Dec. 30, 2012
After working out all summer and spending two weeks together in Italy, this team is coming together.
Last week, we took another step toward embracing the concepts of playing team defense and grinding out games. Just before Christmas, we traveled to Jersey City, N.J. , to play a really good Saint Peter's team. We embraced team defense by holding their best player who had several games in a row of 20 or more points to just seven for the game. Coach Moser always talks about grinding out games and this was definitely a time when we did just that as.
Even though we trailed for a majority of the contest, at point falling behind by 11 points, we fought together and found a way to push through the adversity and win the game in the last few minutes of regulation thanks to a key loose ball steal by Cully Payne and block by Ben Averkamp.
After the game, each player, including myself who flew to Buffalo, N.Y., to spend Christmas with my family, went his own way from the airports in New York and New Jersey to catch a flight to spend the holidays with our families. The couple days off allowed us to relax and spend some much-needed time with our loved ones and also gave us an opportunity to recharge and refocus our minds going into a huge rivalry game with DePaul and then the start of Horizon League play.
As soon as we arrived back on campus for our first practice after a nice three-day respite, Coach Moser stressed to us that the key to winning the DePaul game would be to become the first team to get back mentally from break. We had our days off and now it was time to get back to work. The coaches emphasized to the team that this game could be winnable against a very good and talented DePaul team. They told us to remember the feeling that we had after losing at Michigan State three weeks ago when we felt as if we could have come out with a victory. They said if we played together and emphasized rebounding and team defense, we would not leave the Allstate Arena with that same feeling.
Saturday, we headed to Allstate Arena and beat DePaul for the first time in 23 years. The atmosphere was electric and fans came from all over to see the classic rivalry on the main stage as the two Division I Catholic universities in Chicago battled for bragging rights in the city. Both teams are having tremendous seasons with great wins over quality opponents, but this game meant so much more. This is a rivalry that has been lopsided in DePaul's favor in recent history, but we as a team are glad to see it moving back in our direction at least just a little bit after this win. Christian Thomas did an unbelievable job of accepting the challenge of guarding DePaul's leading scorer, Cleveland Melvin, who is an All-BIG EAST player, and holding him to single-digit points for the game. Ben Averkamp battled and fought as he played just about the entire game and Cully Payne directed traffic and came up with big basket after big basket for us, especially down the stretch. Jordan Hicks fought and scrapped and came up with some critical loose balls and everyone up and down the lineup contributed to the win. With UIC's win over Northwestern earlier this year and our win over DePaul, the Horizon League is making some noise in the city!
As a team, we hope that everyone had a safe and happy holiday season. Happy New Year and we look forward to seeing you at our Horizon League home opener against Youngstown State on Saturday!