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Fitzgerald fills bill

Two seasons ago as a member of the Tulane Green Wave, Dan Fitzgerald knocked down 4 three-pointers in a 16-point outing against the Marquette Golden Eagles at the Bradley Center.
/ Source: WTMJ-TV and JSOnline.com

Two seasons ago as a member of the Tulane Green Wave, Dan Fitzgerald knocked down 4 three-pointers in a 16-point outing against the Marquette Golden Eagles at the Bradley Center.

On Wednesday night - and for the first time since transferring to MU - the 6-foot-9 sophomore swing man looked just like that gunner of old.

Filling in more than ably from behind the arc for a gimpy Steve Novak, Fitzgerald knocked down 6 of 7 three-pointers for a collegiate-high 18 points in leading the Golden Eagles to a 62-47 thrashing of the DePaul Blue Demons in front of 15,267 fans.

The victory was MU's second in eight days over DePaul and its third consecutive in league play, a critical place to be for a team heading out next to play at once-defeated Pittsburgh.

Almost as impressive was that the Golden Eagles won surprisingly easily despite getting a season-low five points from Novak, who was limited to 27 minutes because of a sprained left ankle. In addition, the Blue Demons welcomed talented freshman Wilson Chandler back from a team-imposed, two-game suspension.

MU (15-5, 5-2 Big East) held DePaul (8-10, 1-6) to just 37.7% shooting, and the versatile Fitzgerald carried the offense by hitting more threes in 30 minutes than he had in his previous 11 games combined (five).

"The Dan Fitzgeralds of the world are the guys that make you a good team," DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. "Those guys know their role and this night was a great night for him. He may go two or three games and not get 18 points total. But the night they needed him to get 18, he got 18, and that's the mark of a good team."

Freshmen Dominic James and Jerel McNeal were the only other Golden Eagles to score in double figures, finishing with 12 and 11 points, respectively. James added seven assists and McNeal a team-high seven rebounds.

In the teams' first meeting on Jan. 17 at Allstate Arena, the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 24-point lead late in the first half before barely hanging on to win, 82-79, thanks to some clutch free-throw shooting in the closing seconds.

This time, MU leaped out to a 36-24 advantage by halftime and kept the deficit in double figures the rest of the way.

Fitzgerald sparked an 18-6 MU run over the final 7 minutes 1 second of the first half by canning 4 of 5 three-pointers in a span of 5:09 as he continually found ways to get wide-open looks. His teammates were more than happy to oblige him, feeding him pass after pass as the Golden Eagles set the stage for a 19-assist night, their most in almost a month.

"Maybe he'll tell you different, but I thought I saw his chest swell after that first one," Wainwright said. "You get a good shooter going a little bit . . . he made a couple of tough ones. He, I thought, was the difference in the game."

Helping matters in a big way for MU was the loss of DePaul's Sammy Mejia, a 6-6, do-everything guard, to a left ankle injury with 2:24 left in the first half. He spent the rest of the game on the bench in his warmups. Without him, the Blue Demons had little chance of a comeback.

MU stumbled through the first 8 minutes of the second half but was able to maintain its 10-point lead anyway. Fitzgerald helped awaken the team from its semi-slumber with his final 2 three-pointers over the next 3 minutes.

Novak and Joe Chapman added a three apiece as well, and the rout was on. The closest DePaul got the rest of the way was 15 points.

"It felt very good. It's about time," Fitzgerald said. "A lot of times, with a lot of players, you hit your first one and you get that confidence up real quick."

Now MU must hope Novak made it through the game OK and that his ankle improves over the next few days to give its best shot to Pittsburgh (16-1, 5-1), which is ranked 10th in the coaches' poll and 12th in the Associated Press'.

"It was a real gutsy thing for Steve to come out and play, even though it wasn't his best night," coach Tom Crean said. "Even if he's not having his best night, having him on the floor means a ton to everybody else because you've got to guard him."