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Did DePaul Turn Corner in Emphatic Win over George Washington?

February 11, 2015: DePaul's Guard Aaron Simpson #15 heads to the rim during a Big East conference NCAA D1 men's basketball match-up between the DePaul Blue Demons and the St. John's Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, NY. St. John's defeated the Blue Demons 86-78.
David Hahn/Icon Sportswire

DePaul achieved something it hasn’t done in nearly eight years on Tuesday. After thoroughly manhandling No. 20-ranked George Washington, 82-61, Tuesday night, it garnered a win over a top-25 team at home for the first time since January of 2008.

The last time DePaul won a game at home against a top-25 team was back on January 3, 2008 vs. No.17 Villanova.

The Blue Demons played a complete game against George Washington and were clicking right from the get go. DePaul was on fire from the start and jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead. From there the rout was in full effect. DePaul had at one time raced out to a 19-point lead in the first half before it lost a bit of its edge.

The Colonials would slice the Demons’ lead down to 12 at halftime.

However, DePaul answered the ball early in the second half and reclaimed momentum to go back up to a more comfortable margin between 15-20 points, which was the lead it had for most of the game.

It was something DePaul head coach Dave Leitao stressed afterward.

“I was worried at halftime George Washington would counterpunch and that we had to be ready when they made their run.” Leitao said after the game (per DePaulBlueDemons.com) “Our defense continued to force them to make the next play and we stayed in front of them. There were no easy driving lanes and we rebounded the ball.”

Put simply, the Demons played a complete, dominant game on both sides of the ball. They shot a blistering 55.4 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three-point range. DePaul also held the Colonials to a dreadful 33.3 percent shooting from the field and a miserable 14.3 percent from three-point range.

As ESPN notes, it’s the largest win in school history as an un-ranked team vs. an AP-ranked team in DePaul history.

The Demons got contributions from many, as four players scored in double figures on Tuesday. Billy Garrett Jr., Eli Cain, Aaron Simpson and Myke Henry were the four Demons in double figures.

Garrett Jr., DePaul’s venerable leader, was calm, cool, composed and in control all night. He kept an even keel through the duration of the game in leading the Blue Demons with 20 points on a very efficient 8-11 shooting from the field. Garrett also led the Blue Demons with seven assists.

“It feels good to beat a nationally ranked team,” said Garrett after the game (per DePaulBlueDemons.com). “But I’m not surprised because we have a team that can play like this when we put it all together.”

Cain, who earlier predicted his team would shock the world, was second on the team with 16 points on 6-9 shooting from the field to go with five rebounds. The 6’6” freshman is just so effortless going to the basket and so smooth in finishing at the basket. He has a lot of promise.

Simpson, one of the few seniors on the club, would not be denied on this night either.

He chipped in 15 points to go with five rebounds and four assists. Simpson was simply all over the floor. The 5”11” senior plays taller than he is and he showed that he’s tough as nails. He plays with a sense of urgency when others around him have failed to do so on many occasions this season.

Last but not least was the play of Henry.

He provided a big spark with 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds. The versatile scorer is the Demons most consistent player, as he just has a knack for scoring. Plus, he gets a lot of brownie points for posterizing George Washington’s Tyler Cavanaugh with this epic jam:

“Oh my God, it was sensational,” Simpson said about Henry’s dunk (per DePaulBlueDemons.com).

DePaul Must Build on This

For a team that lost three straight to Arkansas Little Rock, Stanford and Northwestern (the latter game they had in their grasp), the Blue Demons get a huge, momentum-building win as they enter Big East play. This is the type of win that you can build on and it’s imperative that Leitao gets that through to his squad.

So will Tuesday’s stunning performance propel the Demons to make a run in a vastly improved Big East, or will DePaul go back into the shell it often hid in during the majority of the non-conference schedule?

For a team in transition under Leitao, it’s all about defense and effort for DePaul.

That is something the team is trying to overcome after years of bad habits, which has in turn led to eight-straight losing seasons. Plus, if you recall, DePaul started off last season 3-0 in conference play (and 5-2 through seven games), only to win one game the rest of the way.

Up next for the Demons is a home date with a struggling Georgetown squad on December 30 in the Big East opener for both clubs. If DePaul can strike while the iron is hot and beat Georgetown when it’s not playing at its best—and if DePaul rallies around this win—maybe this is a squad that can shock a few teams in the Big East. DePaul is a flawed team, no doubt, but it does possess some nice, raw talent. And if Leitao can harness and maximize all the defensive capabilities out of his team, then Tuesday’s win will not be in vain.

If DePaul can at least get off to a similar start that it did last year in conference play, maybe Leiato could help rewrite the ending this season.

Perhaps Simpson wrapped up Tuesday’s performance best:

“It felt good to get some revenge (DePaul lost last year at George Washington),” Simpson said (per DePaulBlueDemons.com). “We did a great job escalating our defense, and this is what can happen when we stay together and play as a team.”

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