DePaul falls to Oklahoma State in first round of NCAA Tournament

DURHAM, N.C. – Last year was the “Magnificent Seven.”

This year, sans catchy moniker, the DePaul women’s basketball team faced just as much adversity both on and off the court as before.

Injuries – most notably to star senior guard Anna Martin – and ever-shuffling rotations beleaguered the Blue Demons all season long, forcing the team to constantly adapt on the fly.

DePaul’s slipped from its uphill climb to its nadir Sunday afternoon, as the Blue Demons lost to the Oklahoma State Cowgirls, 73-56, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“Every [tournament] is unique. Earning your way in is unique. It’s not easy to do this,” said head coach Doug Bruno. “This has really, really been a rough year because of all the things that have happened – we’ve never really been able to get any on-court cohesion – and to be able to piece it together for this team to get into the tournament is something that they should be proud of.”

Champions of the WNIT title last year, Oklahoma State (22-10) charged out of the gates led by senior forward Toni Young, who finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Young hit her first eight shots of the contest, the first half of which OSU controlled handily. After a quick 7-0 to start the game, the Cowgirls fed off the inside play of Young, who hit both swooping layups and turnaround jumpers.

A 10-1 run that gave OSU a 26-13 lead with 12 minutes to play in the first half dug DePaul into a deeper hole, a situation only alleviated by the performances of seniors Anna Martin and Katherine Harry. In their final games in a Blue Demon uniform, Martin finished with a team-high 12 points, while Harry grabbed 17 rebounds to go with six points.

“We just couldn’t get anything going right away. They were dominating us on the glass at first and we couldn’t get into a flow on offense that was helpful,” said Harry. “It’s hard to get things going when you’re down 15 or more.”

After a Brittany Hrynko 3-pointer at the first period buzzer gave DePaul a manageable 42-31 halftime deficit, the Blue Demons came out of the locker room much more assertive. Combining defensive stops with good looks on the offensive end, which were hard to come by in the first 20 minutes, DePaul stormed back to within 44-40.

But as more time wore on, OSU regained its composure and went on a 15-2 tear that gave them a 60-46 lead with five minutes left.

“They did a good job, went and doubled some passes and we got a little careless with the basketball,” said Oklahoma State head coach Jim Littell. “Characteristic of a Doug Bruno team is that they’re never gonna quit, they’re always gonna compete. They got a nice surge on us and I think you’ve gotta compliment them for playing well, playing hard. We got tentative on some plays and I think that’s what allowed the lead to disappear.”

“I thought they had momentum the majority of the game. With that slight moment of change – we were hitting a few shots, making a few layups – our pressure disrupted them,” said Martin. “But I think as much as our pressure disrupted them, it took a little away from us as well. They’re a really good defensive team and we just couldn’t hit shots.”

The Demons’ were hampered even more during the Cowgirls’ run by a field goal drought that lasted over nine minutes, ended by a Megan Rogowski triple. The deep shot was far too little, too late, a rare good look on offense for DePaul all game. The Blue Demons shot just 25 percent (20-80 FG) from the field, 8-for-37 from beyond the arc.

“We knew coming out of the half that there was no 11-point play we could make, so you have to just chip away at it,” said Harry. “I thought we did a really good job those first five to seven minutes of running out at them, getting a stop on them on the defensive end and then coming back on offense, getting the shots that we wanted. We just couldn’t sustain it. We got close, made a couple stupid mistakes and then it just got away from us.”

With just a couple minutes remaining, Bruno subbed out his two seniors, who headed to the bench for the final time disappointed, but in no way ashamed of their accomplishments. While losing in the tournament’s first round was not their goal, Martin and Harry’s careers will not be blemished.

“You never want to leave the court like that, but I’m just really proud of the team that we had this year,” said Harry. “We easily could’ve given up, but it just shows our resiliency, our fight.”