DePaul loses its season opener to Texas A&M


Eric Henry/The DePaulia

DePaul junior guard Maya Stovall guards a Texas A&M player on Saturday at Wintrust Arena.

DePaul had to wait nearly nine months before playing its first game of the 2020-21 season. But on Saturday at Wintrust Arena, the Blue Demons finally got to open up their season by hosting Texas A&M. 

With the one of the few top 25 games to begin the season, DePaul and Texas A&M displayed why both team s were ranked to begin the season, with the Aggies coming in at No. 13 and the Blue Demons at No. 19. 

After 40 minutes of action without any fans in the arena due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Texas A&M came away with the 93-91 victory. The Aggies are now 2-0 this season, while the Blue Demons start off at 0-1. 

Prior to the start of the game, seven DePaul players took a knee during the national anthem, while the entire Texas A&M stayed in the locker room. According to DePaul head coach Doug Bruno, the team had a discussion about kneeling for the anthem and everyone’s personal decision was respected. 

“My choice, athletic director DeWayne Peevy’s choice is to let the players make their choice,” Bruno said after the game. “We are going to back our players, we are going to back all of our players. And if our players choose to take a knee, we are going to support them. What I’m proud of is the respect that each player has for the other player — respecting each other’s individual decisions. My players know I’m standing for the anthem, I’ve told them explicitly why and there’s different people. That’s what makes a team great — individual differences coming together as one and the respect we all have to have for one another’s decisions.”

DePaul also wore masks during the game, while the Aggies did not. According to Bruno, this decision was recommended by the team’s medical staff and each player wore a mask while playing or when sitting on the bench.

When the game started a couple of minutes later, it was Texas A&M who came out as the more aggressive and confident team. The Aggies scored the first six points of the game with the Blue Demons taking nearly three minutes to get on the board. 

Following a slow start to the game, DePaul was able to climb itself back into the game thanks to the play of three players: Deja Church, Sonya Morris and Deja Bekelja. The trio scored all 21 points for the home team in the first quarter, which was good enough to keep the Aggies’ lead at only one. 

Using some of that momentum to close the first quarter, DePaul got off to a hot start in the second and that resulted in them taking a 34-30 lead. But the Aggies were able to respond with an 11-0 run to open up a 41-34 lead, and eventually took a 49-41 advantage into halftime. 

Only four players scored more than two points for the Blue Demons in the first half — Church, Morris, Bekelja and Lexi Held — as the team struggled to find a rhythm on offense. DePaul, known for making a high volume of 3-pointers per game, only made 5-of-17 shots from behind the arc in the first half. 

Bekelja was inserted into the starting lineup after the loss of Kelly Campbell and Chante Stonewall to graduation. The junior came out attacking and looked like one of the focal points on offense, which resulted in a 24-point performance on 10-of-15 shooting.

“I was really excited to start this season,” Bekelja said. “I just know I have a lot to offer. Coming off the bench, I learned a lot from previous players so I’m just really excited to get out there and start the game off strong for the team.”

In the third quarter, Texas A&M was able to increase its lead all the way up to 11 points before the Blue Demons answered with a 5-0 run. Entering the final 10 minutes of the game, the Aggies held an eight-point lead, 70-62, but that was quickly shrunk to only three points in the first 50 seconds. 

The Blue Demons’ comeback hopes, however, were dealt a blow when Morris fouled out of the game with just under seven minutes left in the game. Morris finished the game with 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the field. 

“The energy and excitement just coming into game day was so good,” Morris said. “We haven’t played against anybody besides ourselves, so it felt good being able to not only show what we have been working on but just simply play against some other teams.”

Without having one of their most lethal scores, the Blue Demons had to find offense from somewhere else. And DePaul got that from the likes of Church and Bekelja, with the latter hitting a 3-pointer to tie the game at 80 with 3:12 left in the game. 

But the Aggies responded by retaking the lead and never looking back. The final two minutes turned into a free-throw shooting contest, with the visitors scoring their final eight points from the charity stripe. DePaul did have a chance to tie the game at 91 in the final six seconds, but Held got fouled before she could get off a shot. 

“There’s just a lot of little things to clean up and I still believe in playing quality [teams] at this juncture,” Bruno said. “People want to play easy games right now to get things cleaned up, and to ge to experience and they get their team in your confidence state. I want to find out how good are we, how good can we be and you don’t find that out unless you play really talented ball clubs.”

DePaul will be back in action on Monday when they host Chicago State at Wintrust Arena. The Blue Demons will also begin Big East play at Villanova on Dec. 4.