Whether he stays at DePaul or decides to go pro, Quentin Richardson has, in just one season, been a pivotal player in the school's basketball revival.
He was named Conference USA's Most Valuable Player as a freshman and helped DePaul win 17 games, probably one win shy of making the NCAAs. And now he's led the Blue Demons to their first postseason victory since 1990.
"Regardless of what tournament you play in, even if it's not the tournament you want to play in, you got to come out and perform to your highest capabilities," Richardson said Wednesday night after pacing a 69-64 win over Northwestern in the NIT's first round.
"You have to play it like it's one of the biggest games of your life."
Richardson scored 23 points and had 10 rebounds as DePaul got city bragging rights over Northwestern and it's 6-foot-11 NBA prospect Evan Eschmeyer, who scored 18 in his final game after six years of eligibility.
"I'm a little sad obviously. I'm disappointed we didn't get into the NCAA. I wanted that for the school and myself," said Eschmeyer, who missed his first two seasons with foot problems.
"They will turn it around here. Maybe not next year but it's going to happen. And then I can look back and hopefully say I had a little part in it."
Northwestern coach Kevin O'Neill quickly chimed in: "A big part."
Eschmeyer had a big role and five key points in Northwestern's rally Wednesday night. The Wildcats trailed by 12 with 7:45 to go and then went on a 10-0 run.
DePaul finally closed out the win when senior Willie Coleman made two free throws with 7.6 seconds left.
"It's big for us," said Coleman. "It's big for the school. We're just glad to be in some kind of postseason."
DePaul (18-12) will now play California in the second round, a teait beat by three in November. Cal defeated Fresno State 79-71 on Wednesday night.
Richardson has said he will decide after the tournament whether to declare for the NBA after just one season.
An orange sign from the upper deck at the Rosemont Horizon was begging Richardson to stay in school: "Q Stay, No NBA."
With Bulls general manager Jerry Krause watching from a seat underneath the basket, Richardson scored 15 first-half points on a variety of shots, showing the versatility at 6-foot-5 that could land him at the next level.
"We played against a lot of good players and a lot of good freshmen this year but Quentin is the real deal," O'Neill said.
Eschmeyer's basket with 28 seconds left made it 66-64. DePaul's Lance Williams, one of six freshman starters in the game, hit one of two free throws to extend the Blue Demon lead to three.
Eschmeyer then missed from in close but Northwestern retained possession with 11 seconds to go after a scramble for the ball. Northwestern's Sean Wink then lost the ball with 8.7 seconds to go and the Wildcats intentionally fouled Coleman, whose free throw with no time left this season gave DePaul a victory over Cincinnati.
"Maybe the worst game we played all year. We did a poor job of taking them out of their game," Eschmeyer said.
DePaul made Eschmeyer work inside, had eight steals and owned a 37-22 rebounding edge, including 16-6 on the offensive boards.
The Blue Demons also extended their zone and were able to shut off Northwestern freshman Steve Lepore, who made four 3-pointers in the first half but only one in the second.
Northwestern (15-14) made just the third postseason appearance in school history, all in the NIT. Each time the Wildcats have played the Blue Demons, winning once and now losing two.
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