Men’s basketball: DePaul drops another close game, this time losing to Butler 73-71


Donald Crocker/The DePaulia

DePaul sophomore guard Jalen Terry looks for a pass during a game meeting against Butler Tuesday night at Wintrust Arena.

As the Big East schedule enters the home stretch of the regular season, by this point, each team knows everyone else’s strengths and weaknesses. 

For DePaul, it’s no secret what the team does well and what it doesn’t do well through 24 games this season. The Blue Demons have become accustomed to getting off to strong starts — in some cases, leading for the majority of the game — but the team still struggles with late-game execution. 

That was on full display against Butler Tuesday night at Wintrust Arena. DePaul led by as many as nine points in the second half, but the Bulldogs stormed back to secure 73-71 victory — sweeping the season series with the Blue Demons. 

“I’m disappointed in our effort for 40 minutes tonight — that’s on me,” DePaul head coach Tony Stubblefield said. “We didn’t come out with intensity that we needed to play at, very lacks, didn’t get the stops when we needed to get stops and just very disappointed in our performance.”

In their first meeting this season, Butler came up with the big plays down the stretch to win by four in Indianapolis. In that game back in December, senior guard Brandon Johnson failed to make a free throw in the closing seconds that would have tied the game. 

On Tuesday, it was Butler’s freshman forward Simas Lukosius who scored 10 points in the final three minutes that made the difference. He banked in a 3-pointer as the shot-clock was about to expire in the final five seconds of the game that put Butler up 72-69. 

Senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty — who missed the previous seven games with a groin injury — knocked down a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game. But Chuck Harris split two free throws and Lukosius came down with the rebound to close out the Bulldogs’ win. 

DePaul drops its overall record to 12-12 and is 3-11 in the Big East. Butler, who sits one spot above the Blue Demons in the conference standings, have won back-to-back conference games for the second time this season. The Bulldogs are now 13-13 overall and 6-9 in the Big East.

DePaul has had trouble closing out games throughout this conference season. The Blue Demons have lost five games by five points or less. 

Butler also had a stretch earlier this season where it lost three consecutive games by a combined seven points. The Bulldogs, however, found a way to make all the big plays when it mattered Tuesday night. 

“It’s a fine line,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said regarding winning close games. “Sometimes you might have to bank in a three. It’s just a fine line between winning and losing.”

It was the same story against No. 11 Providence Saturday night — where DePaul led by 13 in the second half but played timid down the stretch, which resulted in a 76-73 loss in overtime. 

Stubblefield referenced DePaul’s lack of defense late in the second half, which allowed Butler to score 23 points in the final eight minutes. The Bulldogs also shot 50 percent from the field and 85.7 percent from the 3-point line. 

“Tonight, it was on the defensive end,” he said. “We didn’t get stops. We got drove, we didn’t follow the scouting report [and] that’s on me as the coach. There’s got to be more of a sense of urgency to follow the scouting report.”

Sophomore guard David Jones led the team with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting, but he did not score in the final 4:21. All five starters — Freeman-Liberty, Johnson, Jones, Nick Ongenda and Jalen Terry — finished in double figures. 

After DePaul went up 59-50 midway through the second half, Butler responded with a 6-0 run. DePaul held a lead for a couple of more minutes, but Lukosius tied the game two consecutive times and then put Butler up 69-67 with 46 seconds left in the game.

“Well, I think [we] took a couple of bad shots once we got up nine, had some really bad defensive lapses where we gave up some easy points and they got the momentum going, ” Stubblefield said.  

The first half also featured both teams trading baskets and leads. DePaul went up 34-26 late in the half before Butler finished on a 9-1 run to tie the game at 35. 

DePaul is back in action on Thursday when Creighton comes to Wintrust Arena. In the first meeting this season, DePaul led by nine at halftime, 32-23, but ended up losing by 13 due to a poor offensive display in the second half.