Freeman-Liberty’s career night spoiled by Gillespie, Villanova


Nate Burleyson

Villanova guard Colin Gillespie, who scored 28 points, dribbling into the paint in the second half.

In front of an electric crowd of 3,839 attendees, DePaul held its own for the first 30 minutes of the game before losing its grip, ultimately ending senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty’s career night with a tough 79-64 loss against No. 15 ranked conference opponent Villanova. The loss keeps the Blue Demons winless in conference play.

The Blue Demons started the game strong, setting the tone on both ends of the floor. Sophomore forward David Jones scored the first basket of the game with a pull-up jumper in the paint. Freeman-Liberty followed up with his first basket of the game, pulling up from the 3-point line to give the team a 5-2 lead. He built on his good start with a strong defensive play that led to a transition layup by sophomore guard Jalen Terry to extend the lead to five with 15 minutes left in the first half.

Freeman-Liberty scored another 3-point basket to give the team a 10-6 lead. From that point on, DePaul struggled to score, and went through a three-minute drought without a field goal.

Freeman-Liberty broke that drought with an and-one layup off an out of bounds play to keep the game close. Jones comes back with a 3-point shot to beat the shot-clock buzzer to give DePaul a 17-15 lead with 10 minutes left in the half. Freeman-Liberty took his man off the dribble the next possession to maintain DePaul’s lead. Villanova responded with a 6-0 run before Freeman-Liberty scored the next four points to tie the game at 23. The game went back and forth throughout the first half, until DePaul went on a 8-0 run spearheaded by Freeman-Liberty to give the team a 34-28 lead. Freeman-Liberty capped off the first half with a 3-point jump shot near the end of the shot clock to give the team a 37-32 lead going into the break.

Freeman-Liberty led all scorers with 22 points in the first half, followed by Jones for DePaul with 8 points. Graduate forward Brandon Johnson contributed 3 points of his own. The team shot 44 percent from the field.

DePaul’s second half was a house of horrors that exposed the team’s offensive struggles. The team came out flat in the first two minutes, and DePaul didn’t score their first basket of the half until the 17-minute mark thanks to a pull-up jump shot by junior guard Philmon Gebrewhit. Due to the drought, the Blue Demons lost their halftime lead.

Villanova started pulling away, going on a 7-0 run to extend DePaul’s deficit to eight. Freeman-Liberty tried to keep the game close, but the Blue Demons went seven minutes without scoring a basket. Villanova was too much for the Blue Demons, with senior guard and reigning Big East co-Player of the Year Collin Gillespie leading a second-half shooting clinic to the tune of 55 percent shooting from the field and 56 percent shooting from the three.

DePaul finished the game shooting 35 percent from the field and 24 percent from the 3-point line. Freeman-Liberty scored a career high 34 points, while Jones was the only other DePaul player in double figures with 12 points.

Head coach Tony Stubblefield gave credit to Villanova’s play today, highlighting the Wildcats’ connected team play.

“There is a reason Villanova is a top-20 team in the country,” Stubblefield said. “They are a very well connected, experienced team and you have to beat them, because they won’t beat themselves.”

Freeman-Liberty had a strong first half, but slowed down in the second half, largely due to Villanova’s defense. He praised Villanova for playing as a unit, particularly when it came to slowing him down on the offensive end.

“[Villanova] is a good defensive team,” Freeman-Liberty said. “Those guys came together on the defensive end to try to stop me or the team as a whole. They came together as one on the defensive end.”

Per Stubblefield, the Blue Demons need to learn how to play 40 minutes of basketball.

As the team struggled in the second half, the lack of a consistent scoring option besides Freeman-Liberty became apparent. The team has a trend so far this season that includes long stretches of scoreless basketball in the most inopportune times. Knowing Freeman-Liberty’s efforts alone were not enough to get the team over the hump, Stubblefield emphatically stated that the offensive load cannot be put solely on the guard’s shoulders.

“We have to get some more production inside,” Stubblefield said. “[Javon] played a great game, but we cannot put it all on him. We got to have a second, third and fourth scoring option. Guys need to step up offensively. That is where we are going through some lapses of not having that scoring option.”

The team has not won a conference game yet, but history shows that there is still hope that the team can make the NCAA Tournament. During Stubblefield’s 2013-14 season as an assistant coach at the University of Oregon, the team lost five of its first six games in conference play before managing to finish third in the conference and participating in March Madness as a 7-seed. When asked what takeaways could he use to implement for this team moving forward, Stubblefield said it’s a matter of maintaining the right outlook. But the most important factor is getting that first win.

“You have to stay positive and connected and you can run off five or six wins, but you have to get that one win first,” he said. “That year [at Oregon] we lost some close games and some tough games, but you cannot give in.”

The Blue Demons play conference rival Marquette in Milwaukee at 6 p.m. CST on FS1.