DePaul Forces 2019 CBI Finals Game 3 with Win vs. South Florida

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2019

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MARCH 06: Max Strus #31 of the DePaul Blue Demons celebrates after making a three pointer in the game against the Georgetown Hoyas during the first half at Wintrust Arena on March 06, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The 2019 men's College Basketball Invitational is going the distance.

The DePaul Blue Demons defeated the South Florida Bulls 100-96 in overtime Wednesday at Chicago's McGrath-Phillips Arena in Game 2 of the best-of-three series. South Florida won Game 1 by a mere two points, meaning Game 3 will take place Friday.

Max Strus (32 points and six three-pointers) and Paul Reed (28 points, 16 rebounds, three steals and three blocks) spearheaded the effort for the Blue Demons, with the former doing much of his offensive work early in the game and the latter helping take over down the stretch.

A duo led the way for South Florida as well, with Laquincy Rideau (35 points, eight assists and four steals) and Alexis Yetna (26 points and 13 boards on 11-of-12 shooting from the field) each stuffing the stat sheet. 

It appeared as if South Florida would win in regulation when it came storming back from an 11-point halftime deficit and took the lead in the final minutes when David Collins blocked a shot, gathered the loose ball and unleashed a thunderous dunk on the other end.

However, Strus and Reed combined for a 5-0 run before Yetna forced overtime with a three-pointer with 29.6 seconds remaining. Strus had the chance to win it on the final possession, but he turned it over without getting a shot off.

DePaul controlled the extra period, though, fighting through injuries and fatigue with a shortened rotation.

It was more of the same for a Bulls team that saw its season largely defined by close calls. The American Athletic Conference representative lost in overtime to the Georgetown Hoyas, lost in overtime to Temple twice, lost to Cincinnati by single digits and lost to Houston by single digits.

The Blue Demons' injury issues arose in the first half when Eli Cain fell hard to the ground in a scary moment. He was down for some time and exited with a soft cast on his wrist, leaving them even thinner with Devin Gage already sidelined:

Cain was the team's second-leading scorer and one of its primary ball-handlers and facilitators throughout the season, and he was almost a hero in Game 1. He drilled a game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds before Collins connected on a runner in the lane to seize the lead in the series.

Even with Cain sidelined, DePaul finally established an offensive rhythm against South Florida's stout defense.

The Bulls finished 37th in the country in KenPom.com's pace-adjusted defensive rankings and held DePaul to just 25 points in the first half of Game 1. However, the Big East representative poured in 46 points in the first half of Wednesday's contest thanks to the blistering shooting of Strus.

Strus connected on six of his eight three-point attempts in the opening 20 minutes, making South Florida's defense pay for clogging the lane and picking up the slack in the backcourt after Cain exited. He unleashed multiple looks from well beyond the arc, which forced the Bulls to account for his presence much earlier than usual.

To South Florida's credit, the defense that carried it for extended stretches this season tightened up following intermission.

It started challenging Strus' perimeter shots and forcing the ball out of his hands, which allowed Yetna and Rideau the opportunity to gradually chip away at the deficit. Rideau turned the momentum with his three-point shooting, and Yetna attacked the rim with a ruthless efficiency DePaul struggled to counter.

The pressure was squarely on the Blue Demons' side after South Florida eliminated the deficit, especially since Wednesday's must-win contest was at home. They played with a frantic pace for stretches after Strus went cold in the second half, and depth became an even bigger concern when Jaylen Butz left the game after he was on the receiving end of a hard screen.

Even Strus was seen holding his wrist after he turned it over on the final possession of regulation.

Still, the Blue Demons turned to Reed, fought through the adversity and extended their season one more game with the impressive showing in overtime.

            

What's Next?

The decisive Game 3 will take place Friday at McGrath-Phillips Arena.

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