DePaul cruises past Loyola (MD) and Western Illinois, start season 2-0


Lucas Paredes

Junior forward Da’Sean Nelson goes for a dunk during Friday night’s 86-74 win over Western Illinois.

DePaul men’s basketball started off the 2022-23 season in the win column after defeating Loyola (MD) 70-63 on Monday night, highlighted by Javan Johnson’s career high 24 points. 

The Blue Demons won their fifth straight season opener and improved to 87-14 all-time in the first game of the season.

“Over the course of 40 minutes, I thought we did some good things at times,” head coach Tony Stubblefield said. “I thought our defensive intensity was good for the first 20 minutes of the game. We did a good job sharing the basketball, I just didn’t think we came out with the same intensity that we needed for that second 20 minutes. We’re glad to get the win, but we know we’ve got a lot of things to get better at.”

Prior to the start of the game, three Blue Demons weren’t dressed to play, including junior guard Caleb Murphy (wrist), senior center Nick Ongenda (wrist) and senior guard Philmon Gebrewhit (coach’s decision).

Ongenda was on the court during pregame warmups, but was seen wearing a cast on his left wrist. Gebrewhit didn’t dress due to non-basketball related reasons, which will be resolved internally.

“With Nick’s [Ongenda] injury, I would say he’s day-to-day, week-to-week and it was kind of a freak accident,” Stubblefield said. “It happened in practice on Saturday. With Phil [Gebrewhit], it’s more of an internal situation. It’s nothing from an injury standpoint and it’s more of an internal situation that we have to work through.”

The Blue Demons were in control of the entire first half, entering the break with a 38-25 lead. Javan Johnson and graduate transfer Umoja Gibson played key roles in the first half.

Johnson’s play was sensational from start to finish, but Gibson’s play on both sides of the ball played a key role in DePaul’s victory Monday night. Gibson finished with 12 points, six assists (career high), five rebounds and three steals. 

The Blue Demons scored 22 of their 72 points off the fast break, primarily led by Gibson forcing turnovers. He believes this is something we could see from him the rest of the season.

“Oh yeah most definitely,” Gibson said. “That’s why Coach Stubbs brought me here to run the point guard position more and just lead the team. You can definitely see me run the fast break more and create more opportunities for others and myself throughout the course of the season.”

Johnson stepped up during last night’s victory notching his first career double-double, scoring 24 points and 10 rebounds, knowing Caleb Murphy and Nick Ongenda weren’t expected to play. 

“I felt like I was scoring throughout the flow of the game,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t forcing too much and Mo [Umoja Gibson] was able to find me a couple of threes. I didn’t feel any pressure because they were hurt. I just played within the game.”

It was all DePaul in the first half, but they struggled to put the game away in the second. The Greyhounds kept batting and after DePaul had multiple 13-point leads throughout the game, eventually the Greyhounds brought it to six.

“We were able to build a 13-point lead a couple times tonight,” Stubblefield said. “We’ve got to be able to build off that lead, but we obviously didn’t do that tonight.”

DePaul snuck out with a win last night. Still, a win is a win. Johnson could be a star in the making for the Blue Demons, as late in the game he delivered when his team needed him most on both ends of the court. The graduate senior forward had a block and steal each to go with shooting four-for-seven beyond the arc.

“I think Javan [Johnson] played extremely well,” Stubblefield said. “He’s a young man that’s worked really hard and I thought he came into his own last year when he had the injury. And obviously he’s bounced back from that injury, worked really hard, had a great summer, fall and preseason for us. He’a a really good player.”

DePaul men’s basketball picked up their second win of the season after defeating Western Illinois 86-74 on Friday night, led by Umoja Gibson’s 24 points and Yor Anei’s career-high five blocks.

“I feel like we played a better game today over the course of 40 minutes than we did on Monday,” head coach Tony Stubblefield said. “I think our guys played with good intensity, we held them to 37% from two and 20% from three, so from a defensive standpoint I really like that. I feel like we still have a lot of room for improvement.”

Prior to the start of the game, similar to Monday, two Blue Demons weren’t dressed to play including junior guard Caleb Murphy (wrist) and senior center Nick Ongenda (hand). 

“He’s [Ongenda] hanging in there, I feel bad for Nick” Stubblefield said. “Nick had one of the best offseasons that I’ve seen a player have from a confidence standpoint of the work he put in. This happened the day before the season opener, so I really feel bad for Nick because he worked extremely hard, but he’ll come back even better from this.”

Senior guard Philmon Gebrewhit was active this time around and logged 18 minutes off the bench, scoring four points, three rebounds and an assist.

The first half of the game was all about graduate transfer Umoja Gibson and he accounted for 17 of DePaul’s 42 first half points. The Leathernecks had no answer for him and double covered graduate student Javan Johnson tightly throughout the game.

“I really was taking what they were giving me,” Gibson said. “They sag off the screen, I was taking my shot. If he was coming up, I was making the right reads and letting the game come to me.”

Gibson stepped up, finishing with 24 points, two rebounds, eight assists and two steals along with shooting four-for-five from beyond the arc. He’s showing off skills that not many Blue Demon guards have had in recent years. Gibson is becoming a true facilitator of the basketball and his performance on Friday night solidified it.

“Mo [Gibson] brings a lot of things to the table,” Stubblefield said. “Obviously, he does a great job scoring the basketball and he had eight assists today. He can defend and he’s got great leadership skills.”

DePaul’s lackluster offense from their starters in the first half kept Western Illinois in it, they went into halftime leading 42-38. Outside of Gibson’s 17 first half points, DePaul’s next leading scorer was junior transfer Da’Seaon Nelson with seven points off the bench.

The Blue Demons starters weren’t producing early on, but once Nelson entered the game off the bench, he ignited a spark that helped DePaul pick up the win Friday night. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and a few dunks during his 26 minutes of court action.

“I’d say it was decent,” Nelson said about his 15 point performance off the bench.

The Blue Demons pulled away in the second half, out-scoring the Lethernecks 44-38, highlighted by graduate student Yor Anei’four blocks. He recorded four blocks in the first five minutes of game action and finished with five total for the game, which was a career high.

“Yor’s an older experienced guy,” Stubblefield said about Yor Anei’s five-block performance. “We expect him to do what he did tonight, he’s a great defender and obviously does a great job at protecting the rim. Yor’s one of the best shot blockers in the country and when he plays with that type of energy, our guys really feed off that.”

The defense paid dividends in the second half for DePaul, setting the tone for the remainder of the game. The Blue Demons took down the Lethernecks Friday night due to their effectiveness on the defensive side of the ball. 

Their defense recorded eight blocks and six steals, while holding Western Illinois to 37.7%from the field and 23.1% from beyond the arc.

DePaul will be back in action on Monday when they travel to Williams Arena to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Tip-off is set for 6:00 PM CST.

“It’s a big challenge for the Big East, Ben Johnson does a great job with his team,” Stubblefield said. “It’s going to be a tough game on the road like any road game. It’s going to be physical like most Big Ten teams play, so it’s definitely going to be a major challenge for us.”

Connect with Tom Gorski: @ThomasGorski33 | [email protected]