MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The DePaul Blue Demons have spent November proving that preseason polls don’t mean a thing when the season starts.
Charlie Moore scored 21 points, dished out 12 assists and had five steals on Friday as DePaul defeated Minnesota 73-68.
DePaul (8-0) was picked to finish last in the 10-team Big East preseason coaches’ poll. Now the Blue Demons are off to their best start since 1986-87, when they started the season with 16 straight wins and ended it in the Sweet 16, the last time the storied program has advanced that far in the NCAA Tournament.
“We have a new team, a lot of new faces,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “It’s coming together. I told them this early … I could see that there’s something going on in our locker room that we can come together with.”
Jalen Coleman-Lands added 11 points for the Blue Demons, while Paul Reed had 11 points, nine boards and a career-high seven blocked shots.
“That starting five is as good as any starting five in the country,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “They’re poised, they’re talented, they’re confident, they’re scrappy, they play hard, they have an identity.”
Daniel Oturu led the Golden Gophers (3-4) with 19 points, 18 rebounds and four blocked shots. Payton Willis scored 16 points, Alihan Demir added 14 and Gabe Kalscheur chipped in 11.
The Blue Demons have shrugged off low expectations by playing strong defense, leading to road victories at Iowa and Boston College. Moore, a junior transfer from Kansas, said the team’s mentality has played as big a role as its athletic ability in DePaul’s fast start.
“I think our energy level out there on the court on the defensive end is great at all times.
Coach and his staff stress that,” Moore said. “If we have energy coming out on the defensive end, I think we’re going to have a good day out there on the court.”
The Gophers had their chances down the stretch. With a minute to go and trailing by five, a Minnesota steal sprung Willis for a breakaway, but he ended up missing a contested layup that would have made it a one-possession game.
Then with the score 71-68 and 10 seconds to play, Minnesota’s Bryan Greenlee stole an inbounds pass. After a timeout, the Gophers drew up a play to get it to Kalscheur for a potential game-tying 3, but Jaylen Butz blocked the shot.
DePaul led for most of the first half, and when Romeo Weems converted a layup in transition with 2 minutes to go, it gave the Blue Devils their largest lead of the half at 35-24. Minnesota countered with a 9-0 run to close the half. Two baskets by Oturu led to Willis’ third 3-pointer with just 3 seconds left to pull the Gophers to within 35-33 at the break.
Reed set a career high with seven blocks. Four of them came in the game’s first eight minutes, including a swat that sent a would-be shot by Oturu into the stands.
ROW THE BARN
Timberwolves head coach and former Gopher Ryan Saunders attended the game. When he was shown on the scoreboard during a timeout, Saunders drew cheers as he pantomimed rowing a boat, in honor of the Minnesota football team’s popular slogan.
Football fever has Minnesota’s campus in its grip these days. ESPN’s College GameDay show on Saturday will originate from Minneapolis for the first time as the Gophers and Wisconsin square off Saturday with the Big Ten West title and a possible Rose Bowl trip on the line.
DePaul: It’ll be hard for Top 25 voters to ignore DePaul after their third road victory over a Power 5 conference team in the past three weeks.
Minnesota: Three of the Gophers’ losses so far have been against Power 5 teams – and the fourth was at Butler. They’ve got one more big nonconference test on their hands next week before opening Big Ten play at Iowa on Dec. 9.
DePaul: The Blue Demons host Texas Tech on Wednesday in the first year of the Big 12/Big East Battle. The schools have met just twice, with the Blue Demons winning both, the most recent being a home-court victory in 2011.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers host Clemson on Monday as part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The last time the teams met, the Gophers pulled out an 89-83 victory at Williams Arena on Nov. 30, 2015.
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