Demons’ defense struggles as UConn has three players score 20+ points during 90-76 win over DePaul


Jack Dombro

Junior forward Da’Sean Nelson attempts a shot between UConn defenders in DePaul’s loss to the Huskies Tuesday Night.

DePaul’s losing streak extends to four for the first time this season after losing to UConn, 90-76 against no. 24 UConn on Tuesday night at Wintrust Arena. Stubblefields’ stagnant defense allowed the Huskies to finish the game with three 20+ point scorers, who were led by sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins’ 26-point night.

“UConn has a very good basketball team,” said head coach Tony Stubblefield. “There’s a reason they were the number two team in the country at one time. They have a lot of talent on that team and if you want to have a chance against a team like that, you have to put a full 40 minutes together.”

With the loss, the Blue Demons fell to 9-13 on the season and 3-9 in Big East conference play.

Tuesday night was DePaul’s fourth ranked opponent in its last five games. The team has yet to pull out a victory since its improbable upset win over No. 16 Xavier on Jan. 18. The Blue Demons have now lost 10 out of their last 13 games.

UConn controlled the game from start to finish and led for a total 34 minutes, and out-rebounded DePaul 38-25. Stubblefield has yet to find a solution in the paint to replace senior center Nick Ongenda who has yet to see the court since suffering an injury prior to the start of the season. 

“Nick [Ongenda] is a big part of our team,” Stubblefield said. “Obviously we do miss him, but other guys just have to step up and we aren’t getting it done defensively.” 

DePaul kept it close early, after graduate forward Javan Johnson scored eight of the team’s first 10 points to start the game. Johnson finished the first half with a team-high 10 points, but was held scoreless the final 14:17 minutes of the half.

“I don’t think there was too much they did,” Johnson said of UConn’s defensive adjustments. “I just gotta be more aggressive.”

The Blue Demons were 8-1 heading into Tuesday night when Johnson scored 15 points or more and 1-12 when he didn’t. Johnson ended the night with 19 points and DePaul still lost. 

“I think we guarded him a little bit better, but he hit some hard shots,” said UConn head coach Dan Hurley. “The kid is a heck of a shot-maker and I give the kid a lot of credit. The kid is a talent.”

The Huskies shot 52% from the field in the first half, while scoring 26 points in the paint led by junior center Adama Sanogo, who recorded 12 first-half points himself. UConn finished the game scoring 42 points in the paint and only needed to connect on four three-pointers.

An 18-7 UConn run finished the first half as the Blue Demons scoreless for the final three minutes until junior guard Caleb Murphy converted a contested layup with two seconds left.

Murphy was injured on the play and limped off the court. The South-Florida transfer didn’t re-enter the game until the 6:07 mark in the second half, but was subbed-out less than two minutes later after not being able to put any pressure on his right leg. 

There wasn’t an official update on Murphy after the game, but the early indication is he tweaked his right ankle.

DePaul started to inch its way closer in the second half after going on a 15-2 run that lasted for more than five minutes. The Huskies couldn’t get anything to land, while DePaul saw an offensive emergence from junior forward Da’Sean Nelson.

Nelson scored 15 of his 16 points in the second half and added three rebounds and two steals.

“I thought Da’Sean played well in the second half,” Stubblefield said. “He’s just gotta stay focused and put a full 35-to-38 minutes a game together. He just has to be a little bit more solid fundamentally.”

Freshman guard Zion Cruz had a short-least Tuesday night and couldn’t necessarily get into a groove offensively. Cruz was eventually benched for junior guard K.T. Raimey after committing a technical foul early in the second half. Raimey finished the game with 10-points, while connecting with two from beyond the arc.

After the game, Stubblefield told the media why he chose to play Raimey over the struggling Cruz.

“His [Raimey] ability to make a shot,” Stubblefield said. “K.T. can really shoot the basketball and he hasn’t had a lot of opportunities up to this point in the year, so I thought he came in and did a great job tonight.”

Cruz re-entered the game late in the second half after graduate guard Umoja Gibson fouled out and the team was short-handed without both senior guards Jalen Terry and Philmon Gebrewhit out due to injury.

Gebrewhit suffered an injury earlier in the day and there weren’t any updates on his status after the game.

DePaul (9-13, 3-9) will travel to South Orange, New Jersey for a matchup against Seton Hall (13-9, 6-5) on Sunday morning with tip-off scheduled at the Prudential Center for 11:00 a.m. The game will be broadcast on FS1.