A strange, almost unidentifiable sensation swept through Allstate Arena on Tuesday night at some point in the second half. DePaul was taking it to No. 11 Providence and their superstar point guard Kris Dunn, and they were doing it in a way that made it feel like the Blue Demons might actually pull this off.
DePaul was controlling the glass, defending on a string and hitting tough looks in the half court whenever it seemed their offense had become stagnant. These are the things good basketball teams do, which is why it was so jarring to see DePaul doing them.
So with about 10 minutes left and DePaul clinging to a modest lead, I turned around to ask DePaul's student section the one question on everyone's mind: If they win this game, are you guys storming the court?
"There's not enough of us to storm the court."
Seeing as there were approximately 12 kids that had made the trek from the school's beautiful Lincoln Park campus to suburban Rosemont where DePaul plays its home games, this was objectively true. It also made what happened next the type of uplifting moment it's easy to forget sports can in fact provide.
Providence hit DePaul with a full-court trap in the final minutes and Dunn made one incredible pull-up three-pointer, but the Blue Demons did it. They beat the Friars 77-70 in what was legitimately the program's biggest win in a decade.
The student section was too small to storm the court, so DePaul's players took matters into their own hands. They hopped the press table two at a time and celebrated with that small, but vocal collection of kids that actually cared about something as fruitless as DePaul basketball enough to take a bus to the suburbs on a rainy school night.
Pop a bottle, Quentin Richardson. Get turnt up, Drake Diener. Make it rain at the club, Sammy Mejía. DePaul actually beat a damn good team for its first Big East home win of the year. The House that George Mikan BuiltTM is alive and well.
In truth, this game spoke to just how much Providence needs sophomore star Ben Bentil, who exited early in the first half with an ankle injury. Bentil is the Big East's leading scorer and arguably the most improved player in college basketball, giving Dunn a much needed sidekick after his sort-of-unbelievable decision to bypass the NBA Draft as a projected lottery pick last season.
Without Bentil's inside-out scoring ability and toughness inside, Providence was exposed as something of a one-man show. The Friars were smoked on the glass 48 to 24, they had no wing stopper capable of limiting DePaul's Myke Henry (27 points, 11 rebounds) and there was no one who could make the Blue Demons pay as they essentially triple-teamed Dunn whenever he touched the ball.
With a home against No. 3 Villanova looming Saturday, this one had all the markings of a trap game, and indeed, Providence got trapped. Just don't tell that to Friars coach Ed Cooley.
"It wasn't an upset today, they outplayed us," Cooley said. "Just because we have a number beside our name it's an upset? You have to come and be prepared to play. They don't just have a schedule that says who's going to win the game."
Cooley was dismayed but gracious in defeat, but don't take his words as the truth: this really was an upset. DePaul finished last in the Big East for six straight seasons until it finally finished ahead of two teams in the conference standings last year. During a time when the city of Chicago is producing a ton of great players, they all seem to be going anywhere but DePaul.
Dave Leitao is trying to change that in his first year back with the Blue Demons after leaving the program in 2005 to take the Virginia job. Leitao is the last man to get this team to the NCAA Tournament way back in 2004, and even with two wins over top 25 teams this season (DePaul also beat George Washington in December), he knows it's a road back to competency.
If only for a night, DePaul finally got there. As Allstate Arena was clearing out after the final buzzer, there was one man left in the south end of the stadium -- a fan old enough to remember DePaul's glory days in the '80s -- standing around and taking in the fleeting moments of what big DePaul win feels like.
"We won! We actually won!"
The DePaul band raised their trumpets in support and shouted one last time in a cavernous, empty arena. DePaul basketball. They actually won.