Johnson’s 23-point night leads DePaul to 91-70 victory over UTEP


Quentin Blais

Graduate forward Javan Johnson comes down with a rebound in DePaul’s win over UTEP on Saturday.

DePaul bounced back after Wednesday’s lopsided loss to St. John’s with a blowout victory of their own, taking down UTEP with a 91-70 victory Saturday. The Blue Demons’ offense was led by graduate forward Javon Johnson’s 23-points and graduate guard Umoja Gibson’s 17-point second half.

“I’m proud of these guys,” said head coach Tony Stubblefield. “I think that they responded well coming off that loss to St. John’s on Wednesday. When I say responded well, I just didn’t think we played with the intensity that we needed to play with on the road in a Big East game. So, I’m very proud of these guys for the way they bounced back.” 

DePaul’s offense came out slow for a fifth consecutive game and struggled early on scoring points until graduate forward Eral Penn got them on the board at the 17:42 mark. At one point in the first half, DePaul trailed UTEP 20-9.

Penn kept DePaul in the game for the most part, and finished the half with nine points and five rebounds, while shooting 4-of-8 from the field. The graduate forward ended the game with 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Penn’s defensive efforts were made well-aware early on in the game.

“Eral [Penn] plays hard,” Stubblefield said. “When I recruited him, I really felt like the rebounding would translate from LIU. I didn’t know much about the scoring, but his effort that he plays with night in and night out, his rebounding, I knew that would translate.”

The storyline of Saturday’s matchup between DePaul and UTEP was a game full of runs, which included two 7-0 Miners’ runs along with a 9-0 and 12-0 run for the Blue Demons. DePaul ended the first half with a five-minute, 18-4 run, which set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Graduate guard Umoja Gibson dribbles upcourt in DePaul’s nonconference matchup with UTEP at Wintrust Arena Saturday. (Quentin Blais)

The biggest surprise of the first half was the offensive emergence of senior guard Jalen Terry. Terry, who averages 4.9 points per game, scored nine and shot 2-for-3 from three before the break, including a contested three-pointer as time expired. The Flint, Michigan native banked in the near-half-court shot and was fouled on the play. He converted the and-one to finish the four-point play as DePaul went into halftime with a 39-33 lead over the Miners.

“We’re going to take that anytime,” Gibson said. “That gave us a spark and anytime you hit a half court shot like that, the team and the squad on the bench are all jumping around.”

After UTEP connected with two free throws to start the second half, the Blue Demons bounced right back with a 14-0 run to give them a comfortable 53-35 lead. Johnson and Gibson led the way for DePaul during its run, scoring nine of the Demons’ 14 points.

“It was big, to come together and shake that [loss] off,” Johnson said. “I thought we were much more in rhythm in the second half, so it was good to come back and get a win.” 

Johnson was forced to be reckoned with, scoring 13 second half points and finished the game with 23 points, three rebounds and two assists, while shooting 8-of-15 from the field and 5-of-8 from three. 

Saturday was Johnson’s 12th straight double digit game, dating back to the 2021-22 season.

Gibson, who had a quiet first half, scored 17 second-half points that helped lead DePaul to victory. Together, Gibson and Johnson combined for 45 points, again proving to be a reliable offensive duo for the Demons.

DePaul outscored UTEP 52-37 in the second half and their perimeter shooting played a key factor as they shot 8-for-15 from deep.

The Blue Demons finished the game shooting 51.9% from three and 49% from the field, with five players scoring double digits. DePaul made 14 three’s Saturday night and are 3-0 on the season when they make at least 10 in a game.

Saturday was DePaul’s second game so far this season where they shot more than 50% from beyond the arc. The team showed a tremendous amount of depth having 12 players contribute during Saturday’s victory as it was arguably their most balanced game of the season. 

“We have good shooters on this team,” said Stubblefield on DePaul’s perimeter shooting. “When you take good shots and what I mean about good shots is when teammates are making a play for you and we do have good three-point shooters on this team. If our guys are taking good shots, we have the ability to make 10-15 three’s a night.” 

DePaul once again, was short-handed as three players didn’t dress due to injury, including Nick Ongenda (hand), Mo Sall (wrist) and Yor Anei (foot). South Florida transfer Caleb Murphy was dressed and participated in pre-game warm-ups, but didn’t play as he’s still recovering from wrist surgery. The injury has kept the junior guard sidelined since transferring over the summer.

Anei was reevaluated prior to the game, but was seen still wearing a walking boot during pregame warmups. There’s still no specific timetable for his return to the court, but Stubblefield doesn’t believe the injury is season-ending.

“He’s getting close,” Stubblefield said. “I wish I could tell you it’s going to be tomorrow, but now it’s week-to-week and going in the right direction. I’m telling you exactly what [the doctors have] told me. We have a great medical team and they do a great job.”

DePaul (6-4, 0-1) will travel to Duquesne (7-2) on Wednesday night, with tip-off scheduled at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse scheduled for 6:00 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN+.