After limping through the end of non-conference play, DePaul nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history Wednesday.
As 25-point underdogs, the Blue Demons took No. 1 Villanova to the final buzzer. But when Billy Garrett Jr.’s attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer rimmed out, they left the court with a 68-65 defeat.
DePaul (7-7, 0-1 Big East) appeared outmatched in the first half, but a gritty performance prevented Villanova from pulling away. The Wildcats appeared to have the game in hand midway through the second half after 12-2 run gave them a 51-39 lead.
Then freshman guard Brandon Cyrus sparked DePaul’s big comeback. His layup with 9:57 remaining started a 14-0 run over the next three and a half minutes.
Villanova (13-0, 1-0) finally stopped the bleeding and traded buckets with DePaul until leading scorer Josh Hart’s trey built a two-possession lead at 66-62 with 10 seconds left. Garrett responded with his own three-point play, and after two Jalen Brunson free throws, Garrett’s long 3-pointer was just a touch too strong to force overtime.
“It was a daunting challenge,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “I thought, for the most part, we met that challenge. We made our fair share of mistakes but it was a one-possession game at the end. Josh, the All-American that he is, scores 10 points in the last 3 minutes.”
Garrett scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, but it was not enough to end the defending champion’s 18-game winning streak dating back to last season. Junior forward Tre’Darius McCallum added a team-high 19 points and 7 rebounds.
Hart continued his push for national player of the year with a game-high 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Brunson, a Lincolnshire native, finished with 13 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists.
Despite the loss, the Demons jumped 20 spots in KenPom due to the low scoring margin and is now ranked No. 178. Even so, they are underdogs Sunday against St. John’s. Their 46% win probability is far and away their highest for the remainder of the season.
DePaul has not beaten a No. 1 team since 1952 when it knocked off La Salle at Madison Square Garden. The Demons could get as many as three more cracks this season between a rematch against Villanova and two games against currently undefeated Creighton.