DePaul nabs first Red Line Rivalry win since 2011 in OT victory


Erin Henze

Graduate guard Umoja Gibson breaks down Loyola defenders in DePaul’s overtime win on Saturday.

DePaul men’s basketball picked up its first Red Line Rivalry win since 2011 in a 78-72 overtime victory over Loyola Chicago on Saturday. The Blue Demons overcame a 13-point halftime deficit by outscoring the Ramblers 54-35 in the second period and overtime, led by graduate student Javon Johnson’s 27 points.

“I’m really proud of these guys,” said head coach Tony Stubblefield. “This is a very resilient group of guys that play hard and continue to fight. Our guys could’ve easily gotten discouraged and given in to them when we were down by 17 on the road in a hostile environment and they fought through it.”

The Ramblers dominated the first half of Saturday’s Red Line Rivalry, shooting 68.2% from the field and 62.5% from beyond the arc. DePaul was also out-rebounded by Loyola 18-8 in – arguably – its worst first half of the season from both an offensive and defensive standpoint.

The turning point of the first half was when Loyola went on a 12-0 run that held DePaul scoreless for 4:49. The Blue Demons offense was nearly non-existent during the stretch, and once again got off to a slow start.

Loyola led for 31:02 minutes of the game with its largest lead reaching 17 points. 

The Ramblers went into halftime with a 37-24 lead, and the Blue Demons’ offensive performance looked bleak, considering they shot 32% from the field and 20% from deep. Before Saturday, Loyola-Chicago head coach Drew Valentine touted a 20-1 record when leading at half time. At the break, the odds weren’t necessarily in DePaul’s favor.

If DePaul had any hopes of making a comeback, Stubblefield was going to have to deliver his most inspirational halftime speech of the season. Saturday’s game wasn’t just another non-conference game for the players, it was a battle for the city of Chicago and Loyola’s Gentile Arena had a playoff-like atmosphere to it.

“This is bigger than the individuals in that locker room,” Stubblefield said. “This is about DePaul and the name on the front of that jersey. They didn’t go out there and play like that for the first 20 minutes. This is a rivalry. This is important for the city of Chicago.”

The players wouldn’t reveal what the speech was at halftime, but something clicked and the message was made loud and clear.

“Coach set the tone for the second half,” said graduate guard Umoja Gibson. “At halftime, he gave us a motivational speech, but I was also telling the guys, ‘We have to come out as a tougher team. We have to play collectively.’”

DePaul’s offense came out firing in the second half after starting with a 7-0 run that cut Loyola’s lead from 13 to six. Unfortunately for DePaul, the Ramblers had a 7-0 run of their own.

This time around when adversity hit, DePaul bounced back and didn’t give in. The Blue Demons went on a 16-3 run that brought their deficit within two points. Saturday’s game proved to be an absolute collapse by Loyola that few saw coming inside Gentile Arena.

Javan Johnson and Umoja Gibson’s veteran presence and experience in hostile environments paid dividends during DePaul’s unlikely comeback. The two transfers combined for 50 points and scored 44 of them in the second half and overtime. They showed up in crunch time when the team needed them most.

“Javan [Johnson] and Mo [Gibson] are doing what we recruited them to do,” said Stubblefield . “They are older, experienced guards and they’ve played a lot of college basketball.”

After finishing regulation tied at 60, the teams headed for overtime, where Javan Johnson and Umoja Gibson took over offensively, scoring all 18 of DePaul’s overtime points. 

Johnson, similar to what he’s done all season, put the offense on his back and he went on an 8-0 run by himself to give DePaul a 70-64 lead with 1:42 left in overtime. 

“I just got into a rhythm,” said Johnson on his second half and overtime performance. “I needed to see the ball go through the net, and once I did, I got my scoring going.”

Loyola was on the verge of a comeback, cutting DePaul’s lead to three with 42 seconds left, but a Gibson’s three-point shot daggered the heart of the fan’s to give DePaul a 73-67 lead. Gentile Arena went silent in disbelief, knowing that the game was more than likely out of reach. 

Big-time players make big-time plays, and that’s exactly what Gibson did against Minnesota in crunch time earlier this season, and now, against Loyola-Chicago as well. He finished the game with 23 points, four assists and four steals, while connecting four-of-five from beyond the arc.

DePaul’s 17-point comeback against Loyola on Saturday was its largest since Nov. 26, 2019, where the Blue Demons overcame an 18-point deficit against Central Michigan.

DePaul continues to play short-handed. Three Blue Demons did not dress again due to injury, which included Nick Ongenda (hand), Mo Sall (wrist) and Yor Anei (foot). Stubblefield told the media postgame that Anei will be reevaluated this week.

The bright news is that South Florida transfer Caleb Murphy was off the injury report and took pre-game warmups with the team. Murphy didn’t play against the Ramblers Saturday, but his participation in warm-ups was significant news.

“He has been cleared to return to basketball activities,” said Stubblefield about Murphy’s status going forward. “Again, that wouldn’t be fair for me to put Caleb in that game today, in that type of environment when he hasn’t practiced enough up to this point. So he’s going to need some time to get his rhythm back to get his win. I don’t know exactly how long that will take him, but I hope sooner than later.”

The Blue Demons improved to a 39-19 all-time record against the Ramblers, and secured their first Red Line Rivalry victory since 2011. 

Saturday could be the last time these two teams face off for some time, as the future of the Red Line Rivalry matchups between DePaul and Loyola seem up in the air. Rambler head coach Drew Valentine said he would love to continue the rivalry, but claimed DePaul doesn’t want to play it anymore.

“It’s a fun rivalry,” Valentine said. “I hope that we get to continue it. As far as I know, they don’t want to play it. I’m hoping that it continues at some point, because I think it does a lot for the city, and obviously, I think our programs are very close in level.”

DePaul (5-3) will travel to St. John’s (8-0) in Queens, New York on Wednesday night for the start of Big East Conference play, with tip-off scheduled for 5:30 p.m. CST on FS1.