Men’s basketball: DePaul breezes past Central Michigan for second victory of the season

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Nate Burleyson

DePaul senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty dribbles up the ball during the Blue Demons’ win over Central Michigan on Saturday at Wintrust Arena.

It’s less than a week into the 2021-22 college basketball season, but DePaul is already missing four key players: Ahamad Bynum, Jalen Terry, Tyon Grant-Foster and Javon Johnson. That, however, did not stop the Blue Demons from blowing out Central Michigan, 99-66, on Saturday at Wintrust Arena.

DePaul came into the season already without Bynum, Terry and Johnson due to eligibility issues, but it also lost Grant-Foster in Wednesday’s season-opening win over Coppin State. Grant-Foster had to be taken to the hospital during halftime of Wednesday’s game.

Head coach Tony Stubblefield said after Saturday’s game that Grant-Foster is “doing well,” but does not have an update on when he might return.

With a limited number of players available on Saturday, there was more pressure on the starters to stay out of foul trouble and provide big minutes. 

“Our guys kind of settled in after the half, came out, shared the basketball,” Stubblefield said. “We were able to get some stops and [were] able to kind of extend that lead a little bit.”

Senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty played the first 32 minutes of the game before getting to the rest in the final eight minutes. Junior guard Philmon Gebrewhit saw the most minutes, 36. 

Even with the high minutes that the starters had to play on Saturday, the team did a solid job of taking care of the ball — only 12 turnovers — and got into a nice flow offensively in the second half.

Freeman-Liberty, once again, had a strong outing as the point guard — scoring 22 points, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out seven assists and zero turnovers. 

“So tonight was just another performance where I got my team involved first, and then came out and got the dub,” he said.

Through two games this season, Freeman-Liberty has only committed one turnover. 

“I’m just trying this year to value the ball,” he said. 

It didn’t take long for the Blue Demons to find their offensive groove, scoring 10 points before the first timeout. DePaul took its largest lead of the first half, 16-7, following a trio of baskets from Courvoisier McCauley and Johnson. 

Central Michigan, however, managed to claw themselves back into the game with some pesky defense and strong 3-point shooting. The Chippewas made five of their first nine 3-point attempts, which allowed them to stay within striking distance. 

The visitors eventually took its first lead of the game, 24-22, thanks to a 7-0 run. Both teams would trade leads throughout the final seven minutes of the first half, but DePaul managed to take a three-point lead, 41-38. 

Once again, though, the Blue Demons had a much stronger effort in the second half. On Wednesday, DePaul only led by one at halftime and ended up winning by 25. 

Against Central Michigan, DePaul scored 58 points in the second half, while Central Michigan only scored 28. Stubblefield said that the team made some defensive adjustments in the second half. 

“We started to guard some of the screens a little bit differently that their big guys were setting,” he said. “I think that help with our guards being able to get through some real screens and get under, so we did make some adjustments.”

DePaul really blew open the game in the middle of the second half when the team went on a 26-3 run in a nearly seven-minute stretch. The Blue Demons went from leading by 10 to being up by 33, 90-57.

With the win virtually secured with eight minutes left in the game, it allowed Stubblefield to rest some of his starters who played a majority of the first 32 minutes. 

Alongside Freeman-Liberty’s strong performance, Johnson added 20 points — 15 of which came in the first half — and seven rebounds, while David Jones stepped into the lineup to provide 16 and nine.

“I pretty much do whatever I possibly can just to help my team out anyway,” Johnson said. 

DePaul returns to action on Thursday when Rutgers pays a visit to Wintrust Arena.