Blue Demons advance to Big East Tournament semifinals with 85-60 victory over Providence


DePaul junior forward Chante Stonewall attempts a layup during the Blue Demons win over Providence Sunday night in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. Stonewall finished with nine points. Steve Woltmann/BIG EAST

Seeking to win the Big East Tournament championship at the Wintrust Arena for the second year in a row, DePaul (24-7, 14-4 Big East) won its ninth consecutive game by taking down Providence (17-15, 8-10 Big East) by a final score of 85-60 in Sunday night’s quarterfinal matchup.

Senior forward Mart’e Grays scored a game-high 25 points on a 9-of-14 shooting mark and grabbed six total rebounds. Junior guard Kelly Campbell nearly recorded a triple-double with 12 assists, 11 rebounds and seven points.

Ashton Millender poured in 14 points, including four 3-point field goals, while Lexi Held spurred DePaul’s bench play by pouring in 13 points. DePaul played its half-court offensive strategy to its advantage, outscoring Providence 26-6 in the fast break. Equally important, DePaul won the rebounding battle 42-23, including 18 offensive rebounds.

DePaul’s offensive rebounds led to additional scoring opportunities, as DePaul dialed in 17 second-chance points. Perhaps the most critical factor in DePaul’s victory was its efficient effort shooting the basketball.

DePaul shot 50 percent from the field, or 32-of-64 overall. Comparably, Providence shot 45.3 percent from the field, but DePaul’s defense held Providence to a mere 22.2 percentage mark from behind the 3-point line to keep their scoring total down.

“Kelly Campbell did what she does, and Mart’e [Grays] had a really strong ballgame,” DePaul head coach Doug Bruno said. “Mart’e did a really, really nice job, and their defense was packed inside, so I thought Mart’e did a good job of getting a good strong effort and good strong production but still shared the ball, alright. So again, it’s a good strong Providence game, and now we’re going to play a very good team tomorrow in either Creighton or Butler.”

DePaul opened the first quarter leading 14-2 with 5:40 remaining thanks to a 12-0 run over a near-three-minute stretch. In the process of scoring, DePaul forced Providence into committing three costly turnovers that resulted in Providence enduring a scoring drought.

By the end of the first period, DePaul had a 20-9 lead after shooting 9-of-19 from the field. Despite only making one 3-point field goal during that stretch, DePaul turned it around at the beginning of the second quarter and shot 4-of-5 from deep to extend its lead to 34-18 with 4:34 remaining in the first half.

“We’ve really been focusing on getting off to a quick and efficient start, especially now that it’s one-and-done time,” Campbell said. “So it’s been very important for us, and I think we did a great job of really getting off to a quick start today.”

DePaul took a 37-22 lead into the locker room at halftime. Grays had already scored 15 points and Campbell grabbed 10 rebounds by then. DePaul led Providence for just over 19-and-a-half minutes in the first half.

“The way our team executed the offense, my teammates looked for me inside, and they delivered the ball,” Grays said. “We made a big emphasis on rebounding the ball and getting second shots.”

Providence came storming back in the third quarter, getting off to an early 7-2 run to cut DePaul’s lead down to 39-29. As a result of Providence’s momentum, Bruno was forced to call a timeout just two-minutes and 15 seconds in.

“We know that they’re capable,” Bruno said when asked about the late push from Providence. “If you don’t stay focused, this is what you’re going to get. I just thought we lost our focus and lost our attention to detail, and when you do that, all of a sudden a really good team, a well-coached team like Providence will come back and fight you for not paying attention to detail, so that’s really what we talked about.”

With the game potentially getting away from DePaul following series of missed shots and turnovers, DePaul drilled five consecutive field goals, including three straight 3-point field goals, to get its lead up 18 points with a 55-37 advantage with 3:14 left in the third quarter.

Grays and Millender combined to score 18 points in the third period on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, helping DePaul hold a 20-point lead, 63-43, heading into the final 10 minutes of action. Held went on to  explode at the beginning of the fourth quarter by dropping nine points and drilling all three of her 3-point field goal attempts. As a team, DePaul outscored Providence 22-17 in the final period.

DePaul will either face Creighton or Butler on Monday in the semifinal at 5:30 p.m.