The 2014 Big East Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament got underway at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. The DePaul Blue Demons were originally expected to have a merciful end to yet another miserable season. Instead, they walked out of MSG with a new sense of hope. They opened the tournament as the 10th seed against the seventh seeded Georgetown Hoyas.
Georgetown swept the regular season series with DePaul this year. And considering the Demons finished last in the conference again (11-20, 3-15 Big East), and lost 12 of their last 13, there wasn’t much of a reason to think a miracle was going to happen. But sometimes the month of March does create miracles in college basketball, as was the case when DePaul defeated Georgetown in their tournament opener 60-56.
Thanks to double-digit scoring efforts from freshman guard Billy Garrett Jr. (17 points), senior guard Brandon Young (13), and junior forward/center Forrest Robinson (14), along with some key defensive stops, the Blue Demons kept their season alive for at least one more day. It must be noted that Brandon Young surpassed hall of famer George Mikan for fourth on DePaul’s all-time scoring list (1,870 career points).
Teams always seem to find motivation come tournament time, and perhaps the Demons got a heavy dose of motivation when it was announced before the game that Billy Garrett Jr. was named Big East Rookie of the Year. He is the first DePaul player since Cleveland Melvin in 2011 to win the award. This victory was also DePaul’s first Big East Tournament win since 2009 when they defeated Cincinnati in the first round before falling to Providence the next day. The Blue Demons won’t have too much time to cherish this victory because a much bigger challenge awaits them on Thursday.
The second seeded Creighton Blue Jays, who had a first round bye, will be plenty rested and ready to take on DePaul for the third time this season. Creighton won both regular season meetings this year. They are led by senior forward Doug McDermott who may be the best pure scorer in college basketball this year (averaging 26.5 points per game).
In the two meetings between these teams, McDermott scored a combined 51 points. The Jays won both games by double digits, held DePaul to 40-percent shooting or less from the field, and were lights out from three-point land (18-for-45 combined). DePaul will have their work cut out for them, but if they can get another team effort like they did against Georgetown they could have a chance to win.
They must also find a way to contain McDermott. The day after DePaul lost their regular season finale against Butler, DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti-Ponsetto reaffirmed her unwavering support for head coach Oliver Purnell. Beating Georgetown would appear to back up her decision. Wednesday’s win was definitely a much-needed confidence booster for this struggling program.
The only question is, can they keep up the momentum? Follow me on Twitter @GabeSalgado82