By Kevin Sweeney
Unranked teams holding serve on their home court against highly-ranked opponents is nothing new this college basketball season. Just this week, Duke, Auburn, Oregon and Kentucky have all lost to unranked clubs.
Saturday afternoon, another top-tier team dropped a tough road tilt, as #5 Butler never led in a 79-66 takedown by DePaul in downtown Chicago. Paul Reed led the way with 23 points on a sterling 8-9 shooting.
“If we come together… we can beat anybody,” Dave Leitao said postgame. “If we don’t, anybody can beat us.”
Reed’s outstanding day started in the game’s opening stanza, when he scored six points inn the game’s first four minutes to give the Blue Demons an early 8-2 edge and trigger a quick Butler timeout. That hot start set the tone for the entirety of this one, as DePaul locked in defensively and never let Butler find any sort of rhythm on that end of the floor. Meanwhile, Reed continued to work his magic– showcasing his versatile offensive game to the several NBA scouts in attendance. As late as 14 minutes into the game, Reed had as many points as the entire Butler team, with the only thing stopping him being foul trouble.
Leitao said the Blue Demons our extra emphasis on getting the ball inside, but noted that Reed’s ability to make plays even when his number isn’t called is what sets him apart.
“We ran some plays for him, but I didn’t run a ton of things for him,” Leitao said. “He’s a unique and phenomenal talent that way.
Reed’s second foul with just over six minutes to go in the first half came with the Blue Demons leading 31-18. When he went to the bench, Butler made its only sustained push to get back into the game. DePaul didn’t make a field goal for three and a half minutes after Reed’s departure, and the Bulldogs took advantage. A 13-4 run topped by a three by Jordan Tucker brought Butler all the way back to within four after they had trailed by as many as 16 in the opening half, prompting Leitao to bring Reed back into the game. Although he didn’t score in the half-closing stretch, the Blue Demon offense came alive, scoring nine points in the final 1:47 of the half to lead by 10 at the break.
“What Paul said to me before I said it to him was ‘Coach, you can trust me.’,” Leitao said. “He was conscious enough to think about it that way and say ‘If I go in, I’m not going to put myself in harms way and pick up that third foul’.”
Butler would never cut the deficit to single digits in the second half. A cold start to the half offensively would doom the Bulldogs, especially as DePaul continued its hot outside shooting from the first half. The Blue Demons drilled five of their eight shots from beyond the arc in the second half and 10-17 for the game, an impressive mark for a team that this season has shot a hair below 33% from deep. Meanwhile, Butler turned the ball over 17 times, which DePaul turned into 15 points on the other end.
In LaVall Jordan’s mind, the issues on offense and defense were connected.
“This isn’t like football where you huddle up and put your defense on the field,” Jordan said. “You start your defense with taking care of the basketball so that you get good shots and give yourselves a chance to get your defense set.”
Beyond Reed’s near-perfect day, DePaul also got 20 points from Jalen Coleman-Lands, 11 from Romeo Weems, and a stat-stuffing 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists by Charlie Moore. It’s the Blue Demons’ first Big East win of the year after an 0-4 start, and provides yet another critical resume-booster as DePaul looks for its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004. It’s Butler’s third clear quadrant one win of the season, joining road wins at Iowa and Minnesota. DePaul’s other signature win, a home victory over Texas Tech, currently sits just outside of Q1 designation with Texas Tech ranking one spot away from the cut-off at 31st in NET.
Kamar Baldwin led the way for Butler with 16 points. It’s Butler’s second consecutive loss after a 15-1 start to the season, and moves the Bulldogs two games off the pace at the top of the conference.