UConn too much for Blue Demons, eliminate men from Big East tournament
NEW YORK --- Connecticut may have been without last season's Most Outstanding Player, Kemba Walker, this year, but the Huskies' well-rounded lineup held court throughout their tough schedule, including their opening round matchup with DePaul at the Big East Conference Championship. With a balanced attack and strong inside presence, the Huskies dispatched the Blue Demons 81-67 Tuesday afternoon, ending DePaul's season and tournament stay.
UConn(19-12), took advantage of significant contributions from sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb and freshman Ryan Boatright, both using their athleticism and play-making ability to score in bunches. Lamb -- who finished with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting -- seemed to score at will, both knifing through the Blue Demons on drives and stepping back for outside shots.
For DePaul (12-19), Cleveland Melvin led the way with 19 points and nine rebounds, while Moses Morgan had perhaps one of the best games of his career, adding 19 off the bench on 7-of-15 shooting, 5-of-6 from three-point range.
"I'm not trying to be Kemba. Of course everybody wants to lead their team to championships, but I'm just trying to do what's best for this team," Lamb said when asked if he felt he needed to take over the role Walker played last season.
Boatright -- who added 19 points and seven assists off the bench -- shared the same goal as Lamb, intending to redeem himself after pressing too much in the two meetings with DePaul in the regular season.
"I just missed a lot of easy shots and a lot of careless turnovers [in the first game]," Boatright said. "Today I just tried to do the best for the team, so when I came in and got the start by playing defense, the offense came to me."
Much of the two guards' success in Tuesday's game was accredited to the big bodies of Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi. Their wide frames proved effective at boxing out DePaul's frontcourt men, racking up 31 offensive rebounds and 42 total rebounds.
Though DePaul wasn't far behind in the category with 39 total rebounds of their own, the stats didn't do the physical differences justice.
"We rebounded the ball decently in the first half, but just couldn't keep them off the boards in the second half," said DePaul Head Coach Oliver Purnell. "I really admired our guys' fighting spirit to fight back into the game in the second half. But you have to give [UConn] credit -- in particular, Lamb played extremely well, and Boatright played pretty well, too."
Much of the first half was helter-skelter with neither team executing particularly well on offense. The Blue Demons were especially hampered attacking the basket, often drawing lots of contact with no foul calls. Too often they were unable to control the ball, leading to numerous Connecticut fast-break opportunities.
Were it not for UConn's hot shooting from downtown in the first half, there was a chance DePaul could have taken the lead going into the break. But the Huskies couldn't miss, hitting 7-of-9 from long range, contributing to their 54.8 percent field goal shooting in the first. DePaul didn't help their cause shooting a mere 10-of-35 (28.6 percent) from the field.
In the second half, UConn took command both rebounding and scoring the basketball. Oriakhi and Drummond were a handful on the inside, able to secure loose balls that were batted around and put them back up for second chance baskets.
Yet despite their lead, Connecticut succumbed to a few bursts from DePaul, who at one point cut the deficit to just nine with seven minutes to play. But UConn was simply too good to relinquish the lead, keeping the Blue Demons at bay with better offensive execution and hustle.
"We just have to work on maintaining our focus, working hard on the court and staying positive," Melvin said after the game. "Just coming out and playing with that energy and playing for the whole 40 minutes."
Even with the loss, Morgan maintained in the postgame press conference that the Blue Demons never give up until the final whistle.
"I feel like we're close [as a team] just because we work hard every day, and even though we lose we don't hang our heads," Morgan said. "We just go out and play hard, leave it all out there because we know this could be our last game. But just the fact that we work hard every day, no matter who we're playing or what the circumstances are."
Despite their season coming to a close, the Blue Demons can still say they gave it their all, but were just outmatched by the defending Big East champions.
"I'm really disappointed it's over," Purnell said. "But, we lost to a better team today."
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