CHICAGO — In just two weeks of play in the Big East, DePaul was on the verge of ruining everything it established during an impressive nonconference season.
But on Saturday, DePaul changed course with an elusive victory over a top-five opponent.
Paul Reed scored 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting and had nine rebounds, Jalen Coleman-Lands added 20 points and DePaul upset No. 5 Butler 79-66.
Coleman-Lands was 3 for 5 from 3-point range and freshman Romeo Weems had 11 points as the Blue Demons knocked off a top-five team for the first time since beating No. 5 Kansas on Dec. 2, 2006.
After a disappointing 0-4 start in the Big East, with close losses to Seton Hall and Villanova, DePaul (13-5, 1-4) left little doubt against Butler that its nonconference season wasn't a fluke. The 12-1 start included road wins at Iowa and Minnesota and a victory at home against last season's national runner-up, Texas Tech.
“The last couple of weeks has not been easy for anybody, our locker room most importantly, but as I kept telling them, ‘We have stay the course, stay the course,’” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said.
The victory over Butler (15-3, 3-2) reaffirmed that DePaul, which has been a bottom-feeder since joining the conference in 2005, won't be an easy out anymore in the Big East.
“It shows we have really good potential; it shows if we come together, like I said all year long, we can beat anybody, but also if we don't, anyone in this league can beat us, and that has shown itself, too," Leitao said.
Butler, which was coming off a home loss to Seton Hall on Wednesday, never led and trailed by double digits the entire second half. The Bulldogs gave up a season-high 44 first-half points, the most since giving up 34 in a loss to Baylor.
Kamar Baldwin led Butler with 16 points and Jordan Tucker added 13. The loss snapped an 11-game winning streak against DePaul.
“They have a really good start to it, setting the tone early,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. “It’s going be difficult if we're putting people on the line 32 times in a game, that’s an issue. We've got to be able to defend without fouling. If we turn the ball over 17 times, that’s not the formula to have a chance in this league. We've got to be better as coaches. Our guys just have to understand every night in the Big East, this is what it is."
Reed and DePaul wasted no time getting started against the Bulldogs. The Blue Demons jumped out to a 22-6 lead. Reed, who scored 13 of DePaul's first 17 points on 5-for-5 shooting, showcased all dimensions of his game. The 6-foot-9 junior made a 3 to give DePaul a 15-6 lead, and then on the next possession, he had a dunk that was set up by Charlie Moore.
Darious Hall had a steal and layup to cap off the DePaul run. Reed continued his hot shooting by burying another 3. Reed picked up his second foul on an offensive call with 6:05 left in the first half. He played sparingly the remainder of the half.
That's when Butler chipped away at DePaul's lead. Tucker's 3 got Butler to 35-31, but Coleman-Lands was fouled on a 3-point attempt, connecting on all three free throws, and Weems made a 3 as time expired to give DePaul a 44-34 lead at the half. Reed finished with 18 in the half on 6-for-6 shooting.
Butler: As DePaul found out, the Big East is unforgiving this season. After a tough home loss to Seton Hall and the blowout loss to DePaul, the Bulldogs have to face Villanova next.
DePaul: The Blue Demons showed perseverance after dropping a tough overtime loss at Villanova on Tuesday. With the convincing win over Butler, DePaul proved to be in the mix for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2003-2004 season.
Butler forward Sean McDermott said there was no carryover from Wednesday's loss to Seton Hall. “No, I don’t think that had anything to do with it. They just came out and set the tone, he said. “We didn’t do a great job of responding to it right away. Later in the first half we did, but it was way too late." McDermott scored 10 points.
Butler: At No. 14 Villanova on Tuesday.
DePaul: Hosts No. 25 Creighton on Wednesday.