CHICAGO — As a senior on a team looking to end a string of losing seasons, Max Strus believes there’s no such thing as an ugly win.
He happily celebrated DePaul’s performance Thursday night — warts and all.
Strus had 21 points, Devin Gage added a career-high 14 points and DePaul bounced back after struggling down the stretch in regulation for a 72-70 overtime victory against Penn State.
“I’m so proud of our guys for tonight,” Strus said. “It wasn’t the way we wanted to win, we didn’t win the way we planned, but we won — and that’s all that matters for us.”
Jaylen Butz had a career-high 15 rebounds as DePaul won in the Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup. The Blue Demons are 3-0 for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Lamar Stevens had 25 points and a career-high 12 rebounds and Myles Dread added a career-high 19 points for Penn State, which dropped to 2-1.
Eli Cain hit a jumper to give DePaul a 70-68 lead early in OT, snapping a streak of eight straight misses. Jalen Coleman-Lands and Strus then each made one of two free throws for a 72-68 advantage.
The big story, though, was the defense, which held Penn State to 0-for-6 shooting in OT.
“We turned the ball over; just some careless mistakes,” Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers said of OT. “We can be rushed and sped up a little bit. We’ve just gotta slow down; it’s gonna be OK.”
DePaul got off to a miserable start, committing turnovers on its first six possessions to fall behind 11-0. The Blue Demons didn’t manage to get off a shot until nearly four minutes had expired and didn’t score until a basket by Femi Olujobi with 15:46 left in the first half.
But things suddenly started clicking offensively behind Cage, who had 12 first-half points and scored 10 straight DePaul points at one point. Cage’s 3-point play with 4:21 to go gave the Blue Demons a 28-26 lead, their first of the game.
DePaul had a 36-31 halftime advantage.
A Strus 3-point play — he was fouled on an alley-oop dunk — gave DePaul a 63-53 lead, its biggest of the game. The Blue Demons still were up 68-60 with two minutes remaining, but Penn State ran off eight straight points to tie the score at 68 with 26.1 seconds to go.
Stevens, though, had a chance to give the Nittany Lions the lead after tying the game with the first of two free throws, but he missed the second and the game went to overtime.
“We held on just enough to win a close ballgame, which I think is really, really important for the psyche of our guys,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said.
Butz led DePaul to a 47-36 edge on the boards.
“Just knowing I can go and grab 15 rebounds against a nice Big Ten team is a confidence booster,” Butz said.
Despite the rash of turnovers early, DePaul finished with 16 for the game, the same amount as Penn State.
THE BIG PICTURE
Penn State: Despite taking an 11-0 lead, the Nittany Lions didn’t take full advantage of DePaul’s struggles at the start. Cold shooting in the first half then caused the lead to vanish completely.
DePaul: After season-opening wins against Bethune-Cookman and Morgan State, the Blue Demons seemed overwhelmed by the step up in class at first, but quickly responded. The tenacity they showed on the defensive end will keep them competitive in many games this season.
Penn State: Faces Wright State in the opener of the Cancun Challenge on Tuesday night.
DePaul: Visits Notre Dame on Nov. 24.
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