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DePaul makes final push for regular season title

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Ashton Millender was named to the Big East Honor Roll this week.  (Photo courtesy of DePaul Athletics)

Ashton Millender was named to the Big East Honor Roll this week. (Photo courtesy of DePaul Athletics)

Ashton Millender was named to the Big East Honor Roll this week. (Photo courtesy of DePaul Athletics)

Seeking their fifth consecutive Big East regular season title, the Blue Demons (21-7, 13-3 Big East) hit the road this weekend to play their final two games before the Big East tournament begins on Mar. 3.

First up for the Blue Demons will be the St. John’s Red Storm (16-11, 9-7 Big East) on Friday night for a matchup in Queens, NY. Despite the Red Storm being in the middle of the pack in the Big East standings, fifth in the standings, the Red Storm have been red hot lately winning four of their last five games.

What’s kept the Red Storm afloat in the Big East has been their exceptional play on the defensive end. “St. John’s is absolutely one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Blue Demons head coach Doug Bruno said.

The Red Storm have the best scoring defense in conference play, as they have held their opponents to just 58.4 points per game and are the only team that has yet to allow 1,000 total points from their conference opponents. Correspondingly, the Red Storm have the top ranked field goal percentage defense and hold their opposition to just 39.1 percent shooting from the field. This poses a good matchup for a Blue Demons team that is the second in the Big East in scoring offense averaging 79.3 points per game and has the second-best field goal percentage at 44.8 percent.

Beyond the numbers that prove the Red Storm’s defense to be superb, Bruno mentioned that “you have to have a mindset to match their defensive intensity” and “match their defensive focus” to defeat them.

Another key component for this game is that the Red Storm have the top ranked rebounding defense in conference play while the Blue Demons have the top ranked rebounding offense, so the Blue Demons will need to fight hard on the offensive glass to keep the time of possession total in their favor.

When both teams first met on Dec. 30, the Blue Demons won 76-67 and even led the Red Storm by 21 points in the middle of the fourth quarter. However, Bruno believes the Red Storm have improved since then. “The St. John’s players have grown exponentially, and this is going to be a much better St. John’s team we’re going to face than when we did” in late December, Bruno said.

Following the battle against the Red Storm, the Blue Demons head to South Orange, NJ on Sunday afternoon to take on the Seton Hall Pirates (15-12, 7-9 Big East).

Even though the Pirates aren’t on a roll and have lost four of their last six games, they still have quick and active hands on defense. In fact, the Pirates rank No. 2 in the Big East in both steals and blocked shots.

“We just have to be smart about shots. We got to know when to shot fake and know when to go straight up when you get to the basket. Just being smart about getting to the basket and shooting shots,” junior guard Ashton Millender said, are what the Blue Demons must do to beat the Pirates.

 

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DePaul makes final push for regular season title