Blue Demons seek first conference win against St. John’s


Eli Cain drives to the basket against Villanova. (Konrad Markowski / The DePaulia)

Paul Steeno, Sports Reporter

While most of the East Coast contends with a white storm, the DePaul Blue Demons (7-8; 0-3 Big East) will venture into the teeth of a Red Storm when they travel to Queens, N.Y. on Saturday for a 1 p.m. battle with St. John’s (10-5; 0-3 Big East).

DePaul is 17-22 in the all-time series with the Red Storm. St. John’s stole both matchups against the Blue Demons last season and have won four of the last five meetings between the two teams. For the Blue Demons, this marks the second game in a row where they’ll play an opponent who, like them, is looking for their first conference win of the season.

Picked to finish sixth in the Big East Conference in the Coaches’ Preseason Poll, the Red Storm sprinted out to a 10-2 non-conference record with quality wins against Nebraska, Oregon State and losses to Missouri and currently No. 4/6 Arizona State. Big East play hasn’t treated them well; however, as the Red Storm has dropped its first three conference contests against Providence (94-72), Seton Hall (75-70), and Creighton (78-71) respectively.

For the second game in a row, the Blue Demons will face an NBA Hall of Famer who recently returned to his alma mater as the head coach. On Tuesday against Georgetown it was Patrick Ewing, on Saturday against St. John’s it will be third-year head coach Chris Mullin. He has a 32-47 record, but the Red Storm improved significantly (from eight wins to 14 wins) between his first and second year at the helm and have already put ten tallies in the victory column this season.

A 6-foot-1-inch guard named Shamorie Ponds does it all for the Red Storm. He leads the team in scoring (19.5 points per contest, fourth in the Big East), is tied for the team lead in assists (4.9 per game, fifth in the Big East), is third on the team in rebounds (5.9 rebounds per game) even though he’s the shortest player on the team who plays significant minutes, and he leads the team in steals (2.7 per game, leads the Big East).

Behind Ponds, the Red Storm has a balanced scoring attack. The other four starters all average double-digits in scoring, but the drop off in production after the starters is noticeable as the Red Storm only has one other player with a player efficiency rating over ten (junior forward Tariq Owens). After seeing Villanova and Xavier and then a Georgetown team with talented frontcourt players, the Red Storm won’t present as big of a challenge with their offense for the Blue Demons as these other teams. St. John’s averages the least amount of points (73.6 points per game) and has the worst field goal percentage (42.5 percent) in the Big East Conference.

But the Red Storm flips that script on the defensive end as they lead the conference in scoring defense by only allowing opponents to score 66.7 points per game this season. Ponds and fellow sophomore guard Justin Simon rank first and second in the conference in steals per game which will put tremendous pressure on whoever Blue Demon head coach Dave Leitao throws out there at point guard on Saturday afternoon.

Max Strus has scored in double figures 14 times this season (Konrad Markowski / The DePaulia)

The Blue Demons are coming off another heartbreaker when they dropped a winnable game at home against the Georgetown Hoyas on Tuesday evening. The Blue Demons have lost four of their last five games and are below the .500 mark again for the first time since Dec. 5.

Max Strus continues to shoulder most of the responsibility offensively and has averaged 25.2 points on 51.2 percent from the field (42.6 percent from behind the 3-point line) in the last five games. Finding a consistent secondary scorer to supplement Strus offensively has been a struggle for the Blue Demons lately, as the offense often stagnates and then reverts to Strus isolation basketball for buckets.

Junior guard Eli Cain needs 11 points to become the 50th player in program history to reach the 1,000 career points milestone. He’s had a mixed bag of success since assuming the point guard duties on Dec. 9 against the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Fox Sports Network will televise the DePaul versus St. John’s game on Saturday afternoon and the game can be heard through the airwaves on WSCR 670 AM.