On Wednesday night, the Blue Demons set foot in Hinkle Fieldhouse to take on the (7-4) Butler Bulldogs.
Butler had the first punch in this fight. To start, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 6 point lead (14-8), which would eventually extend to a 10 point lead (24-14) after a Simas Lukosius and-one with 10:56 left in the first half.
DePaul would score the next two baskets to cut Butler’s lead to 6, but the Bulldogs’ Chuck Harris hit a three to bring the lead back to 9. This was seemingly the trend throughout the entire game.
After a Simas Lukosius three to give Butler a 10 point lead (30-20), the Blue Demons answered with their own 6-0 to get right back into the game with 4:51 left in the first half. Then, as the trend follows, Butler proceeded to end the half on a 7-0 run and enter the locker rooms with an 11 point lead (37-26).
DePaul came out guns blazing to start the second half, on a 10-2 run backed by 2 Philmon Gebrewhit threes cutting Butler’s lead all the way down to 3 (39-36). At this point in many of DePaul’s games, they have all of the momentum and have gained back control of the game. Well, now they are in Big East play.
Butler would answer DePaul’s early run with an 8-0 run of their own to elevate their lead back to 11 (47-36) after a layup from freshman Jayden Taylor. After 2 free throws from Taylor with 10:42 remaining, the Bulldogs had their largest lead of the game of 12 (51-39).
Then, after a Javon Freeman-Liberty tip shot, Aaron Thompson delivered what seemed to be the final blow. With 9:20 left to play, Thompson splashed in a three to bring back Butler’s lead to 11 (54-43).
This 11 point lead would be short-lived after the Blue Demons came roaring back on a 7-2 run led by a Javan Johnson three to cut DePaul’s deficit to only 6 (56-50). Then, the Bulldogs answered with, again, what seemed to be the dagger. Jayden Taylor made back-to-back layups to extend the Butler lead to 10 (60-50) with 5:54 left in the game. Those two layups would be the last made shots from the field for the Bulldogs.
DePaul would then go on an 8-0 run to cut the Bulldogs lead all the way down to 2 (60-58) capped off by a clutch Javon Freeman-Liberty 3 with 48 seconds left in the game. The Blue Demons needed a stop on defense the next possession and they got just that. JFL secured a rebound with 24 seconds left in the game and brought the ball up the court. With about 10 seconds left, Freeman-Liberty passed the ball to Brandon Johnson on the wing, who secured the pass and drove towards the middle of the paint. With 5 seconds left he was fouled and, because the Blue Demons were in the double bonus, Johnson had a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line.
The first shot from Johnson looked smooth and went in with no doubt. One more shot to complete the comeback for the Blue Demons. Johnson put it up and immediately went to retrieve the rebound as the ball hit both sides of the rim before falling into the hands of Butler’s best free-throw shooter Simas Lukosius.
Lukosius would knock down both foul shots to extend Butler’s lead to 3 with 4.1 seconds left in the game. DePaul was still within one possession. After a tipped pass out of bounds, the Blue Demons lost 1.2 seconds of precious time.
With 2.9 seconds left, Brandon Johnson had the chance to deliver a great pass to one of the 4 other Blue Demons who were tasked with making a miraculous game-tying shot. That shot was never taken. Johnson delivered a great pass to a posted-up Philmon Gebrewhit on the wing, who was unable to haul it in. The ball went out of bounds and Butler fans rejoiced. After a free throw made for the Bulldogs, the game would end 63-59 in favor of Butler.
The Blue Demons entered this game without their 2nd leading scorer and leading rebounder David Jones. The sophomore did not have COVID but was in COVID protocols. As Dickey Simpkins said, the Blue Demons lost 17 points in this game from not having David Jones. DePaul needed to make up 17 points and got a big 16 from forward Brandon Johnson who had failed to attain double-digit scoring in 3 of his last 4 games before this one. On top of 16 points, the Minnesota transfer also had 12 rebounds. Speaking of transfers, Iowa State grad transfer Javan Johnson made a huge impact in his first game for the Blue Demons. Johnson made 2 big threes and added on a steal to his stat sheet as well. DePaul was also without their center Nick Ongenda for part of the game after he was ejected for leaving the team’s bench. Going into this game, there were three trends I highlighted for DePaul: Out rebounding their opponent, shooting more free throws than their opponent, and making 7+ threes. Before this game, they were undefeated when successful with any of the three trends. In this game, they did all three but still lost.
The main improvement for the Blue Demons coming out of this game is cleaning up their offense. DePaul had 20 turnovers against Butler which resulted in 18 points for the Bulldogs. Even if the Blue Demons cut the turnovers by 25%, they give themselves a much better chance to win this game. All games in the Big East are going to be tough, so giving the ball to the opponent without even attempting a shot once can be detrimental, let alone 20 times. Credits to LaVall Jordan and the Bulldogs in this game, especially Aaron Thompson who had 7 steals.
DePaul can’t continue to put themselves in early holes. These Big East teams are too good to come back against. The good thing is that there are still 19 conference games left to be played. On top of that the Blue Demons with David Jones have a chance at revenge against the Bulldogs on February 15, 2022.
The (9-2) (0-1) DePaul Blue Demons head back home on Saturday, January 1st to face the red hot (12-1) (2-0) Providence Friars at Wintrust Arena.