On Friday night, the DePaul Blue Demons made the short trek to Evanston to face "Chicago's Big Ten Team," the Northwestern Wildcats. Both teams came into the contest with 7-5 records, looking to add one more victory to their resume before league play tips off next week.
The visiting Blue Demons came out victorious by a final score of 57-56, thanks to Billy Garrett Jr.'s buzzer-beating layup. The Wildcats took a one-point lead on Dave Sobolewski's three-point shot with 4.9 seconds remaining, but Sobolewski allowed Garrett to get the last-second look.
Sobolewski's late made three ball ended a 1-of-32 shooting slump from deep, but it was not enough for the Wildcats. Jershon Cobb returned from injury, though he was limited and only scored three points in the losing effort.
DePaul is part of the new Big East and is expected to finish near the bottom, while Northwestern is expected to also finish in the lower tier of the deep and rugged Big Ten. This was the first matchup between the two schools in five years.
Northwestern knocked off DePaul back in 2008, before the series took a break as Northwestern's program was on the rise while DePaul's was struggling. The two teams will meet again next season, though that game will be played at Allstate Arena, rather than Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The first half of Friday evening's game was a sight for sore eyes. The Blue Demons took a 28-23 lead into the intermission and led for most of the first stanza. The two teams combined for 23 fouls and 16 turnovers in the first half, while also struggling to shoot the ball.
DePaul was only 8-of-28 from the field and 11-of-21 from the free-throw line. Northwestern shot 7-of-25 from the floor, but connected on 7-of-10 free-throw attempts. Both teams shot 20 percent from three-point range, a combined 3-of-15 between the two squads.
Oliver Purnell and Chris Collins were forced to dig deep into their benches during that first half, as DePaul had 11 players enter the game, while 10 Northwestern players saw the floor. Seven players picked up at least two fouls, while Tommy Hamilton IV and Dave Sobolewski each fouled three times.
Drew Crawford and Tre Demps were the only players to score over five points during the half, as Crawford scored eight points, though on 3-of-11 shooting, and Demps tallied seven points. DePaul's Sandi Marcius served as a familiar face to the Wildcats, as he transferred from Purdue following last season.
The second half was much of the same boring play, until the final minutes. Marcius and Crawford exchanged late and-ones, while Tre Demps led the charge to get NU back into the game. Demps finished the game with a career-high 23 points.
Crawford contributed 15 for the Cats, though on 5-of-17 shooting. Marcius was DePaul's leading scorer on the night with 12 points, followed closely behind by senior Cleveland Melvin's 11 points. The victory was DePaul's first at Northwestern since 1995, having lost in their previous four visits to nearby Evanston.
Alex Olah's play was particularly discouraging for Collins' bunch, as the 7'0" Romanian sophomore channeled his inner-Luka Mirkovic, being held scoreless and fouling out in the game's final minute. Senior Brandon Young struggled for the Demons, scoring only six points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field.
DePaul next takes the court on New Years Eve, facing Georgetown on the road. The road doesn't get any easier from there for the Blue Demons, as the open Big East play with Marquette, Creighton, Butler, St. John's and Villanova following to start 2014. Four of those first six contests also come on the road.
Northwestern will also be tested early on in their conference. The Cats open with the Wisconsin Badgers at home on January 2, before playing Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan State and Indiana to round out the first third of their conference slate.
Both teams will need to play better during their conference season than they did on Friday night in order to have successful seasons and reach any postseason tournament. DePaul improved to 8-5 with the win by the narrowest of margins, while NU enters B1G play just over .500 with a 7-6 record.