DePaul has not played exceptionally well despite an exceptional start — at least by DePaul’s standards — in the Big East.
The Blue Demons have played fine and better than expected considering they ended non-conference play with a six-game losing streak that included losses to Illinois State, Ohio and Loyola Marymount.
But their overall play is not indicative of a team that should be a half-game out of first place in the Big East, one of college basketball’s top leagues, already a third of the way through the conference season. DePaul has been okay offensively, but nothing special. The same can be said about the team’s defense.
The Blue Demons are 4-2, and four of their six games have come down to the final minute of play. In those four games, DePaul is 3-1. The only loss came to Georgetown, which currently sits atop the Big East at 5-2.
“We know every game is coming down to the final six minutes,” junior guard Aaron Simpson said Sunday after a win against St. John’s. “We practice for this. It’s really nothing new to us. We know what to do, we know who to get the ball to.”
After the non-conference struggles, coach Oliver Purnell thought his team could still be competitive. However, he did not know how many actual wins to expect.
“I didn’t put a number on it,” Purnell said. “But our goal was to get better each week and be playing our best basketball at the end. Now if you can get better and win, you’ve got as good a chance as anybody.”
Simpson said the non-conference losing streak, which ended with a last-place finish at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, serve as a reminder that this team could just as easily be losing instead of winning.
“We had a couple of games that we dropped down in Hawaii, so we know that was going to prepare us for now,” Simpson said. “Coming in now, we’re just playing our game. Winning right now is no thing to us because we know we can lose the same way, so we’ve just got to keep going hard.”
DePaul is a program that has not always come out on the right side of tight games so often. If you’ve heard someone use “DePaul” as a verb — as in “How is DePaul going to DePaul this one?” — that’s what they are referring to.
Entering this season, the Blue Demons were 1-9 in overtime conference games since joining the Big East in 2005. In regulation games decided by one possession, they were 7-10.
Last season the Blue Demons made some progress in that regard, but that was nothing compared to what they’ve shown this year through seven Big East games.
“We don’t want to be known as a team that cracks under pressure,” sophomore guard Billy Garrett Jr. said.
For the most part, DePaul hasn’t cracked. The Blue Demons struggled late in those close December loses to Illinois State and Loyola Marymount. The loss to Georgetown could have also been a win had DePaul made a few more plays.
But close wins over Xavier, Marquette and St. John’s have shown that this team is capable of prevailing under pressure.
The Blue Demons understand how close a win can be to becoming a loss, and vice versa. Not only have they experienced that, but they have experienced how to succeed in those tight situations.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost as a team,” junior wing Myke Henry said. “I think it’s going to help us down the road when we’re in situations like this.”