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DePaul’s comeback falls short in loss to Providence

Freshman guard R.J. Curingt(left) contests rebound against Tyler Harris. Curingtcame off bench lead short-handed Demons with 22 points. | AP

Freshman guard R.J. Curington (left) contests a rebound against Tyler Harris. Curington came off the bench to lead the short-handed Demons with 22 points. | AP

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Updated: March 3, 2014 5:52PM

Before last week, DePaul freshman R.J. Curington had played a total of 20 minutes in 17 games. But with three starters down last Saturday against Seton Hall, the 6-4 guard was called on for 23 minutes and scored 15 points.

He upped his game Saturday as the still-undermanned Blue Demons tried for an upset of Providence.

Curington led the Demons with 22 points off the bench, but their comeback fell short in a 77-72 loss at Allstate Arena.

“In practice, everyone would tell me to keep my head up, and [co-captains] Brandon [Young] and Ed [McGhee] said, ‘Keep going,’ ” Curington said.

The Demons (10-12, 2-7 Big East) trailed by 16 early, with coach Oliver Purnell starting another new lineup because of senior Cleveland Melvin’s suspension, freshman Billy Garrett Jr.’s recovery from illness and junior Charles McKinney’s still-tender ankle.

But Curington hit a jumper with 6:41 left in the half to start a 23-12 closing surge that pulled the Demons to within 42-37 at the half.

Curington scored 14 of the 23.

“I have guys who can find me [to score], and we had energy — and we were desperate for a win,” he said.

“He’s given us a lift offensively,” Purnell said of the Dyer, Ind., native who excelled at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.

“What was impressive is not only was he shooting the jumper, he was driving to the basket, which makes him a tougher cover.’’

Senior guard Young (12 points, nine assists, two steals) and freshman center Tommy Hamilton IV (13 points, eight rebounds) also scored in double figures for DePaul. But the Friars (16-6, 6-3) held off every challenge, led by senior star Bryce Cotton (28 points, six assists). Junior LaDontae Henton added 19 points and sophomore Tyler Harris 18.

“We didn’t do a good enough job on Cotton, who obviously is a great player,” Purnell said. “They made big free throws down the stretch.”

The Friars went 8-for-10 in the final three minutes and 22-for-29 in the game.

DePaul tied it at 62 with seven minutes left after Young stole the ball, led a break and dished to McGhee, who hit a three-pointer.

“People think I always want to score, but I like passing the ball and seeing others do well,’’ Young said. “We stayed together, kept fighting and picked it up on the defensive end. We felt confident and we knew we had a shot to win, but we made a couple mistakes, and that happens in games.’

The new-look Demons are likely to stay intact when they host Georgetown on Monday.

Purnell said Melvin remains on indefinite suspension for undisclosed reasons, and Garrett Jr. and McKinney still are questionable.

“[More playing time] definitely raises my confidence,’’ Curington said. “But it’ll get higher when we start winning games.’’


Twitter: @toniginnetti

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