MILWAUKEE — Playing its fourth game in five days proved to be too much for Milwaukee, even coming off a four-game winning streak.
The Panthers, who finished in last place last season in the Horizon League, stayed with DePaul most of the way in their home opener Tuesday. But fatigue, plus superior play from a Big East foe in the Blue Demons, conspired against them.
Cleveland Melvin scored 20 points and Brandon Young added 19 as the Blue Demons, last-place finishers in the Big East last season, pulled away in the second half for an 80-71 win in their first road game of the season.
Milwaukee’s Matt Tiby also scored 20 and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds. Kyle Kelm added 16 points off the bench.
“We asked these young men to do something I thought was something that was going to be very difficult for a team that’s as inexperienced as we are, and play as many games as we did in a short turnaround,” said Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter, who recalled his late father, Green Bay Packers defensive back Bob Jeter.
“Having my father, who played for the Pack, one of the quotes he said was, `Fatigue makes cowards of us all.’ And you get tired at about the 10-minute mark (of the second half). You can see it. Mentally we break down.”
DePaul coach Oliver Purnell expected a battle, but knew the Panthers would be tired.
“That was a real solid road win for us,” he said. “Milwaukee was playing well and feeling good about themselves. This was their first home game, so we expected it would come down to the wire.
“We tried to go quick and athletic in the second half. They had played a lot of games in a short amount of time and I think that showed up, but I think their size showed up as well.”
The Blue Demons (3-1) had defeated Wright State of the Horizon League, 81-72, on Saturday.
The Panthers (4-2) claimed the NIU Invitational over the weekend, defeating host Northern Illinois on Sunday, 82-69, in the championship game in DeKalb.
The first half was tight, with neither team leading by more than four points. DePaul shot just 39.4 percent and Milwaukee just 33.3 percent.
The game was tied at 32 at halftime after Tiby was fouled on a putback and made a free throw to convert a three-point play.
But Milwaukee missed two threes and was forced to call a timeout barely a minute into the second half after DePaul jumped to a 37-32 lead on a layup by Young and a three-pointer by Melvin.
“We wanted to come out in the second half and hit them first, get a good lead, some momentum,” said Young. “We played good team defense and communicated with each other.”
DePaul gradually built a lead, going up 63-49 on a dunk by guard Charles McKinney with just over seven minutes remaining. Milwaukee would get to within six, at 73-67 with just over a minute left when Tiby made a layup.
But that’s as close as Milwaukee would get.
“We get that stretch in the second half where I just think we broke down,” said Jeter. “We challenged our guys, which is always a good thing. But at times it looked like they (DePaul) were on another level, just because of their length and athleticism.”
Purnell said he worried Milwaukee would hurt his team with three-point shots. The Panthers tried 16 of them in the first half, but made only 7 of 25 (28 percent) in the game.
“We felt like they needed threes to beat us,” Purnell said, “so as long as they were getting twos, we could live with that.”
DePaul was effective getting the ball inside after the break, which was reflected in 60.7 percent shooting in the second half. The Blue Demons also hit 9 of 18 threes for the game, including four by Melvin.
“You never know with Cleveland,” said Young. “He can take over at any moment. He can play inside or outside. When he’s inside, we don’t think he can be stopped. He’s a great all-around player.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.