Leitao looks for more leadership, consistency from freshman Gage

While DePaul coach Dave Leitao wants to see what coaches usually hope for from Devin Gage from now until the end of the season — better shooting, aggressive play — he’s also expecting even more of the freshman point guard. Leitao wants him to play like a veteran, someone far wiser than his 238 total minutes of collegiate playing time would suggest.

“We’re trying to get him to play more unlike a freshman,” Leitao told The Catch and Shoot. “Freshmen make mistakes, they try to figure out where their place is. It’s a heightened sense of responsibility because of the position he plays.”

Gage took the first step Saturday when he turned in his best performance of Big East play and possibly the entire season with 6 points and 5 assists in an 83-58 loss at Marquette that dropped DePaul to 8-10 this season.

Gage, a Chicago native, had 9 points, 7 assists and 3 steals in a December victory against Chicago State, but considering the opponent Saturday’s performance was arguably the best of his career.

In 20 minutes — the most he’s seen the floor in a conference game — Gage commanded the Blue Demons offense.

He dished out three assists in the first half, finding freshman center Levi Cook around the basket twice and delivering a pass right to sophomore guard Eli Cain’s pocket for a three.

DePaul does not have much size, but having the 6’10” Cook healthy after barely playing during the non-conference season has been important for the team, and extra special for Gage, who has not played with a big man since his sophomore year of high school.

“It’s wonderful,” Gage said. “Having Levi around is nice because he’s a good finisher, too. So now if I get in trouble I can just dump it off to him, and he’s going to finish.”

Gage also drew a pair of fouls and finished an aggressive drive to the rim in the second half. While he committed two turnovers, both were offensive fouls called on aggressive plays.

“I think he’s good when he attacks,” Leitao said. “He attacks and then he’s got to continue to figure out after attacking and drawing second defenders, what to do from there. When he’s in attack mode, he plays better. And I thought that’s what he did today.”

Gage struggled early in Big East play and against some of DePaul’s better non-conference opponents. After the Blue Demons nearly upset No. 1 Villanova in their Big East opener Dec. 28, Leitao sat down with Gage and laid out what he needs from him as one of the team’s main bench players.

“He told me he needs me to be a lead guard and keep guys in control,” Gage said. “Be patient, let the game come to me. After that [meeting] I guess I’ve been okay.”

Gage said Leitao also discussed the importance of having a clear mind at the point guard position.

“He’s at a position where you’ve got to think constantly,” Leitao said Saturday. “So he’s been as typical freshmen go, that he’s had moments where he’s played harder and things happen for him, and times where he gets to figuring out what do I do, what do I not do. When you get a crowded mind like that, it makes for slow feet and he can’t play with slow feet.”

Gage said he felt as comfortable as ever on the court against Marquette because he wasn’t thinking too much, although the team’s result left him depressed.

The next step? Retaining that focus through a string of games so that his production can be a consistent force rather than a pleasant surprise for DePaul.

“Sometimes you have a lack of focus that has you on the edge: should I do this, should I do that,” Gage said. “Focus has a lot to do with being consistent.”

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