DePaul’s late-game comeback falls short in 78-70 loss to Butler


DePaul Athletics

Graduate Senior guard Umoja Gibson dribbles at the top of the key against the Butler Bulldogs Graduate Senior guard Eric Hunter Jr. during Wednesday’s 78-70 loss at the Hinkle Fieldhouse.

INDIANAPOLIS — DePaul dropped their third Big East conference game of the season to Butler by a score of 78-70. The Blue Demons unsurprisingly had another slow start to the game and fought back in the second half, but could not find a way to overcome Bulldogs graduate student Eric Hunter Jr’s 23-point night.

“I thought we did some good things during that game,” head coach Tony Stubblefield said. “But anytime you give up 30 free throws, it’s going to be hard to beat a team. We didn’t get stops at critical times and they did. They are a good basketball team that can hurt you in a lot of different areas and they did that to us tonight. I thought our guys had a lot of fight, being down 13 with five minutes to go. We stayed in the game to give ourselves a chance.”

DePaul falls to 7-9 on the season and 1-4 in Big East play. Their only win came against Georgetown, who just set a record losing 25 straight conference games. The record was originally held by DePaul, who at one point lost 24 consecutive conference games.

Butler’s perimeter shooting was more consistent than DePaul’s from start to finish and the box score proved it. The Bulldogs shot 7-of-15 (46.6%) from three, compared to the Blue Demons’ 8-for-27 (25%).

“They are a good defensive team and I thought we got some good looks,” Stubblefield said of the team’s three-point shooting. “You know when Jalen Terry and Javan Johnson go 1-for-11 between those two guys it’s going to be hard to win a game. You’ve got Javan Johnson who is shooting almost over 40% and Jalen was shooting 30-something percent coming into this game. They got some good looks, and unfortunately we just didn’t knock them in tonight.”

There weren’t many bright spots for DePaul during Wednesday’s loss, but graduate student Umoja Gibson continues his high-level play for the Blue Demons. Gibson finished the game recording a team-high 16-points, three rebounds and eight assists, while connecting with 3-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Gibson has established himself as the leader of the team and continues to lead by example, game-in, game-out. Stubblefield’s addition of Gibson has paid dividends for a team that has been short-handed and faced a fair share of adversity since the start of the season.

“We’re asking a lot out of Mo [Gibson],” said Stubblefield. “He plays extremely hard when he’s in the game and makes plays for guys. Obviously he can shoot the basketball and has the ability to score. We’re asking him to do a lot, without Caleb Murphy right now. We’re asking him to do a little bit more than probably the plan was when he came in, but he’s doing it.”

Senior Philmon Gebrewhit provided an offensive spark off the bench during the team’s comeback that fell just short. He finished the game scoring 9 points, shooting 2-for-3 from three, while also recording a rebound and an assist.

“It definitely helps,” Stubblefield said of Gebrewhit’s offensive spark off the bench. “Phil [Gebrewhit] has the ability to be able to knock down shots, and he came in and knocked down a couple big shots in the second half. Seeing him do that definitely gives me a lot of confidence in him and I hope he can continue to do that.”

DePaul’s defense held strong for a majority of the game and recorded eight blocks and three steals while forcing eight Bulldog turnovers. The Blue Demons outscored the Bulldogs in the second half and almost completed the improbable comeback due to their defensive performance in the final 20 minutes of play.

“I thought our guys were solid,” Stubblefield said of DePaul’s defensive performance. “We just didn’t force turnovers, but that’s a testament to Butler. They are a good team. Their guards didn’t turn it over, they didn’t get rattled and they were strong with the basketball. They are a hard team to defend because they can hurt you inside, they can hurt you outside.”

Butler struggled against Stubblefield’s ball screen defense from the start and was one of the main reasons the Blue Demons nearly made a comeback.

“It’s just kind of what we do on offense,” Stubblefield said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say they struggled. We scored on them a couple times and of course Coach [Matta] is smart enough he is going to switch it up on you too. So they did a good job in adjusting their defense. We were able to get a couple buckets early in the second half and then they made some adjustments defensively that made it a little tougher for us.”

The Blue Demons had three players who didn’t play due to injury yet again, including Nick Ongenda (hand), Mo Sall (wrist) and Caleb Murphy (wrist). 

Murphy still hasn’t played this season and remains sidelined with his return to the court yet to be determined. Ongenda is out indefinitely, and there has been little to no information released about Sall’s injury timetable.

DePaul (7-9, 1-4) will host Villanova (8-7, 2-2) on Tuesday night for the start of their critical three-game homestand with tip off scheduled at Wintrust Arena for 8:00 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.