Big second half lifts DePaul to semifinals of the Big East Tournament


Junior forward Mart’e Grays collected her third career double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. (Photo Courtesy of DePaul Athletics)

Evan Sully , Staff Writer

DePaul (24-7; 15-3 Big East) opened up their first game of the Big East Tournament with a decisive 78-52 victory over the Seton Hall Pirates (16-15; 7-11 Big East) on Sunday night at Wintrust Arena to advance to the semifinals.

Despite shooting just 39.2 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from behind the arc, the Blue Demons were able to muscle their way past the Pirates by outrebounding them 48-35. Impressively, the Blue Demons dominated the offensive glass and grabbed 19 offensive rebounds to just seven for the Pirates. As a result, the Blue Demons scored 19 second chance points.

“We always work to rebound the basketball,” Blue Demons head coach Doug Bruno said. “We try to get rebounds in every single game. We’re not an undersized basketball team, so it’s always very important to us.”

Equally important to the Blue Demons’ success, they moved the ball well against the Pirates’ zone defense and maintained the edge in the assist column and dished out 18 assists while the Pirates only had 10. “We believe in assists,” Bruno said. “It’s something we work very very hard and pride ourselves on.”

Another key factor that played a vital role in the win was the Blue Demons’ ability to force the Pirates into turnovers. The Blue Demons forced the Pirates into 15 turnovers, which led to 19 points off turnovers for the Blue Demons.

Redshirt junior forward Mart’e Grays led the way for DePaul by way of posting a double-double, the third of her career. Grays scored the first points of the game for the Blue Demons on a 3-pointer from the right wing 25 seconds in, and the rest was a night for Grays to remember.

Grays scored 21 points on an efficient seven-of-10 shooting performance that included knocking down three of her five 3-point field goal attempts and pulling down 10 total rebounds, four of which were on the offensive glass. “I was trying to play the game,” Grays said. “Not forcing anything, just let the game come to me.”

Grays also unselfishly gave credit to her teammates for helping her play at such a high level. “For the help of my teammates, just moving the ball, passing the ball,” Grays said. “We always talk about how getting offensive rebounds for our teammates can help.”

Her other teammates definitely helped. Sophomore forward Chante Stonewall recorded her second consecutive double-double pouring in 11 points, while grabbing 10 rebounds. In addition, redshirt junior guard Ashton Millender scored 15 points on five-of-nine shooting from deep. 

Sophomore forward Chante Stonewall finished with her second consecutive double-double (Photo Courtesy of DePaul Athletics)

While the scoreboard indicated the Blue Demons won by a hefty margin, DePaul didn’t always have a big lead. Following a superb first quarter where the Blue Demons concluded with a 27-17 lead, the second quarter proved to be disastrous.

The Pirates’ zone defense pressure picked up, which slowed down the Blue Demons’ offense. As a result, Blue Demons missed their first five field goal attempts, committed six turnovers, and ended up tallying an underwhelming nine points off a mere three-of-15 overall shooting. In fact, out of those 15 shot attempts, 10 of them were from 3-point range and only two of them went in.

Going into halftime leading just 36-30, Bruno needed his team to regroup and get focused on the offensive end in order to handle the Pirates’ tight zone defense. “I thought we were really rusty against the zone (…) I didn’t think we were very efficient in our execution against the zone,” Bruno said. However, “as the game went along, I think we started to get some rhythm against the zone, and I think that was really kind of what turned the game around on the offensive end.”

Immediately after halftime, the Blue Demons began finding holes in the Pirates’ defense that resulted in numerous high-percentage perimeter shots through paint touches. Just eight seconds into the third quarter, Millender drained a 3-pointer from the left wing and the Blue Demons opened on an 11-2 run in the first four and-a-half minutes that extended their lead to 15 points.

From that point on, the Blue Demons continued to pour in baskets in route to outscoring the Pirates 42-20.

“We’re very big about shooting threes, but also he (Bruno) emphasizes getting paint touches. Paint touches open up our 3-point line,” Millender said. “A paint touch is either passing to the paint, dribbling to the paint, or getting an offensive rebound, so we just emphasized getting it inside and it opens up the three for us.”

Senior guard Amarah Coleman left the game late in the fourth quarter after a hard fall going for a rebound. While Coleman did not return, she remained on the bench for the final 7:14 with the game comfortably in hand.

With this game in the books, DePaul will face the Georgetown Hoyas (15-14, 9-9 Big East) on Monday evening after they knocked off Villanova in the final quarterfinal of the day.