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DePaul men’s basketball focused on finishing off opponents this season

Updated: December 19, 2012 12:18PM

The Cancun Challenge for DePaul covers four games in seven days in two countries, beginning tonight at Allstate Arena against Gardner-Webb.

But it’s less a tournament than a continuing start to what coach Oliver Purnell believes will be a turning season for the Blue Demons (1-0).

‘‘The main thing is we have to look at this as the next game on the schedule,’’ Purnell said Wednesday. ‘‘It’s about us developing good habits.

‘‘I liked what I saw in our first game [a 91-59 victory against UC-Riverside] as saying, ‘This is who we are’ — a team that steps on [opponents] and finishes things off. That’s what we did in the first game. That’s the approach we must have.’’

The Demons failed to do that too many times last season, when they lost five games by six points or fewer, including an overtime contest against Louisville that they led for most of the time.

‘‘I think we’ll be able to close games this year because we know we have to focus on defense and keeping our guards out front,’’ junior scoring leader Cleveland Melvin said. ‘‘We’ve improved on that.’’

Purnell sees improvement in general in his team and in the leadership duo of Melvin and 6-4 junior guard Brandon Young.

‘‘They’ve obviously had a lot of experience and have been through tough situations,’’ he said. ‘‘Now they want to enjoy the fruits of that. Part of that is leadership and showing that to the younger players. I see this team ascending.

‘‘We haven’t talked about this as a tournament. We want to prepare one game at a time, establish our inside game and continue to improve.’’

After Gardner-Webb (1-2), the Demons will host Austin Peay on Saturday before traveling to Cancun to face Wichita State on Tuesday and either Iowa or Western Kentucky on Wednesday.

‘‘We’ll have a nice time, but obviously we know when it comes to the games, we have business to take care of,’’ Melvin said. ‘‘We have to focus and be prepared to beat the teams we play.’’

Demons will add two junior-college big men

DePaul’s 2013 recruiting class is expected to include two junior-college big men who will join touted local guard Billy Garrett Jr., the son of Blue Demons assistant coach Billy Garrett.

They made verbal commitments to coach Oliver Purnell, and their formal signings are expected by this week.

Garrett Jr., a 6-4 guard from Morgan Park, also has played on the Mac Irvin Fire AAU team with Jabari Parker. He committed to DePaul last season and is considered among the top five guard prospects in Illinois.

Joining him will be 6-8 forward Greg Sequele from Citrus Community College in Los Angeles and 6-10 forward Forrest Robinson from South Plains Community College in Texas. Sequele gave an oral commitment last week, choosing DePaul over Kansas State. Robinson signed his letter of intent Wednesday.

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