Charlie Moore and Javon Freeman-Liberty carry DePaul past Providence in first round of Big East Tournament

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Eric Henry/The DePaulia

DePaul junior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty goes up for a layup during the Blue Demons’ game against Providence on Feb. 13 at Wintrust Arena.

When DePaul has won this season it has been because Charlie Moore has carried the team with his play and leadership. That was the case on Wednesday in the Blue Demons’ first-round victory, 70-62, over Providence in the Big East Tournament.

In DePaul’s four wins this season, Moore has averaged 20 points per game. In the 10 losses — he missed three games due to injury — Moore only averaged 12 points per game. 

On Wednesday, the Blue Demons got one of Moore’s best performances of the season. He finished the game with 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists. It was also his play during clutch time that got DePaul across the finish line. 

“We just wanted to be aggressive today, push the pace, get in the paint, draw defenders to kick out for open teammates,” Moore said. “We followed that game plan there tonight and it worked for us.”

The senior guard scored six points in the final four minutes of the game and dished out a couple of assists. In three games at Madison Square Garden that Moore has played in with DePaul, he has scored 20 or more points in all of them — twice in the Big East Tournament and once against St. John’s in the regular season. 

“I love playing at the Garden,” Moore said. “Great environment but I also just feel like tonight we played a great game. So I just feel like we played great out there.”

For DePaul to win on Wednesday they needed someone else to step up to help Moore, and they got that with the play of junior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty. He finished the game with 21 points and seven rebounds.

“Both Charlie and Javon played well and made plays throughout the game, and especially in the later stages of the game to give us the opportunity and get the lead and then hold onto the lead,” DePaul men’s basketball head coach Dave Leitao said. “So, very happy for the whole group and advancing to play another day.”

It was also Freeman-Liberty’s defense on Providence guard David Duke, who finished with seven points on 2-of-9 shooting, that helped the Blue Demons get past the Friars. 

“I thought every jump shot that [Duke] took tonight was contested, which is something that we tried to do and how we defended the 3-point line all year long has been pretty good,” Leitao said. “I trusted that was going to work and obviously it did.”

There was a turning point in the second half when the game was tied 53-53 that could have resulted in either team winning, but Freeman-Liberty scoring four straight points put DePaul ahead for good. The Blue Demons closed the game on a 17-9 run, with Freeman-Liberty and Moore combining for 12 of those points. 

For Providence, it took them nearly eight minutes to make its next shot after tying the game at 53-53. The Friars also had trouble knocking down free throws, missing five in the final six minutes and going 15-of-29 from the charity stripe for the game. 

Both Moore and sophomore forward Romeo Weems hit four free throws in the last minute to ice the game for DePaul. At times isn’t wasn’t the prettiest basketball game ever played — both times combining for 43 fouls and 31 turnovers — but the Blue Demons found a way to do something they have struggled to in the past: make plays down the stretch.

Just like the Blue Demons were the better team in the final eight minutes of the game, they were the sharper team in the opening eight minutes of the first half. DePaul jumped out to a 21-12 lead thanks to 11 points from Moore. 

Providence fought its way back into the game with an 8-0 run. Both teams traded leads in the final seven minutes of the first half, with Freeman-Liberty scoring seven points to keep DePaul within touching distance.

The Friars took a 36-35 lead into the break and that would be the final time they were ahead in the game. DePaul opened the second half on a 14-7 run to take a 49-43 lead, again Moore and Freeman-Liberty doing most of the scoring with nine points.

Nate Watson and Noah Horchler got Providence back into the game, scoring 12 of the team’s first 15 points in the second half. Jared Bynum made a tough jumper to tie the game at 53-53, but that’s when the Blue Demons started to pull away. 

“[Leitao] was telling me to just win the game,” Moore said. “Make aggressive but smart plays down the stretch to help us prevail at the end. I just followed his game plan and it worked for us.”

DePaul shot 13-of-25 from the field in the second half and 0-of-5 from the 3-point line.

A year after the Blue Demons didn’t have a chance to play their quarterfinals game against Villanova because the rest of the Big East Tournament was canceled due to Covid-19 concerns, they will get that opportunity on Thursday when they meet UConn.

DePaul got swept by the Huskies in the regular season. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET and the game will be shown on FS1.