Graduate forward Javan Johnson surveys a Samford defender in the first half of DePaul’s 103-98 overtime win on Wednesday. (Patrick Sloan-Turner)
Graduate forward Javan Johnson surveys a Samford defender in the first half of DePaul’s 103-98 overtime win on Wednesday.

Patrick Sloan-Turner

Johnson’s second half heroics lead DePaul to overtime thriller win over Samford

December 1, 2022

DePaul men’s basketball bounced back Wednesday night, snapping a three-game losing streak and winning an overtime thriller against Samford by a score of 103-98. DePaul improved to 4-3 on the season with the win, highlighted by graduate Javan Johnson’s career-high 28 points.

“I’m proud of our guys,” head coach Tony Stubblefield said. “I thought they were resilient tonight. They showed a lot of fight to come back and play five more minutes and come out with this victory. I told our guys that this was going to be a challenge and we were going to have to play. Very happy that we were able to get the win. We just have to take the next couple of days and continue to get better.”

DePaul continues to play short-handed. Again, four Blue Demons did not dress due to injury, which include Nick Ongenda (hand), Caleb Murphy (wrist), Yor Anei (foot) and Mo Sall, who was seen pre-game with his arm in a sling. Their return to action remains undetermined with no new updates, according to Stubblefield post Wednesday’s game.

Junior forward Da’Sean Nelson slams home a dunk in the second half of DePaul’s overtime win over Samford at Wintrust Arena Wednesday Night. (Patrick Sloan-Turner)

“I promise you guys I want these guys back as soon as possible,” Stubblefield said. “You know, it’s just a matter of a time frame and what the process is for these guys. Hopefully they come back sooner than later, but I can’t tell you [exactly when]. There’s got to be a week, two weeks, three weeks…you know, they’ll go back to the doctor and we’ll go from there.”

The first half was a back and forth three-point contest between the teams, but DePaul came out on top and went into halftime with a 50-49 lead. 

DePaul shot 60% from beyond the arc, which included five Blue Demons connecting with at least two from deep. DePaul’s 18 made three-point field goals were the most they’ve connected with in a game since 1995.

The Blue Demons finished the game shooting 52.9% from three; a season high.

“I thought we took good threes,” Stubblefield said. “ We have really good shooters and I tell these guys, you’re going to have some games where you shoot the ball really, really well and and you’re going to have some games where you don’t shoot the ball well. We were fortunate enough to get it done.”

DePaul’s offense struggled early on in the contest against Samford’s zone, but highly touted freshman Zion Cruz provided a nice spark off the bench to jump-start the Blue Demons offensive run late in the first half. Cruz scored seven points, shooting three-of-four from the field in the first half.

Cruz finished the game scoring nine points and grabbing three rebounds, while shooting four-of-five from the field during his 15 minutes of court action.

“I thought he [Cruz] brought some energy and that’s what we needed Zion to be able to do,” Stubblefield said. “Zion is a talented young man, but he’s a freshman. He’s getting acclimated into getting adjusted to this, but I do think that he came in and provided a spark. I thought Zion had some good practices leading up to this point this week and I think that paid off for him, so we just need him to continue to grow for us and be able to help this team.”

The second half was the Javan Johnson show, as he was the reason DePaul picked up the victory on Wednesday night after scoring 22 of his 28 points in the second half. 

With about one minute left in regulation, DePaul was up 87-82, but a late-game collapse forced overtime due to multiple Blue Demon fouls that brought the Bulldogs to the line, allowing Samford to inch their way back. Samford scored a last second layup by Jermaine Marshall to tie the score 89-89 with only three seconds left, leaving Wintrust Arena silent as the game headed to overtime.

DePaul’s starting five huddle together before the start of the second half in DePaul’s win over Samford Wednesday night. (Patrick Sloan-Turner)

Johnson stepped up big in overtime and hit the Bulldogs with a three-point go-ahead score in crunch time to give the Blue Demons a 94-93 lead with 2:08 remaining. Afterwhich, DePaul hung onto the lead the rest of the way.

“We were on a three-game skid, so I was just trying to do anything that I could to help,” Johnson said about his clutch three-point shot. “I wasn’t really worried about the moment. It’s a shot that I work on every day, so just step in and knock it down.”

Moments later, graduate Umoja Gibson hit a deep three-point dagger to extend DePaul’s lead to 97-93 with 1:38 remaining. At that point, it was too late for Samford to make a comeback. All the momentum favored the Blue Demons.

Gibson has been a big addition for the Blue Demons this offseason, not because of his pure talent, but because of his veteran leadership as an older player. Coming from Oklahoma, Gibson played in a handful of high pressure games. When tonight’s game became close in crunch time, Gibson knew he had to step up and get the team’s composure under control or they would lose.

“We just gotta stick together, pull out and show some grit,” Gibson said. “The last five minutes of overtime, we just had to stick together and pull through as a team. That’s basically what I was telling everyone in the huddle.” 

The Blue Demons picked up the 102-98 victory, but there is still a cause for concern as 98 points is the most given up by a Stubblefield defense over the last two seasons. 

“I thought the last three to four minutes of that overtime, our guys really sat down and got after it,” Stubblefield said. “Obviously, 98 points is too many points, but I do think we did a better job of guarding in the second half.”

One of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s Blue Demon performance was the team had a season-high 24 assists, accounting for 75% of their field goals. Gibson led the team in assists with nine, along with 18 points on the night.

“It’s big-time,” Gibson said about DePaul’s assist total. “Coach emphasized that in practice, swing the ball coming off the ball screen, and just play together as a unit. Those assists are big, but I’ve got to limit the turnovers.” 

DePaul (4-3) will travel to Loyola-Chicago (3-4) on Saturday afternoon for a crosstown matchup against the rival Ramblers with tip-off scheduled at Gentile Arena for 3:00 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcasted on NBC Sports Chicago.

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