Men’s basketball: Freeman-Liberty leads DePaul past Western Illinois


Donald Crocker

DePaul senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty scored a career-high 33 points in the team’s win over Western Illinois Saturday night at Wintrust Arena.

It was not always a pretty site to see, but the Blue Demons pulled off their opening win to their Blue Demon Classic against Western Illinois 84-80 behind a historical performance by their leader, senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty. 

DePaul started the game off strong with a basket off the glass by David Jones, followed by a jab-step jumpshot by Freeman-Liberty. However, the team cooled off and Western Illinois kept the game close thanks to shooting 42 percent from the field and 35 percent from the three-point line. Both teams traded baskets early on, and every time Western Illinois threw their punches, DePaul came back with answers, including key baskets from Nick Ongenda in a pretty even first half. 

Although struggling to shoot well in the half, the team was able to stay afloat through the free throw line, shooting 75 percent from the free throw line. Freeman-Liberty scored the final basket of the first half to tie the game at 36 heading into halftime. It was a pretty even half, considering both teams committed six turnovers and scored almost identical points in the paint, with DePaul leading that department 18 to 16. 

DePaul ended the first half with shooting 39 percent from the field, and only 19 percent from the three with one three accounted for by Philmon Gebrewhit. Ongenda led the way with 12 points while Freeman-Liberty scored 6 points and contributed with 8 rebounds. 

The start of the second half was a polar opposite than the start to the first half for the Blue Demons. Western Illinois shifted the momentum on the defensive end and came out swinging offensively with a 10-6 run and DePaul struggled to make any easy baskets in the paint.

DePaul attempted to stop the bleeding thanks to a Jones and-1 that brought DePaul’s deficit to 51-47, and the aggressive play of Freeman-Liberty and Brandon Johnson kept the Blue Demons close, knocking the deficit to only two points with 8 minutes left in the game.

Freeman-Liberty came to life to rescue the team, scoring the next eight points to give DePaul a 65-61 lead with 5 minutes left to play. The team went on a 14-0 run to help finish the game with Freeman-Liberty scoring 27 points in the second half and 17 points in the last five minutes of the game.

Freeman-Liberty hit two clutch free throws to end the game. He finished the game with a 33 point, 11 rebound double-double. Johnson and Ongenda dropped 15 points each while Jones contributed 12 points of his own.

Freeman-Liberty led the team to victory by doing everything on the court. Head coach Tony Stubblefield praised Freeman-Liberty’s effort to lead his team to victory.

“[Javon] is a very good player and a great person,” Stubblefield said. “He put himself in this position by the work he has put in the fall up to this point on his game. He has a high basketball IQ and we are asking him to do a lot. He is doing a great job for us and I’m very happy for him.” 

Freeman-Liberty has now played 80 minutes in the last two games. Although he played the entire of two straight games without much of a rest, he says he is feeling good and prepared to handle whatever is being thrown at him. 

“I’m feeling really good. We actually run a lot so I don’t want to say I’m built for this but I prepare myself for stuff like this.” 

Freeman-Liberty understands his spotlight, but he does not want to acknowledge his efforts on the court, deferring to his teammates and reiterating that tonight’s win was a team effort.

“I’m not going to just talk about my performance because it was a team effort,” Freeman-Liberty said. “We got stops, which is what we’ve been preaching all day. I know it was hard for us and it was a tough game but we did it. As that senior leader, I got them in the right spots for me to make stuff happen for us.” 

DePaul came back from a single-digit deficit to win, but the last minute of the game gave plenty of chances for Western Illinois to steal the game. The Blue demons eliminated those chances by making free throws down the stretch. Freeman-Liberty acknowledged that his takeover mentality was due to the fact that he simply does not want to lose.

“I don’t want to lose, and being that senior leader on the floor I feel like I got my guys together and came in and got the win,” Freeman-Liberty said. 

The team pulled through and shot almost tripled the amount of free throws Western Illinois did. Stubblefield is happy for the win but acknowledges that he has to coach better in the beginning and ending of games. 

“I got to do a better job of finishing out games and getting our guys prepared to start games better,” Stubblefield said. “I got to do a better job putting them in position and coaching them up to get the game a little faster.”

Freeman-Liberty echoed the similar sentiment, knowing that the team has recently played better second halves versus the first halves of games. He believes that cannot keep happening if they want to win games in the future, especially in conference play.

“That is something we really have to work on,” Freeman-Liberty said. “A lot of times like this we aren’t going to get, especially in the conference. We are not going to get that second chance to have that second boost so we really have to work on that.” 

The Blue Demons next game will be played at Wintrust Arena against Northern Kentucky on Friday, Nov. 26th at 4 p.m.