Poor free-throw shooting dooms DePaul in 74-67 loss to St. John’s

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Poor free-throw shooting dooms DePaul in 74-67 loss to St. John’s

DePaul head coach Dave Leitao walks off the floor after the first half against Buffalo at Wintrust Arena. The Blue Demons lost the game 74-69.

DePaul head coach Dave Leitao walks off the floor after the first half against Buffalo at Wintrust Arena. The Blue Demons lost the game 74-69.

Ryan Gilroy | The DePaulia

DePaul head coach Dave Leitao walks off the floor after the first half against Buffalo at Wintrust Arena. The Blue Demons lost the game 74-69.

Ryan Gilroy | The DePaulia

Ryan Gilroy | The DePaulia

DePaul head coach Dave Leitao walks off the floor after the first half against Buffalo at Wintrust Arena. The Blue Demons lost the game 74-69.

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After nearly two weeks of Big East play, only two teams were left winless in conference play: St. John’s and DePaul. Well, those two teams, who were picked to finish at the bottom of the conference before the season started, squared off on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. 

With both teams in desperate need of a conference win, it was St. John’s who came out with a 74-67 victory to pick up their first Big East win of the season. DePaul, on the other hand, is now left as the only team in the Big East with no conference wins after three games and drops to 12-4 on the season. 

DePaul came into Saturday’s game against St. John’s as the worst free throw shooting team in the Big East at just over 64 percent, and that proved to be the storyline against the Red Storm. The Blue Demons shot 16-of-27 from the free throw line, while the Red Storm went 18-of-26 from the charity stripe. 

But the free throw shooting issue for the Blue Demons reared its ugly head near the end of the game when senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands went from 1-of-3 from the charity stripe with 41 seconds to play and his team down 71-66. Coleman-Lands got fouled when he went up for a 3-point shot, but the senior was unable to make it a one-possession game. 

While the end of the game didn’t go the Blue Demons’ way, they got off to a good start in the first half when they took a 13-7 lead inside the first six minutes of the game. Following a St. John’s timeout, the Red Storm started to knock down shots and tied the game at 18 at the halfway point of the first half. 

St. John’s, who came into the game forcing the most turnovers in the Big East, used their unique style of defense and pressing to their advantage, as the Blue Demons committed 10 turnovers in the first half which lead to seven points for the home team. 

While the Red Storm are known for their solid defense, they are also known for their poor 3-point shooting this season — as they are last in the Big East in that department at just over 28 percent shooting from behind the arc. DePaul and head coach Dave Leitao clearly didn’t get that memo during their week off to prepare for Saturday’s game because St. John’s went 5-of-10 from the 3-point line in the first half. 

With strong 3-point shooting, the Red Storm making 15 shots on 15 assists and DePaul’s inability to hold onto the ball St. John’s took a 39-34 lead into the break. Junior forward Paul Reed, who came into the game leading DePaul in scoring, only had two points on four shot attempts at the break. 

Even after Leitao got 15 minutes to speak to his team and get a reaction from them, it was St. John’s who came out with more energy to begin the second half. The Red Storm scored the first seven points of the half, while it took the Blue Demons nearly three minutes of action to score their first point. 

Junior forward Jaylen Butz was the only reliable player on offense for DePaul, as he knocked down all six of his shots to lead the Blue Demons in scoring with 17. But free throw shooting was also a problem for him, as Butz only went 5-of-9 from the charity stripe. 

St. John’s would build their lead to 12 points a couple of times in the second half, but they made sure to keep a comfortable distance between themselves and DePaul in the final 20 minutes. The Red Storm were led by Rasheem Dunn, who scored a game-high 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists.

DePaul had multiple chances to make it a one-possession game, but misses by Coleman-Lands and junior guard Charlie Moore — who finished with 14 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds — prevented the Blue Demons from getting any closer with a minute to play. The last chance came for Reed when he attempted a 3-pointer down 73-67 with 31 seconds to play, but he wasn’t able to get the shot to go. Reed finished the game with only four points, his lowest amount this season, on 2-of-7 shooting, but helped grab 12 rebounds. 

The Blue Demons will get two days to prepare for their next test, which doesn’t any easier, at No. 16 Villanova. After the Blue Demons take on the Wildcats, they will return home to take on No. 6 Butler on Jan. 18 at Wintrust Arena.