South Florida wins the 2019 Roman CBI Finals Defeating DePaul 2-1 and DePaul’s Max Strus has Division 1’s Best Postseason Run in 30 Years
By: Ethan Hennessy
Going into Friday’s pivotal winner take all game three of the CBI finals at McGrath Phillips Arena both teams knew their season would be over at the conclusion of the game, however, one would be a champion, and one would not. When it was all said and done South Florida was the one who were the champions. They lifted the trophy, and cut down the net on DePaul’s home court as the Blue Demon faithful filed out of the arena.
Both teams were exhausted having played a physical three game series after winning three games each in earlier rounds of the tournament in the previous two weeks. The bulls took game one of the finals in Tampa on a last second runner. The teams then took the same charter flight to Chicago to duel it out in game two. This contest saw one of DePaul’s key players Eli Cain go down in the first half with a dislocated elbow and wrist, as well as big man Jaylen Butz hurt his shoulder with a few minuets left in regulation and not return, but thanks to another herculean effort by Max Strus who scored 32 points, and a home crowd that did not want to see the Demons get swept DePaul was able to eke out a four point overtime win to force a game three. However, unfortunately for DePaul there was not much in the tank left once they got to game three. Cain’s career was over as his arm was in a sling, Butz was available after the injury in game two but he only managed to play a little over seven minuets before aggravating it, and having to sit out the rest of the game. The Blue Demons did get their point guard Devin Gage back to contributed 19 points three rebounds and two steals, but having not played since the quarterfinals it was a tall order to jump right into the biggest game in recent program history and play 36 minuets.
DePaul just spent too much to get to this point, and nothing else was left to be given. The found themselves down 17 points at one point in the first half, but managed to get the game within two possessions, but ultimately did not have enough to mount another comeback once USF went on a second run.
For South Florida they capture their first ever postseason tournament championship. The bulls also set a program record for wins at 24, have their first winning season since 2011-12, and won games in April for the first time in program history. David Collins was named the tournament MVP. Head coach of USF Brian Gregory talked about how they will use this momentum next season, and how proud he is of his players after the game.
Despite the loss attention and credit must be given to DePaul’s star Max Strus who had not only the most impressive individual performance in CBI history during the Demon’s six game run, but one of the post impressive performances in all of division one postseason history. Strus finished tied for fifth all time in total points scored in an individual postseason tournament run. His 160 points put him behind Glen Rice 184 (1989 NCAA), Bill Bradley 177 (1965 NCAA), Elvin Hayes 167 (1968 NCAA), Danny Manning 163 (1988 NCAA), and tied with Jerry West (1959 NCAA) and Hal Lear (1956 NCAA) at 160!
DePaul’s star played 241 minuets and 25 seconds out of DePaul’s total 245 minuets of game time in the college basketball invitational which is a tournament record for total minuets played. He finished the tournament as the all time leader in points scored in the 12 year history of the College Basketball Invitational with 160 total points. In the final game he passed Stefon Jackson of UTEP (2009) at 157 and Kevin Foster of Santa Clara (2013) at 158. Max also etched his name in the CBI record books by finishing third all time in points per game average in the history of the postseason tournament.
He averaged 26.6 points per game through six games. Only Chris Clemons of Campbell at 28.3 who finished his career at third all time in NCAA division 1 scoring, and Robert McKiver of Houston also at 28.3 had higher points per game averages. However, it should be noted both players only played three games in the CBI, and Max played double the number of games which of course makes it much more difficult to maintain that high of a scoring average over a six game stretch. Additionally, he came extremely close to setting CBI records in four other statistical categories finishing a very close second in three pointers both made and attempted and field goals both made and attempted. With this six game run to cap off his senior season Max Strus will not only go down in DePaul history as one of the Blue Demon greats, but he has written his name all over the College Basketball Invitational record book most notably a top the list in points scored.
In conclusion, this was a wildly entertaining both final series and CBI tournament as a whole. Both USF and DePaul two programs that are not acustomed to winning in recent years took major steps in turning their programs around, and will make noise in their respective conferences next year, and the CBI had a good mix of high major and mid major teams to make for a lot of fun and competitive games to watch and follow.