Men’s Basketball: DePaul shakes off Rutgers 73-70, improve to 3-0

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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.

DePaul capped off the Big East vs Big Ten Gavitt Tip-Off Games with a duel with Rutgers. The short-handed Blue Demons shrugged off the Scarlet Knights’ attacks, and late efforts from David Jones lifted DePaul to a 73-70 victory.

Rutgers, one of the slowest teams in the country last year, looked to slow the Blue Demons down to its pace. Led by Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker, the Scarlet Knights faced their first test of the season at Wintrust. DePaul, hot off a shellacking of Central Michigan, wanted to aid the Big East’s success in the Gavitt Tip-Off games.

The first half started off well for DePaul. Off the start, Philmon Gebrewhit was found wide open for a three to start DePaul off 3-0. Yet it wouldn’t be that easy of a shooting night, DePaul had to earn a lot of their first half off of second-chance points and put backs.

Both teams operated in a zone to start off the game, making it tough to score. Despite the physicality, DePaul stayed safe on defense, staying under four fouls all the way through the first 15 minutes of the half. In contrast, Rutgers got in the bonus quickly, sending DePaul to the line for 16 shots to their two. DePaul shot 10-16 from the line in the first half.

As a part of this physicality, DePaul and Rutgers spent a lot of time in the paint. Both teams did a good job on the offensive boards, but Rutgers really began to pull ahead after a few minutes into the half. They finally broke the stalemate and jumped to a 20-14 lead, causing DePaul head coach Tony Stubblefield to call his first timeout.

Quickly, Nick Ongenda scored as he was fouled to cut the lead. And then back to back threes from Javon Freeman-Liberty and David Jones brought DePaul ahead 24-23. Just when things looked grim, DePaul found a way to stick with Rutgers.

Despite shooting just 10-for-32 from the field, DePaul was able to go into the half with a 33-29 lead. Freeman-Liberty and Jones both had 11 for the Blue Demons at the break.

The second half was stronger for Rutgers off the start. After starting center Nick Ongenda got his third foul a minute into the second half, Rutgers was able to find more success inside.

Ron Harper Jr. airballed a midrange jumper around the 10 minute mark, putting him on a 3-for-8 performance. Just a few plays later, a Harper Jr. corner three found the bottom of the net, putting Rutgers up 49-47.

DePaul started the second half 2-for-8 from the free throw line. This, coupled with the low amount of assists ( five on their first 16 shots), meant that they were swapping leads instead of fighting from behind.
Rutgers started to come alive a bit with six minutes remaining. Geo Baker checked in and hit back-to-back jumpers to put Rutgers up 54-50 with 6:09 left.

DePaul regained the lead, ironically on free throws, as David Johnson hit two to take a 55-54 lead just a minute from Baker’s tuple of jumpers.

Philmon Gebrewhit got the crowd back involved when he hit a three to tie things at 58. On the next possession, David Jones was left open from deep. He drained it, bringing on the loudest pop of the night from the Wintrust crowd with 3:37 remaining.

Aundre Hyatt wouldn’t let Rutgers out though, an equalizer came on the next possession. Freeman-Liberty took a shot from about 32 feet out to take DePaul back up 3. One possession later, David Jones hit DePaul’s third straight triple to take a 67-61 lead

From there, chaos ensued.

Harper Jr. would start to come alive, after Gebrewhit hit a free throw, Harper Jr stepped into another three to make it 68-67.

Jones struck back, 71-67 DePaul.

Harper Jr. went right back at them, 71-70 DePaul.

The lid had been removed from the basket. Suddenly what looked like a low-scoring affair was an old-fashioned shootout. Jones kept his hot hand, hitting two free throws to take a 73-70 lead with the shot clock down.

Jones went for 22 points, 5 rebounds and two assists. His big shots at the end were reminiscent of Jalen Coleman-Lands’ heroics against Texas Tech in December of 2019.

“I’ve been doing this for too long,” Jones said. “I have a feel for the big moments.”

Baker took the ball up, staring down DePaul at the top, found Aundre Hyatt in the corner, who was looking for Harper Jr.. When things got tied up, Rutgers called timeout with 11 seconds left down by 3.

Rutgers went to Baker off the inbound, who’s forced up shot missed from deep, David Johnson grabbed the rebound, letting out a triumphant yell with 3.8 seconds left. He missed both free throws, but the rebound bounced away and DePaul held on, 73-70.

DePaul’s win brought them to 3-0 on the season. They face Western Illinois on Saturday.

“I’m proud of the way our guys fought and stuck with it,” Stubblefield said.

DePaul played just seven guys all night, compared to Rutgers’ 11. With Jalen Terry and Ahamad Bynum still restricted from playing, DePaul can’t reach that deep for rest. Freeman-Liberty played the full game, with Jones, Johnson and Gebrewhit all playing over 34 minutes.

“We got to find a way, there’s no excuse, you know,” Stubblefield said. “Next man up. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves, nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. So we got to go out there, play hard for 40 minutes and figure it out and find a way.”