If the results against common opponent Western Illinois are a fair guide, then expect Friday’s Blue Demon Classic game between Northern Kentucky and DePaul to go to the wire.
On Nov. 20, Western Illinois owned the lead for most of the second half before Javon Freeman-Liberty led a comeback that gave DePaul a four-point win. Two days later, the Leathernecks traveled to Northern Kentucky and JJ Flores’ putback with 0:00.3 on the clock handed the Norse a 69-67 loss.
“We’ve got to toughen up, and we’ve got to mature a little bit,” Northern Kentucky coach Darrin Horn told reporters after the loss. “We’ve got to find a way to put two halves together.”
For the Norse (2-2), Friday’s game in Chicago will be their first road trip — and therefore the first road game for their freshman backcourt: point guard Sam Vinson (8.5 points, 4.0 assists) and shooting guard Hubertas Pivorius (team-high 20 points against Western Illinois in his first start).
They’ll face a steep learning curve against DePaul’s fourth-year guard Freeman-Liberty, who has won two straight Big East Player of the Week honors while never coming off the floor for the Blue Demons (4-0).
Not only does Freeman-Liberty lead the Big East and rank third in the country in scoring (24.8 points) through Tuesday’s games, he owns second place in the Big East in assists (5.3) and shares second in rebounding (9.3) and steals (2.3).
The Chicago native (and 2020 Valparaiso transfer) is a big reason why the Blue Demons have defended their home court in all four games despite having just seven scholarship players at their disposal due to injuries, transfer mechanics and NCAA red tape.
“I think there’s a lot of room for growth,” said DePaul coach Tony Stubblefield. “Our thing is we’ve got to find a way. There’s no excuses. Next man up. Guys gotta step up. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us, so we’ve got to go out there and play hard for 40 minutes and figure out a way.”
DePaul wraps up the four-team, round-robin Blue Demon Classic with a visit from Eastern Michigan on Sunday afternoon.
–Field Level Media