After a two game road trip, the Blue Demons were back home to host to the No. 20 (14-4) (5-2) UConn Huskies.
The score opened up 7-0 in favor of UConn. This was in large part to the shot making of RJ Cole, as he had 5 of the Huskies’ first 7 points.
DePaul would then have 5 straight to cut UConn’s lead to 2. Brandon Johnson was the first source of energy for the Blue Demons. At the U16 media timeout, Johnson had a team high 3 points and 2 rebounds.
Out of the U16 media timeout, Javan Johnson tied the game at 7. Johnson was coming off of a DePaul career high 16 point game against Villanova earlier in the week. This was his second game in the starting lineup, and he picked up right where he left off.
DePaul would not let off of the gas. By the U12 media timeout, the Blue Demons would have a 4 point lead, due to a 6-0 run. In this run, David Jones made his first shot from the field since 1:23 remaining in the first half against Creighton.
With 8:13 left in the first half, Coach Hurley had to call a timeout, as DePaul extended its lead to 7 (20-13). Brandon Johnson led the Blue Demons’ scoring up to that moment with 6 points.
For UConn, outside of RJ Cole’s spectacular shooting, the Huskies had shot an abysmal 1-8 from the field. This can be attributed to Nick Ongenda’s lockdown defense. In the first half, Ongenda completely neutralized Adama Sanogo.
With 3:41 left in the first half, the presence of DePaul star Javon Freeman-Liberty was really beginning to be missed. The Blue Demons would go over 4 minutes without scoring a point, and as a result, let UConn back into the game. What was once a 10 point lead for DePaul, quickly shrank down to 2.
Javan Johnson would finally end DePaul’s 4+ minute scoring drought with 2 free throws. A three from Johnson would bring the Blue Demons’ lead up to 7, before being cut right back down to 4 after an Andre Jackson and-one.
By halftime, DePaul’s lead would only be 1 (29-28), after a perfectly executed full court play by UConn, that led to an Adama Sanogo floater.
The Johnson duo had 18 out of DePaul’s 29 first half points, and RJ Cole had 16 out of UConn’s 28 first half points.
The start of the second half was all UConn, and in specific, Adama Sanogo. He opened up the second half on a 6-0 run by himself. With 16:21 remaining in the game, UConn had its largest lead since 7-0.
Who on DePaul would end this run? Javan Johnson. After a 3 pointer, Johnson’s point total would grow to 12 points, and DePaul’s deficit would shrink to 2 points with 15:30 left in the game.
With 14:02 remaining, an RJ Cole 3 would propel the Huskies lead to 41-32. At this point, it looked like another game where a great first half for the Blue Demons, just fell apart in the second half.
Those thoughts proved to be true. Although DePaul would somewhat cut into the 9 point lead, the Huskies would never fully give the lead up. After a 4-0 run by the Blue Demons to cut UConn’s lead to 6, like they did all game, the Huskies would respond.
The dagger for UConn came with 5:37 remaining after an Adama Sanogo dunk. Just saying the word “dunk,” does not do that action justice. The rim was shaking for about 2 minutes after Sanogo slammed the ball into the hoop. At that point, it felt like all of the life had been sucked out of the DePaul crowd at Wintrust. On the other side (or sides), UConn fans were cheering towards one another.
The Huskies would hold on to their solid lead, and as the buzzer sounded, come away with a 57-50 win.
For the second straight game, Javan Johnson led the team in scoring. After being worked into the rotation for the last month, he has finally begun to blossom. He had 18 points tonight on 6 of 10 shooting. DePaul also collectively played a great game defensively. The Blue Demons held UConn to only 57 points. Out of those 57 points, Big East Player of the Year candidate Adama Sanogo only had 10.
The main improvement is obvious to the public eye. DePaul has played solid defense throughout Big East play, but has not been able to score. In the last three games without star Javon Freeman-Liberty, the Blue Demons have only averaged 46.7 points per game. In the first game without Javon, David Jones stepped up with 26 points. In the last 3 games, Jones has only had 14 total points. Tonight was another night where the Blue Demons only had two prominent scorers. Their top 2 scorers (Javan Johnson and Brandon Johnson) combined for 32 of DePaul’s 50 points. If DePaul wants to string together some victories, they need solid contributions from more than just two players each game.
The only way that DePaul makes March Madness this year will be by winning the Big East tournament. Although it's unlikely, the way that it will give itself a chance is just by getting better each game. I know it sounds cliche, but as long as the Blue Demons improve each game, it’s a win. Come March, the only thing that will matter, is if DePaul can win 4 straight games in 5 days at Madison Square Garden.
After one game at home, the (10-10) (1-9) DePaul Blue Demons are back on the road. This time, they are traveling to Cincinnati to play the (15-5) (5-4) Xavier Musketeers at the Cintas Center.