DePaul holds off Oklahoma for third straight win


NORMAN, Okla. — In what was the fifth game ever played between No. 20/17 DePaul and Oklahoma on Sunday afternoon, but third in the last year and a half, the Blue Demons left the Lloyd Noble Center victorious with an 87-76 win and survived a third quarter scare to improve to 7-3 this season.

Senior forward Mart’e Grays scored a career-high in points and field goals with 26 points on 12-of-19 shooting that included two 3-pointers. Ashton Millender, DePaul’s leading scorer, poured in 19 points, while freshman Lexi Held dropped 17 points off the bench. Junior forward Chante Stonewall, the team’s second-leading scorer, dropped 13 points.

As a team, DePaul converted 38 total field goals, good for 49.4 percent in comparison to Oklahoma’s 25 made field goals. 50 of DePaul’s total points were scored inside the paint by way of good ball movement with 20 assists. Not to mention, DePaul won the rebounding battle 44-30 over a taller Oklahoma team.

“It’s very very difficult to win road games in intercollegiate basketball, so any kind of road win is a great win,” DePaul head coach Doug Bruno said. “I’m thrilled for our team that we came into a quality Big 12 opponent and we were able to come away with a victory.”

DePaul jumped out to a 15-4 lead with 4:42 remaining in the first quarter on six-of-11 shooting from the field. Oklahoma missed all four of its field goal attempts during that span. As the quarter moved on, so did DePaul’s offense, as the Blue Demons made 10 field goals on a 43.5 percent shooting mark and led Oklahoma 23-17 after one quarter. Oklahoma only made four field goals after DePaul forced them into five early turnovers.

Once the second quarter rolled around, DePaul’s offense picked up right where it started and went on a 10-0 run in 57 seconds to extend its lead to 35-19 with 5:51 to go in the first half. There was also a stretch during the second quarter in which DePaul made seven consecutive field goals.

“Just basically executing the game plan,” Grays said on what her focus was heading into the game. “I know I had to stay in the paint, you know I’m trying to get my game going inside the paint so I can be an inside-out player. That’s mainly it. Just focusing and finishing.”

DePaul finished the second quarter having shot 13-of-19 from the field and three-of-five from behind the 3-point line. Meanwhile, Oklahoma went ice cold to end the second quarter missing eight of its last nine shots.

DePaul led Oklahoma 53-30 at halftime after shooting 55 percent in the half. Grays scored 15 points on seven-of-11 shooting from the field, while Stonewall had already poured in 11 points of five-of-10 shooting. 34 of DePaul’s 53 first half points were scored in the paint largely due to good ball movement across the court.

Oklahoma shot just 27.6 percent in the first half and only converted eight baskets. DePaul was on top of the rebounding totals 26-14, including eight offensive rebounds.

Millender drained a 3-point shot from the left wing 19 seconds into the second half. Right behind Millender was Held, who nailed two consecutive 3-pointers within the opening minutes of the third quarter. However, DePaul’s early momentum in the second half didn’t last long, as the Sooners took advantage of DePaul’s lack of size in the paint and outscored DePaul 32-17 in the third quarter on 13-of-17 shooting. As a result, DePaul only led by six, 70-64, in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

“I’m not happy that we let a 27-point lead become a six-point lead, at all,” Bruno said. “But at the same time, I am very happy with (how) these players figured out how to stop the bleeding and really buckle down and build up their defensive wall and start making some offensive plays so that could we could finish the game. And I thought we finished it pretty strong.”

Oklahoma was able to cut into the lead with a 19-2 run in the third period to cut DePaul’s lead to 66-56 with 2:17 left on the clock. DePaul missed 11 field goals in a row throughout that stretch in which it seemed there was a lid on the basket for the Blue Demons. From layups spinning out of the rim and mid-range jumpers being shot too strong, DePaul simply could not catch a break on either side of the court and only made seven shots.

After the game, Bruno said that his team switched to a zone defense in the fourth quarter in order to halt Shaina Pellington of Oklahoma from driving to the rim and creating kick-out opportunities for her teammates. Pellington and Taylor Robertson both scored a team-high 19 points for Oklahoma. Madi Williams totaled 18 points.

“We definitely had to regroup and get focused on doing the little things,” Grays said. “The details, executing the defensive game plan and just rebounding,” were contributing factors to DePaul keeping the game in its hands.

Grays scored DePaul’s first seven points in the fourth quarter, including a wide-open 3-point shot from the right corner directly in front of DePaul’s bench. Furthermore, DePaul went on to score 17 points in the final period and held Oklahoma to a just 33.3 percent shooting to end the game en route to a win.

“We just stayed the course and then (Oklahoma) calmed down and then we made defensive stops. We did switch defenses again because we were taking out (Robertson),” Bruno said when asked about his team’s play in the fourth quarter. “We were able to slow them down. We spread the floor and started offensively dissecting Oklahoma. We got some great layups in the third quarter, so we started scoring the ball again.”

After a busy stretch that has featured three games in a span of six days, DePaul now has over a week off before hosting Tennessee State on Dec. 17.