Throughout the first 14 games of DePaul’s (10-5, 2-2 Big East) season, the Blue Demons were searching for a complete game that they controlled for the entire 40 minutes. Well, in game 15, against the No. 24 ranked St. John’s, DePaul finally delivered with undoubtedly their best win of the season. The Blue Demons dominated from start to finish and ended up winning 79-71 in the end at Carnesecca Arena.
While this was a complete performance for DePaul, they did receive some good news prior to the game when St. John’s announced that leading scorer Shamorie Ponds would not play due to a lower back injury. Ponds has been clearly St. John’s best player this season, averaging 20.6 points and six assists per game on the season and in four conference games Ponds’ is averaging 23.5 points and six assists per game.
“Right before game time,” DePaul Head Coach Dave Leitao said on when he found out Ponds was going to be out. “You still have to play, we obviously changed a couple of coverages because he’s such a special talent, but overall we still had to execute on offense. We thought we could get the ball inside and we were still able to do that. We felt like we needed to execute and we did a decent job of doing that. Then our defense made a couple of last-minute adjustments without him [Ponds], but at the same point of time we had to guard the three-point line because they shoot it so well.”
As DePaul got news of that an hour before tipoff they realized that this was going to be their best chance of knocking down the Red Storm in New York and in turn put up their best performance of the season.
“I don’t think we gave them in the first 20 minutes our best shot, but we responded in the second half by playing a lot more freely and a lot more aggressive at the same time,” Leitao said. “So, very, very happy and what I just told the team is we can grow, we won on the road, played good not great, so we still have room to grow.”
Speaking about that first half, senior Femi Olujobi, who grew up in New York, was the Blue Demons most effective player, scoring 10 points. Paul Reed, however, got into early foul trouble and had to sit for most of the first half. He ended up only playing eight minutes and having four points in the first 20 minutes. DePaul and St. John’s both struggled to score in the first 20 minutes, as the Blue Demons held a narrow 31-30 lead with both teams shooting under 40 percent in the first half and combining for 47 rebounds.
However, when both Reed and Olujobi came out of the locker room to begin the second half it was a whole different story for the two. The pair dominated St. John’s inside combining for 31 points in the half. Every possession down Reed and Olujobi traded opportunities down low, attacking their defenders and getting any shot they wanted inside five feet.
Ultimately, Olujobi finished with a season-high 27 points and eight rebounds while Reed recorded his first career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
“We have been talking all along that we have three guys, not just those two, that we can go to down low,” Leitao said. “As good as they are scoring, they are unselfish and they will share it when they draw double teams. A guy like Femi is very good who we went to, Paul, very good, one-on-one particularly against a team that has a disadvantage size wise they were able to come through.”
With that size advantage that Olujobi and Reed had over St. John’s they were able to punish the Red Storm inside, but also were getting fouled at the same time because St. John’s had such a tough time dealing with all of that size. Within the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Red Storm had already racked up 10 fouls. The Blue Demons ended up taking 23 free-throws in the half while the home team only took three.
Another key storyline coming into the game was whether DePaul would be able to slow down a St. John’s group that entered the game shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc this season, which was good for second in the Big East. However, without Ponds, whose also shooting it also 40 percent from the three-point line, the Blue Demons held the Red Storm to only 26.3 percent from three in the game.
St. John’s was able to stay close late in the game as they went on a little run to cut DePaul’s lead to five with a minute to play, 76-71, but the Blue Demons did a good job of closing out their second straight win in the Big East something they haven’t done since Jan. 2015. Also, the win over St. John’s gave DePaul their first win over a ranked opponent since Feb. 2, 2016.
DePaul will be back in action on Wednesday when they host Butler, the Blue Demons will look to improve to 11-5 overall and 3-2 in the Big East.