ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP)—After a disastrous non-conference season, Cliff Clinkscales and DePaul teammates were more than ready to get the Big East portion of the season under way.
Draelon Burns scored 20 points and Karron Clarke added 14 as the Blue Demons upset No. 17 Villanova 84-76 on Thursday night in the conference opener for both teams.
“We got a fresh start. It’s a new season for us so we’re trying to look like a whole new team,” Clinkscales said. “We aren’t worried about our record. We have 17 games to go now so anything can happen. You are never out of it. You judge a season at the end of the season.”
The Blue Demons (5-7), who had the worst non-conference record among the 16 conference schools, opened an 18-8 lead on a 3-pointer by Clinkscales. They extended it to 40-25 with 14 seconds left in the half on Clarke’s alley-oop dunk off an inbounds play from the baseline.
Villanova didn’t start a senior and their inexperience showed as they never got into a rhythm.
“It almost kind of crept up on us,” said Villanova’s Dante Cunningham, who had 16 points. “We just kept battling and ran out of time.”
Burns hit a 3 to start an 11-2 run early in the second half that gave DePaul a 53-38 lead with 14:27 left.
Burns then gave DePaul its biggest lead of the game when he made a steal and finished with a layup on the other end to make it 60-44 with 8:42 left.
“We wanted to make a statement to our Big East competitors that we aren’t pushovers,” Burns said.
Cunningham made a jumper then hit one free throw and Antonio Pena had a tip-in that got the Wildcats within 68-64 with 3:30 left. But Burns made two free throws and then had a steal and layup to put DePaul up 72-64 with 2:57 left.
“I just learned every night is going to be a battle (in the Big East). They (DePaul) played good, they came out with a lot of intensity and we just have to pick it up and learn from it,” said freshman Corey Fisher, who led Villanova with 23 points.
Villanova coach Jay Wright was called for a technical foul by official Tony Greene with 13:12 left in the first half for arguing a traveling call on Scottie Reynolds.
“We just have to learn mental toughness on the road. There was times when we just came down and turned the ball over. It was more just trying to do much,” Wright said.
Will Walker, Clinkscales and Wes Green all had 12 points for DePaul, which lost at home to North Carolina A&T and Illinois-Chicago this season.
Reynolds, who came in averaging 17 points for Villanova, finished with 11.
Villanova was just 1-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half.
The Wildcats played without center Casiem Drummond. He missed his third game with a stress fracture in his right ankle and it hasn’t been determined when he will return.