By Adam Harris–
Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL – The next seven days are the toughest of the year for the DePaul Blue Demons men’s basketball team, as they will travel to Syracuse to face the 12th best team in the country in the Orange, then they will immediately board a plane and fly to New York City to start the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden.
That’s a mouthful, but the young Demon team knows what they need to do.
“I think I’m going to handle it smooth and well,” Freshman guard Brandon Young told me today after practice. “I need to be calm out there. I can’t be too over hyped and come out there wild. I need to stay calm and come out there the aggressive way but the smart way.”
The recent loss of arguably DePaul’s best player, forward Cleveland Melvin, along with being over matched in the Big East this year has pushed this team to a mental limit, but they seem to be handling it well.
“Well I responded [to Cleveland’s injury] well enough as far as scoring goes and doing other things people need me to do,” Young said. “The team is a little hurt, but that means other people need to step up as far as Tony Freeland and Jimmy Drew to play the four spot. We handled it well but we need to handle it better.”
Head Coach Oliver Purnell couldn’t agree more with his freshman guard.
“Well it’s a tough loss, no question about it,” Purnell said. “I think the guys have hung in there from a chemistry standpoint. They’ve supported one another, but that’s 14 or 15 points a game and 6 or 7 rebounds a game which is hard to make up for when you’re short handed to begin with.”
The Demons have relied on their freshman talent all year, which has been showing signs of improvement, however they might need to turn to their seniors to get them through the next week and a half, both mentally and on the court.
“Sometimes the emotions can lead to a good thing,” senior guard Jeremiah Kelly said. “It’s all right for them [young players] to stay hyped. Not too many people get to play in [Madison Square Garden] so of course it’s going to be emotional, but we just have to play hard overall.”
The Demons will play the Syracuse Orange at 3pm on Saturday. Win or lose, they will take their 16th ranked Big East record into Madison Square Garden and will kick off the entire tournament on Tuesday at noon. They will face the 9th ranked team in the Big East, which will either be Connecticut, Villanova, or Marquette, depending on what happens this weekend.
The Big East Tournament is one of the biggest stages in NCAA Men’s College Basketball, and it’ll be interesting to see how this young DePaul team responds to the hype and coverage of this event.
“That’s certainly something we will point towards when the Syracuse game is over, that you have a chance to make history [in the Big East Tournament],” Purnell said. “We are starting from a tough spot, but we have an opportunity to make history and we’ll talk about that certainly when the time comes. It’ll be a one game at a time deal, but with an eye on trying to win the tournament.”
So far the Demons have only won one Big East game this season out of 17 tries. In order to win the Big East Tournament next week they will have to win five Big East games in a row over a span of 5 days. Talk about a close to impossible task.
Tune into 670 The Score Saturday at 2:45 pm for the DePaul/Syracuse game. Zach Zaidman and Laurence Holmes will have the call.