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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Oliver Purnell thought DePaul did everything it could with minimal help from its top two players.
The Blue Demons fell behind by double digits early and rallied to within five with just under 7 minutes to play in a 76-59 loss to No. 14 Louisville on Saturday.
Leading scorer Cleveland Melvin finished eight points, 10.6 off his season average, and committed six turnovers. Brandon Young had 14 points, three off his season mark on 5-of-16 shooting.
“Cleveland and Brandon still don’t have it going. We kind of get them out of there and the other guys keep pounding. All of a sudden we’re down five with seven to go. Our guys kind of hung in there on the road,” Purnell said. “When your two best players don’t really get it done offensively and you miss some layups from your other guys — those are 99.9 percent shots — and you’re playing against a fired up team that’s what happens on the road.”
Russ Smith scored 25 points, Chris Smith added 20 and the Cardinals got back on the right track despite not having leading scorer Kyle Kuric.
The Cardinals (14-4, 2-3 Big East) had lost four of their previous five games, but avoided their first three-game home losing streak in 11 years by jumping out to an early lead against the Blue Demons (10-7, 1-4) and thwarting a late rally.
Kuric, averaging 13 points, sustained a high left ankle sprain in practice earlier this week after the Cardinals had already lost to Providence by 31 points. But Louisville capitalized from the start and used an early 11-0 run to seize control against DePaul.
Louisville has won eight straight in the series and 20 of the last 22. Gorgui Dieng added 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Cardinals, who shot 50.9 percent from the field after averaging 39.4 percent over their previous five games.
Louisville led by nine at halftime and pushed it to 54-50 with 9:44 left when Russ Smith broke out and hit a reverse layup in transition before DePaul would answer.
Worrel Clahar hit 3-pointers in consecutive trips, Moses Morgan added another and freshman Derrell Robertson Jr. scored down low to cut it to 56-51 with 6:55 left.
“That was big for us. That gave us a lift. We tried to get up in our press and force some turnovers so we could try and get some easy steals in the transition instead of scrambling back on defense,” Clahar said. “But we couldn’t hold off in the end.”
Louisville responded with a 7-0 spurt that included a short jumper from Rakeem Buckles, a 3-pointer by Chris Smith in the corner and a steal and slam by Peyton Siva that made it 65-53 with 4:35 left.
Young hit two more 3s, DePaul’s ninth and 10th of the game, but never got within striking distance in the closing minutes. DePaul finished 10 of 23 from 3-point range.
“If you’ve got the open shot, open opportunity, shoot it,” Clahar said. “If you live by the three you’re going to die by the three. It comes and goes.”
The Blue Demons have lost 66 of their last 71 Big East games.
“We’re just trying to still work hard,” Clahar said. “We know that we’ve got come out early stronger and hungrier.”
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