The DePaul Blue Demons and the UIC Flames ended up the opposite sides of close games last night as the two teams continue to try and find their way under new coaches. The Blue Demons escaped last night with a 86-84 over Northern Illinois at Allstate Arena last night, while UIC dropped an 68-66 overtime decision to Valparaiso.
DePaul led by as many as 17 points in its game, but they had to hang on at the end thanks to some failed execution down the stretch and great play by NIU's Xavier Silas (34 points) and Jeremy Landers (14 points on six shots). It required some clutch plays and some clutch free throws down the stretch for the Blue Demons to pull out the victory.
For Oliver Purnell's team it was a good way to open the season at Allstate Arena.
"We got the big lead with our pressure defense and some rebounding," Purnell said after the game. "We had to hold them off. We have some things to work on like holding onto the ball there are the end and those kinds of things."
One of the keys for the Blue Demons was rebounding, as Purnell said. DePaul grabbed 46.9 percent of its misses and those 15 offensive rebounds resulted in 14 second chance points. Tony Freeland, who scored a team-high 25 points, grabbed three of those rebounds.
DePaul also did a good job with its free throw shooting. The Blue Demons hit 32-of-41 from the line (78 percent), which helped them seal the victory.
Over at the Pavilion things didn't go as smoothly for Howard Moore's UIC crew in their Horizon League opener. The Flames got up by as many as 14 points in the second half, but Valparaiso stormed back and won the game in overtime when Zavion Neely missed a lay up at the buzzer.
For the Flames the game was about failing to close things out and then falling behind in extra time. The Crusaders scored the first six points of overtime, against what appeared to be a tiring UIC squad. That'll happen when your four key players play more than 40 minutes apiece.
Turnovers really made the difference for UIC. 14 second half turnovers by the Flames resulted in the empty possessions that helped Valparaiso mount its comeback in the second half, even amidst heavy foul trouble.
For UIC though this is something to build off of. It proves that the Flames will be tough at home in conference play. Even with Robo Kreps struggling from the field, 1-of-13 with six total points, the Flames found a way to hang in until the end.
Still, I'm sure Moore is wishing he could have this one back.