn some heads, with both freshman forward Cole Swider and sophomore forward Jermaine Samuels earning DNP-CDs on the day.

The Blue Demons looked early like a team set in the classic mold of the underdog that upsets the double-digit favorite, with all-around deadeye shooting, especially from behind the arc. Although star senior guard, and fourth leading scorer in the BIG EAST, Max Strus struggled with his own shot in the first half, shooting only 1-7 from the field, his presence provided spacing for his teammates regardless. Within that extra breathing room, senior guard Eli Cain went unconscious from behind the arc. In the first ten minutes of the first half, Cain put up 14 points on 5-6 shooting, with four of those buckets from long range. At the end of this barrage, with 10:22 remaining in the half, the Wildcats found themselves in a matching 14-point hole.

The Wildcats were not helped by the fact that early on they slipped into many of the bad habits that have plagued their starts to games throughout this season. The defensive effort appeared passive, senior forward Eric Paschall was playing outside of himself, taking on too much of the team’s playmaking responsibilities, and both he and fellow senior guard Phil Booth were taking too many ill-advised shots. Although better shooting from the Wildcats, specifically through a triple from senior guard Joe Cremo and two makes from Paschall, led to an 8-0 run for the ‘Nova and cut the deficit to six points, the offense looked to flow in a different way when freshman guard Jahvon Quinerly entered the game to run the offense. Although he was not rewarded with any assists in the first half, Quinerly moved the ball intelligently and set up the other would-be playmakers on the roster with driving lanes and opportunities to shoot. Another freshman, forward Saddiq Bey, played a big role in pacing the Wildcats before they truly found their stride. From a variety of scenarios, both on catch-and-shoot opportunities and possessions where he was required to do slightly more himself, Bey had an impressive and efficient first half, scoring 10 points on 4-5 shooting. Despite the Wildcats only whittling the gap down to 4 points, 38-34, Wright’s team was playing cleaner basketball by the end of the half, and headed into the locker room with only 5 turnovers.

Out of the break, Wright went back to his trusted six man rotation of the three seniors, sophomore guard Collin Gillespie, sophomore forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, and Bey. With these six seemingly overtaxed, the Blue Demons started the second half on an 8-0 run, ignited by a triple from a reinvigorated Strus and followed by a dunk and a jumper from sophomore forward Paul Reed. Again, a switch seemed to flip when Quinerly entered the game to run the show. Substituted in for Gillespie before Reed’s second bucket of the Blue Demons’ run, Quinerly again allowed the Wildcats’ talented veteran scorers to play off the ball and focus on scoring. The freshman guard linked up especially well with Paschall, assisiting on a pair of open threes: one off a pick-and-pop and one taking advantage of when Paschall’s defender crashed to play help defense. Paschall overall had a stronger second half, tallying 15 points off 4-7 shooting. This was much improved after a first half where he scored 9 points on an unimpressive line of 2-6 from the field. Although he had a relatively quiet day overall, Booth(15 PTS, 3-9 FG) upheld his mantle as the Wildcats’ go-to scorer by draining the triple that finally gave Wright’s squad the lead for the first time in the contest with 7:58 remaining. He was also clutch in draining 5-5 free throws down the stretch to ensure the Wildcats opened conference play with a victory.

Although Strus caught fire for the Blue Demons in the second half, with 13 points on 4-9 shooting, the Wildcats were able to complete their comeback because of the vanishing act preformed by first half star Eli Cain. After his blistering first half, Cain put up only a pair in the second, and this singular fast-break layup came with under a minute to play in the contest, leaving over half the game between his last bucket in the first half and first bucket of the second, even while playing every minute of the latter period.

The Wildcats are next in action this Saturday at 2 p.m., as they travel on the road for the first time against BIG EAST competition to Providence, RI, to play Ed Cooley and the Friars.