DePaul’s offense struggles to keep up with UConn in 82-61 loss


David Butler II/Pool Photo via AP

Connecticut guard R.J. Cole (1) drives the ball against DePaul guard Javon Freeman-Liberty (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Storrs, Conn.

Following a narrow 95-90 double overtime loss to Providence last Sunday to begin Big East play, DePaul’s game against UConn Wednesday night at Gampel Arena was anything but close. 

The Blue Demons struggled to shoot and defend against the Huskies, resulting in a 82-61 loss on the road. DePaul is now 1-2 on the season and 0-2 in the Big East, with the team’s lone win coming in its season opener against Western Illinois on Dec. 23.

“I thought [UConn] dominated the backboards, and especially when they needed to,” DePaul head coach Dave Leitao said after the game. “I thought their defense was aggressive enough and physical enough to kind of take us away from any rhythm. … I think they played really well and I don’t think we played very well at all — and all the things that we wanted to do, talked about doing and need to do in order to be successful.” 

Both UConn and DePaul have played a limited number of games this season because of Covid-19 issues, with the Blue Demons only starting their season last week after three different pauses forcing them to cancel or postpone the first 10 games.

The Huskies, on the other hand, started the season by playing and winning their first three games before having to cancel or postpone the next four. UConn returned to action against Creighton on Dec. 20, losing 76-74, before postponing the first scheduled meeting with DePaul on Dec. 23. 

But both teams finally got to play each other on Wednesday and the Huskies controlled the game throughout the night. DePaul never had a lead in large part due to its anemic offense and a defense that failed to contain UConn’s offense. 

The Blue Demons were able to keep the game close in the first eight minutes with the Huskies holding a slim 12-10 lead. DePaul would only score three points in the following seven minutes, while UConn — led by outstanding sophomore guard James Bouknight — would score 16 points in that same stretch. 

“We talked about Bouknight what he is and the pressure he puts on a defense,” Leitao said. Front-court they put a lot of guys with size and bulk at you, so that allows them — particularly with [Tyrese] Martin he’s an extra exterior and interior player for them. I don’t think I was surprised by a whole lot, I just was impressed to put it all together over the course of the game.”

DePaul’s starters struggled all night to find any offense, and it was the play of junior forward Darious Hall off the bench that would keep the Blue Demons in the game in the first half. Hall led DePaul with eight points in the first 20 minutes, and finished the game with 14. 

Hall’s 3-pointer at the end of the first half was DePaul’s only second made three on 10 attempts, with the Blue Demons shooting 33.3 percent overall. UConn, however, feasted from behind the arc as they went 5-for-8 in the first half and shot 51.7 percent from the field. 

Led by Bouknight’s and Martin’s nine points, UConn took a 41-27 advantage into the break. The second half wasn’t much better for DePaul as they failed to ever get the deficit under 14. 

A 9-0 run in the middle of the half gave the Huskies a 24-point lead, 62-38, and took away any chance the Blue Demons had of making it a close game. All nine points were scored either via layup, dunk or free throw, with the exclamation point coming from Bouknight’s breakaway dunk. 

Only two DePaul players finished in double figures, Hall and Ongenda, while junior guard Charlie Moore — who came into the game averaging above 20 points per game — had eight points on 4-of-12 shooting. 

Sophomore forward Romeo Weems, who scored 21 points in his season debut against Providence, only added six points on 3-of-8 shooting. 

DePaul will have a couple of days to prepare for its next Big East game, which is at St. John’s on Saturday. The Blue Demons’ first home conference game is scheduled to take place on Jan. 5 against Villanova.