For proud yet struggling DePaul, one last (noble) loss for the road

For proud yet struggling DePaul, one last (noble) loss for the road

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0

NEW YORK — It was 11:12 p.m. in Manhattan, and the lights were still on. At least for another 90 seconds. So DePaul had a chance.

But then 90 became 30, which became 10, which was when Villanova’s Justin Moore canned a game-winning three from the wing at Madison Square Garden. The Wildcats needed it to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. DePaul had much different stakes. By losing, 58-57, in their Big East tournament opener, the Blue Demons went 0-21 against Big East competition, ending the season without a victory in 2024. Their last win was on Dec. 30. They finished 3-29.

“We’re all devastated,” interim coach Matt Brady said from the podium. Next to him, senior guard Jalen Terry nodded along, eyes fixed on the table. DePaul trailed by two at halftime. With under 13 minutes left, it led by eight. Because winners write history, this will always be a game Villanova escaped, not one the Blue Demons almost stole. But they made something of the thankless act of playing out the string, of showing up because two teams and 10 guys are needed to play.

It was neat. People smiled. It felt more like a non-win than a loss.

And, look, no team should go wholly defeated in its conference. A lot has to go wrong. The school has to take a long, hard look at the program and itself. It also has to find a new coach, whether it’s Porter Moser — a Chicago guy who shut down rumors because he is employed by Oklahoma — or some other masochist. The project won’t be easy. Then again, nothing worth doing is.

But in the meantime, Wednesday could be good and fun, no matter the final numbers. Before the game, DePaul’s band was by the tunnel, waiting to walk out. The director warned a rookie of the skinny risers. A saxophone player, horn dangling off his neck, tapped a buddy to his right.

“This will be pretty cool, huh?” he asked. “Pretty freaking cool.”

Which really is the point, at the root of all this, when you strip away everything that convinces us otherwise. The band played at Madison Square Garden, where the dimmed lights make the court look like a Broadway stage. DePaul fell one shot or two free throws short of a bracket-shaking upset. One day, when the weight of 29 losses is a little less smothering, Terry can talk about dropping 18 points to go with 15 rebounds against a much better Villanova team. Jeremiah Oden, a senior forward, can recall hitting two threes off the bench in an NBA arena.

Or howling at the rafters in celebration. Or those minutes when the crowd believed.

“We don’t just win,” a deep voice said over a DePaul promo in the first half. “We build community on and off the court.”

That first part, yeah, it was funny. But building community? That is what Blue Demons technically did this season, from Nov. 7 to the last hour of March 13. They had each other, even if that wasn’t always fun. They had their fans, even if there weren’t many. There were their families and their friends. There was the staff, the band, the cheerleaders, the dance team. There was whoever watched that game in the Blue Demons mascot suit and was still standing by the end.

At one timeout, two dudes raced to make layups, sliding around the court. In the second half, three guys in NBA jerseys chanted “De-fense!” for DePaul, then moved down three rows, giggling. If you believe in the butterfly effect, none of them make those specific memories without DePaul, meaning DePaul tweaked the courses of their lives in some tiny, tiny way.

DePaul. Tweaking the courses of lives (if you believe in the butterfly effect).

“We just came back day after day,” Terry said. “Even if we lost by 35, we just came back.”

Brady had a timeout left after Moore drilled that three. But with a broken floor, he thought Terry could attack a scrambling defense and still call time if needed. Instead, DePaul was rushed, fumbling away its final possession of the year. Villanova exhaled. The Blue Demons stood around the paint. They untucked their shirts, looked at the refs, at each other, nothing left to say or do.

The thing about March is you always have a puncher’s chance until you suddenly don’t. DePaul’s lasted 40 minutes.

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