DePaul drops Big East opener to St. John’s after another slow start


DePaul Athletics

Freshman guard Zion Cruz drives to the basket in DePaul’s loss at St. Johns Wednesday night.

DePaul dropped their Big East conference opener this season to St John’s Wednesday night with a one-sided score of 86-67. The Blue Demons fought back in the second half, but couldn’t overcome yet another slow start to the beginning of the game.

“I’ve been preaching to this team for the last 48 to 72 hours that we’ve got to be ready when

the ball is tipped off and obviously that wasn’t the case tonight,” said head coach Tony Stubblefield. “We’re getting off to slow starts and digging ourselves a hole and having to fight back into the game. We’ve got a lot of work to do in practice and we’ve got to do a better job rebounding the basketball, sharing the basketball. That’s on me as a coach to get these guys to play harder, to get them more prepared and ready to come play a game.”

The first half didn’t go as expected for DePaul, considering their first basket of the game didn’t come until more than five minutes in, while St John’s started with a 12-0 run. The Blue Demons Achilles heel thus far this season is their slow start to games, as they continually struggle to dig themselves out of holes early. 

From an offensive standpoint, DePaul’s stars struggled as both graduate student Javan Johnson and graduate transfer Umoja Gibson combined for only 11 points in the first half. The Blue Demons trailed heading into halftime 40-29 due to DePaul being out-rebounded by St John’s 22-16, along with the Storm also outscoring them 12-3 on the fastbreak.

The second half of the game was barely an improvement, as DePaul was only outscored 46-38 to St. John’s compared to the first half. No comeback was in the works this time around and DePaul’s lack of offense to start games has arguably caught up to them.

DePaul’s defense struggled from start to finish, lacking size when defending St John’s big man Joel Soriano. Soriano finished the game with 17 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks. The Blue Demons’ defense on Wednesday night allowed four Storm players to score double digits and shoot 50% from the field.

“We’ve got to have more effort on the defensive end and have more rebounds,” Stubblefield said. “We need some help and we need all of our guys to be a little bit better.”

DePaul remains undermanned, as three players didn’t dress again due to injury, including Nick Ongenda (hand), Mo Sall (wrist) and Yor Anei (foot). Anei will be reevaluated in the next few days, while Ongenda remains out indefinitely and Sall’s injury status is to be determined.

The only bright spot from DePaul’s lackluster performance against St John’s was four-star recruit Zion Cruz’s best performance of the season, as he’s finally starting to find his place in the offense. Cruz played 21 minutes and scored a career-high 14 points, shooting 6-12 from the field and 2-4 behind the acr, while grabbing two rebounds. 

The Blue Demons lack of depth and size showed Wednesday night, as they were out-rebounded by the Storm 45-35. DePaul seemed to have no one on the roster who could go toe-to-toe with Joel Soriano, who had 14 rebounds alone.

“We are missing Yor [Anei] and Nick [Ongenda] and I’m sure that plays a part of it, but these guys are getting an opportunity and they’ve got to take advantage of these opportunities,”  Stubblefield said. “I just got to get more out of these guys. They’re fighting, but we’ve got to be fighting as a team and staying together as a team.”

DePaul (5-4, 0-1) will host UTEP (6-2) on Saturday night with tip-off scheduled at Wintrust Arena for 5:30 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcasted on FS1.