Men’s basketball: Freeman-Liberty delivers special encore performance in final home game of the season


Ben Zebrowski

DePaul senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty celebrates with his team during a 91-80 victory over Marquette on March 2.

Marquette seemingly had control of the game. Anything the Golden Eagles wanted on the offensive end they got — for 25 minutes. 

Then, DePaul decided to play some defense. The kind of defense that this program has rarely played in the Big East in recent years. 

Yor Anei blocked Justin Lewis’ layup attempt. Jalen Terry proceeded to hit a 3-pointer that put DePaul up 48-46. 

Anei, once again, swatted away Greg Elliot’s layup attempt, which led to a transition 3-pointer for Javon Freeman-Liberty that put the Blue Demons up 51-46. 

And then DePaul was off to the races. The Blue Demons used a 21-5 run in the second half to surge past Marquette for a 91-80 victory at Wintrust Arena.

“Yor is a great shot blocker, best shot blocker I’ve ever been with, him and Nick,” Freeman-Liberty said. “Those guys do what they are supposed to do, always play hard and I can’t thank them enough.”

DePaul has now won three consecutive Big East games for the first time since the 2014-15 season. 

“I’m proud of our guys in the effort that they played with tonight,” Tony Stubblefield said. “We really challenged our guys at halftime to really lock in more defensively.” 

Javon Freeman-Liberty, on senior night, scored 26 points — which included 17 in the second half — on 8-of-20 shooting. DePaul’s senior guard had multiple big shots in the second half that swung the momentum to the home team. 

Terry also had a big night, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds. He was also tasked with guarding the Golden Eagles’ shifty guard Tyler Kolek, who only played 23 minutes, spending most of the second half on the pine.

“Jalen is a guy that we have challenged a little bit more the last couple of days,” he said. “Jalen, obviously, hit some big shots there when we went on that run, but I thought he did a great job defensively on Tyler Kolek.”

Kolek scored two points and only attempted four shots. In the first meeting between these two teams in January, Kolek dished out 10 assists and only turned over the ball two times. On Wednesday, however, the Golden Eagles’ guard had three assists to four turnovers. 

It wasn’t just DePaul’s defense on Kolek that propelled the Blue Demons to victory, it was the energy and intensity with which DePaul played with in the second half that made Marquette look like an NIT team. 

The Golden Eagles shot above 50 percent from the field in the first half, which gave them a 37-33 lead going into halftime. But with Anei’s shot blocking and a bigger emphasis on limiting Marquette’s ability to create open looks, DePaul held the visitors to only 44.4 percent shooting from the field in the second half. 

“It really got us going but I’m just really proud of the effort our guys played with,” Stubblefield said. 

Justin Lewis was the only Marquette player who had a productive offensive night. He finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. 

A much more inspired defensive effort led to plenty of transition opportunities. DePaul scored 30 points in the paint and 17 on the fastbreak in the second half, which also helped get the crowd into the game. 

“DePaul did a phenomenal job getting out in transition and running,” Marquette head coach Shaka Smart said. “We did not do a good enough job of getting back, stopping the ball, getting matched up.” 

A large swath of Marquette fans suddenly went quiet in the middle of DePaul’s 21-5 run. Two dunks from Nick Ongenda and a layup from David Jones put DePaul up 72-55. 

At one point, Freeman-Liberty hoisted a 3-point attempt into the air, started back peddling as the shot was going in and released a huge fist pump.

In the past when DePaul would go up double figures in the second halves of games, the other team would always have an answer. Not Wednesday night. The Blue Demons never let the Golden Eagles back into the game, increasing their lead to 18 with two minutes left in the game. 

A night in which all the seniors got honored before the game, Freeman-Liberty stole the show with another electric second half performance. He scored a career-high 39 points in a win over St. John’s on Sunday, and then followed that up with a 26-point performance Wednesday night.

DePaul is playing its best basketball at the right time. The team is mostly healthy — Javan Johnson remains out with a hand injury — and is peaking at the right time with the Big East Tournament looming in one week. 

The Blue Demons are now 15-14 overall and 6-13 in the Big East, with a regular season finale awaiting them at UConn Saturday afternoon.

“We just got to keep playing how we are playing now, stay focused,” Freeman-Liberty said. “That’s one of the key words we have been using lately — staying focused.”