LOUISVILLE — Leading up to the first round matchup against No. 11 James Madison University, No. 6 DePaul knew the Dukes would come out fighting riding a 20-game win streak into the tournament. With this being the first game the Blue Demons had since the loss to St. John’s in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, they had everything to prove.
In dominating fashion, DePaul thrashed James Madison 97-67 at the KFC Yum Center and moved on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in seven seasons.
“The ability for (the team) to focus and bring what they do, at the right moment, and they did that today,” coach Doug Bruno said. “I thought we did a lot of little things. This is a dominant rebounding team, statistically they’re third in the nation, and we outrebounded them pretty substantially.”
DePaul as a team grabbed 55 rebounds — a season high — and in doing so set an NCAA Tournament single-game record. The team’s previous high was 50 against Oklahoma State in 1991. In what was an overall balanced game, five players scored in double digits and six players grabbed at least four rebounds.
“That was one of our major keys coming into the game today…it’s been all about the rebounding,” Megan Podkowa said. “Just being focused and knowing that they were going to come at us on the glass, we needed to outrebound them to win.”
Mart’e Grays notched her first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds while dishing out four assists. The trio of Jessica January, Podkowa and Chanise Jenkins combined for 35 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists. Jacqui Grant nearly had a double-double herself with 15 points and nine rebounds.
“Everyone came out so focused and we were energized and competitive,” Jenkins said. “I think everyone just believed that we could get the win today.”
One thing the Blue Demons did really well today was passing the ball. Once the nerves settled after the first few minutes, the way DePaul was able to move the ball was seemingly effortless. It was this sort of fluidity in the offense that led to a 30-point win.
“The essence of what basketball is about is sharing, sharing and sharing,” Bruno said. “Really the only offensive goal we have is to lead the nation in assists, we really pride ourselves on assists.”
This mindset and game plan by Bruno helped the Blue Demons set a team NCAA Tournament single-game record for assists in a game with 24 and are second in the nation averaging 20.9 per game.
James Madison’s Jazmon Gwathmey scored 19 points before fouling out with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was her 136th and final game as a Duke and her departure from the court was met with applause from the traveling fans and pep band.
“We lost, but this year has been phenomenal as a senior. To go out with those girls, I couldn’t ask for a better team to go out on,” Gwathmey said. “Coach (Kenny) Brooks … that was the hardest part, knowing it’s my last game with him. He’s taught me so many things on and off the court.”
The Blue Demons will play in the second round on Sunday against the winner of the Louisville and Central Arkansas game.