DePaul coach Oliver Purnell wanted to see his team apply pressure against Providence and did his best to help Cleveland Melvin relax.
Taking his coach’s advice, Melvin rebounded from a pair of subpar games to score 23 points and grab nine rebounds as the Blue Demons continually thwarted cold-shooting Providence for an 83-73 win on Saturday night.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it. Most games that we win, pressure has something to do with it, us controlling tempo and that kind of thing,” Purnell said. “I thought we made most things hard for them, whether it was them getting the ball up the floor or the halfcourt. Our halfcourt — our defense — made it hard for them. I’m happy with our defense overall.”
Brandon Young and Jamee Crockett each had 15 points for DePaul (10-5, 1-1 Big East). The Blue Demons snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 4-0 on the road, their best start away from home since winning the initial five to start the 1993-94 season.
Melvin, the team’s leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, scored only seven and six, respectively, in the past two games.
“I don’t know if it helped, but I said a lot of things to him,” Purnell said, breaking into a slight grin. “I talked to him about handling pressure and being aggressive. You don’t want to stop being aggressive.”
The Blue Demons led by seven at halftime, opened it to double digits early in the second half and never had their lead fall below 11 points until the closing 2 1/2 minutes.
Providence’s Bryce Cotton, the Big East’s second-leading scorer at 21.5 points per game, had 20 points, 16 coming in the closing 3 1/2 minutes. He was 4 of 13 from the floor.
Cotton didn’t start because of a sore right knee.
“He didn’t practice yesterday,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “His knee blew up again and then he had his knee drained, so he hasn’t been able to go and practice. You could see he hobbled for about — I don’t even know how many minutes he played — then in the last 4 minutes, when his adrenaline changed, he started making some plays. But he definitely wasn’t playing at full strength.”
Kadeem Batts had 17 points and Vincent Council added 16 points and six assists for the Friars (8-6, 0-2), who shot 38 percent (24 of 63) and missed their initial 10 3-point attempts.
DePaul, which led 37-30 at the half, turned its full-court press into a pair of easy baskets by Crockett in the opening minute of the second half. Melvin then nailed a turnaround bank shot, giving the Blue Demons a 43-30 lead with 17:25 to play and forcing Providence to call timeout out with boos echoing from the home crowd.
Cleveland finished 10 of 18 from the floor.
“I had to be patient out there and relax and let the game come to me,” he said. “That’s what I did and that’s what helped me.”
Purnell thought DePaul’s press had a big effect.
“I thought our full-court press wore them down a little,” he said.
The Blue Demons continued to build their lead while the Friars kept missing shots, using a 9-0 run to pull to a 59-38 advantage on Moses Morgan’s putback with 11 1/2 minutes left. Providence missed 11 of its first 14 shots in the opening 8 minutes of the second half.
Donnavan Kirk’s three-point play gave DePaul a 62-40 lead with 9:52 left.
That was the game, except for a brief late spurt by Providence.
“Right now we’re not playing well, we just seem out of sync in a lot of different ways,” Cooley said. “It’s frustrating because I see what it could be. We’re just not there yet, so I’ve got to make sure I do a better job in preparing my group.”
The Friars used a press of their own to get a few steals in a late charge, closing the gap to 70-60 on Cotton’s 3-pointer with 2:37 to go. Cotton had another 3 and a free throw to make it 72-64 with just under 2 minutes left.
In the first half, neither team held more than a two-possession lead until the Blue Demons scored the final six points of the half, taking a 37-30 edge into intermission.
In the sloppily played opening 20 minutes that lacked any flow, mainly caused by the Blue Demons’ half and full-court trapping defense that had Providence struggling to get into its offensive sets, the Friars started ice cold from the floor and missed eight of their initial 10 shots.
DePaul was even worse, making just 2 of 11, forcing a handful of long jumpers against Providence’s 2-3 zone defense. The Blue Demons couldn’t figure out how to get the ball inside in the early minutes.
The Friars, coming off an 18-point loss at No. 4 Louisville on Wednesday, led 22-17 before Melvin scored all nine points during a 9-2 run over a 1:47 stretch that pushed DePaul ahead for the rest of the half.
Cotton was held without a basket until he had a fast-break layup with 1:37 left in the half, cutting it to 31-30 before the Blue Demons had the final six points of the half.
The Blue Demons lost their conference opener by one point at home against Seton Hall.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.