On the second Saturday of the New Year, the Blue Demons hosted the (10-4) (3-1) No. 19 Villanova Wildcats in Wintrust Arena.
After a slow start to the first half, these two teams began to trade blows. First, Villanova got out to a 23-19 lead, led by 5 points from senior, or as some of the DePaul student section liked to call him, super senior Collin Gillespie. At this point it looked like the trend from DePaul’s recent games would come to fruition once again. Wintrust Arena quickly learned that the Blue Demons had other plans in mind.
Senior star Javon Freeman-Liberty showed Wintrust why he is one of the best players in the Big East in the first half. The Chicago native went off, scoring 22 points on 7-11 shooting. This effort from JFL was enough to propel the Blue Demons to a 37-32 lead heading into halftime.
Coming out of the half, DePaul’s lead quickly evaporated. The Wildcats opened the second half on a 15-2 run. Villanova never gave up the lead after this. Coach Jay Wright must have fired the team up in the locker room because they just played on a different level for the whole second half. When the Wildcats needed their super senior Collin Gillespie the most, he delivered. Gillespie finished the game with 28 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Again, it looked like the game was over after the monster run by Villanova, but the Blue Demons continued to hang around. DePaul cut a 53-43 Nova lead all the way down to 55-51 with 9 minutes left in the game. This would be the closest the Blue Demons would get for the remainder of the game.
The momentum shifted back into the hands of Villanova after a Caleb Daniels slam brought their lead back to 6. This lead would teeter between 6 to 10 points for the next 4 minutes of the game. The real dagger came with 3:43 left in the game after forward Eric Dixon threw down an open dunk. The final score would end up being 79-64 in favor of the Villanova Wildcats.
The number one positive for this DePaul team today was their ability to hang with the opposing team throughout the first half. That had been something that the Blue Demons had struggled with recently, so to see them compete with Villanova and go into halftime with a lead was definitely an improvement. Another positive for the Blue Demons came from their star Javon Freeman-Liberty. JFL finished the game with 34 points on 10 for 17 shooting from the field. The 15 point Blue Demons loss was not reflected on the court. They were competitive up until 5 minutes left in the game.
DePaul needs to get scoring out of more players than just Javon. There is too much pressure out of JFL right now to produce. Even when he has a 34 point game like this one, the team still couldn’t rally behind him. It starts with David Jones who only had 12 points today. Besides David and Javon’s combined 46 points, the rest of the DePaul team only put up 18 points. For the majority of the game, the Blue Demons’ defense was stout, but they did give up a solid amount of open threes. Against a team like Villanova, or any Big East team for that matter, you can’t give up easy shots. The Wildcats took advantage, making 9 threes.
It seems like DePaul is improving each game this season. The goal now has to be to string those improvements together and win. I am not worried about where the Blue Demons program is headed. DePaul is in great hands with coach Stubblefield at helm.
The (9-5) (0-4) DePaul Blue Demons head to Milwaukee to play the red hot (10-6) (2-3) Marquette Golden Eagles at Fiserv Forum for their 5th game of Big East action.