ROSEMONT, Ill. — DePaul looked like a different team Sunday, and not simply because of what the scoreboard said. In Sunday’s 77-59 win against Milwaukee, DePaul (2-1) was the aggressor, and that started with senior guard Billy Garrett Jr.
Garret, a preseason All-Big East second team selection, broke his slump to record 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in the victory after averaging 7.5 points on 14.3% shooting through the first two games.
“He brought the game to the defense,” coach Dave Leitao said. “He wouldn’t wait around.”
Milwaukee young guards could not keep Garrett in front of them, and the Panthers’ lack of a rim protector allowed the tall point guard access to the bucket. Four of his dimes came kicking the ball to an open 3-point shooter.
“I was just trying to get into the lane, try to make something good happen,” Garrett said. “I was able to finish through some contact. We were getting paint touches for most of the second half, which opens up a lot of good shots for us.”
Garrett said physically he felt the same as during the first two games. The difference was mentally.
“You’ve just got to trust yourself,” he said. “I sat down, kind of figured it out, watched a little film, found myself mentally. And when I did, I just trusted myself, played off instinct and had fun, most importantly. People tend to put too much pressure on themselves. So I went out there and just played basketball, did what I’ve been doing for a long time here. I had a good time. That’s really all it came down to.”
With the pressure off, Garrett was able to better fulfill his role as a leader for the Blue Demons in the eyes of Leitao.
Although DePaul has other scorers such as Eli Cain — who poured in 17 points after halftime to finish with 20. But Cain is only a sophomore while Garrett four-year player at DePaul who is playing significant minutes.
“He had a prominent leadership role in the game on both ends of the floor,” Leitao said of Garrett’s performance Sunday. “He dictated some things and he wasn’t getting dictated to. That meant that he was, in boxing terms, the first to punch. That was both mentally and physically. As a result, good things happened for him. And when that happens, good things happen for us.”
Even with Garrett finding his groove, Cain struggled in the first half and DePaul led just 30-27 at halftime against a Milwaukee team picked to finish last in the Horizon League.
Cain played a near flawless second half while Garrett tallied 12 points and three assists, and the Blue Demons pulled away with ease.
“I know Bill’s one of the best players in the Big East,” Cain said. “To me he’s one of the best players in the country. First two games, he was missing shots that I’ve seen him make time after time after time. So I wasn’t really worried. I knew when he comes alive we’re going to be dangerous, and tonight we showed it.”
Looking dangerous against a cellar-dwelling mid-major is one thing. DePaul gets a tougher opponent Wednesday against Missouri State, and then possibly its toughest non-conference matchup Dec. 3 against Northwestern.
If the Blue Demons are going to pass those tests, they’ll need both Garrett and Cain playing well together, as they did in the second half Sunday.
“We need that,” Leitao said. “There’s no way we can survive without both of them.”