Dayton beats DePaul 88-57 in inaugural women’s First Four

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AMES, Iowa — Erin Whalen scored a career-high 28 points, hitting seven of Dayton’s 13 3-pointers and the 11th-seeded Flyers eased past DePaul 88-57 on Wednesday night in the inaugural women’s First Four.

Dayton (26-5), making its 10th NCAA Tournament appearance, advanced to play No. 6 seed Georgia on Friday in the Greensboro Region.

Jenna Giacone scored 19 of her 21 points in a dominate first half for the Flyers.

Dayton made 11 of 13 3-pointers in the first half while holding DePaul, the nation’s scoring leader at 88.3 points a game, to just 11 of 37 from the field. Whalen made Dayton’s eighth straight 3-pointer of the first half for a 46-27 lead. The Flyers entered averaging 5.9 3-pointers per game.

Whalen and Giacone combined for three 3-pointers during a 9-0 run in the first quarter and they added five 3-pointers in the opening seven minutes of the second quarter. Whalen and Giacone scored 19 straight Dayton points in the second quarter before a Makira Cook basket gave the Flyers a 19-point lead with 1:41 left.

Giacone made all four of her 3-point attempts in the first half and 6 of 8 shots overall. Whalen added 17 points and Cook had 14 to help Dayton build a 55-32 lead at the break.

Cook finished with 16 points and Tenin Magassa had eight points, 14 rebounds and seven of Dayton’s season-high 15 blocks. Giacone added five blocks. The Flyers, the Atlantic 10 regular-season champs, held opponents to 54.7 points a game this season.

DePaul shot just 27.1%.

Star freshman Aneesah Morrow had 28 points and 17 rebounds for her nation-leading 27th double-double of the season in 33 games for DePaul (22-11). Lexi Held added nine points for the Blue Demons, who had just eight players available.

All-Big East: Gillespie unanimous, Champagnie honored again

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NEW YORK — Villanova guard Collin Gillespie was the only unanimous pick for the all-Big East team Sunday, and St. John’s forward Julian Champagnie joined him as a repeat selection.

Connecticut guard R.J. Cole and forward Adama Sanogo also were on the first team, along with Marquette forward Justin Lewis and Seton Hall swingman Jared Rhoden.

Gillespie, the co-Big East player of the year last season, is averaging 16.3 points per game to pace the 11th-ranked Wildcats. He leads the conference in 3-point shooting (43.1%) and free-throw percentage (91.5%).

Champagnie is averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. He just missed winning the Big East scoring title for the second consecutive year, nipped by Lewis in the final game of the regular season.

Two players from regular-season champion Providence were included on the all-Big East second team: guard Jared Bynum and center Nate Watson. Joining them were DePaul guard Javon Freeman-Liberty, Creighton forward Ryan Hawkins and Villanova guard Justin Moore.

Receiving honorable mention were St. John’s point guard Posh Alexander, Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner, Marquette guard Darryl Morsell and Xavier center Jack Nunge.

The conference’s head coaches vote for the all-conference teams and are not allowed to pick their own players.

The league’s player of the year will come from the all-Big East first team. The winner will be announced Wednesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden before the Big East Tournament opener, when the conference also reveals its coach of the year, freshman of the year and scholar-athlete of the year.

Creighton had three players on the all-freshman team: guard Trey Alexander, forward Arthur Kaluma and point guard Ryan Nembhard, who was chosen Big East rookie of the week six times before a season-ending wrist injury late last month.

Nembhard was a unanimous selection to the all-freshman team, along with Georgetown guard Aminu Mohammed and Marquette guard Kam Jones. UConn guard Jordan Hawkins also made the squad.

Adama Sanogo scores 26, No. 18 UConn beats DePaul 75-68

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STORRS, Conn. — Adama Sanogo scored a game-high 26 points as No. 18 UConn beat DePaul 75-68 Saturday in the regular season finale for both teams.

Sanogo also had 11 rebounds, giving him his eighth double-double of the season.

Tyrese Martin added 19 points and 16 rebounds for UConn, which held a 49-31 edge over DePaul on the boards. UConn (22-8, 13-6 Big East) has won six of its last seven games.

Javon Freeman-Liberty led DePaul with 22 points, while Brandon Johnson had 14. DePaul (15-15, 6-14) had won three straight games, with Freeman-Liberty averaging 30 points per game over that span.

With its win, UConn secured the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Big East Tournament. DePaul will be No. 10.

UConn has won 14 straight in the series, including two this season, but the final minutes of this one was more tense than usual.

UConn led by 17 points with 4:14 to play before Freeman-Liberty scored 13 points in a 15-3 Blue Demon run that cut the Huskies’ lead down to five with 1:09 to go.

UConn took a 40-29 lead at halftime, with Sanogo scoring half of the Huskies’ points. The sophomore, who on Friday was named a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award as the nation’s top center, went 9 of 11 from the floor and added seven rebounds in the first half alone.

Sanogo had 12 points and six rebounds, making six of his eight shots, in the game’s opening eight minutes as UConn took a 16-10 lead.

Freeman-Liberty missed six of his first seven shots and the Blue Demons struggled to stay with the bigger Huskies on the backboards.

Six more points in the paint, including Sanogo’s eighth field goal, were part of a 6-0 run later in the half that gave UConn a 35-24 edge.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: Having already clinched a bye in the upcoming Big East Tournament, it was largely a day for UConn to celebrate. It was Senior Day and the Huskies honored five players who were likely playing their final home games: R.J. Cole, Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley, Tyrese Martin, and walk-on Matt Garry.

DePaul: DePaul was trying to win four straight conference games for the first time since its final year in Conference USA in 2004-05.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

No. 18 UConn might slip down a spot or two after losing to Creighton earlier in the week, but its position won’t change much.

UP NEXT

UConn: Will be the No. 3 seed in the Big East Tournament, opening play Thursday in the quarterfinals.

DePaul: Will be the No. 10 seed in the Big East Tournament, playing Wednesday against St. John’s in the opening round.

Nunge helps No. 20 Xavier rally past DePaul 68-67

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CHICAGO – Xavier coach Travis Steele liked the result. That was about it.

Jack Nunge scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half, and the 20th-ranked Musketeers edged DePaul 68-67 on Wednesday night.

Colby Jones had 13 points for Xavier (14-3, 4-2 Big East), which trailed by 10 early in the second half. Paul Scruggs had eight points and seven assists, but he also committed six of the Musketeers’ 14 turnovers.

Xavier also surrendered 16 offensive rebounds, leading to 12 second-chance points for DePaul. The Blue Demons finished with a 37-35 edge on the glass.

“We got to be better, and I hold ourselves to a higher standard,” Steele said. “I felt like we just had some weird turnovers, some bad turnovers. We got punked on the glass. That just can’t happen.”

David Jones scored 26 points for DePaul (10-7, 1-6), and Brandon Johnson had 13. Yor Anei grabbed 10 rebounds.

The Blue Demons played without Javon Freeman-Liberty, who was held out after he aggravated a groin injury during Thursday’s 96-92 victory over Seton Hall. The senior guard is averaging a team-high 21.1 points per game.

Coach Tony Stubblefield said he isn’t sure if Freeman-Liberty will be available for Saturday’s game at Creighton.

“His health is the most important thing, so we want him to be healthy when he does come back,” Stubblefield said. “We don’t want him rushing back and then he re-aggravates the injury. So we would rather he comes back 100 percent.”

Playing without Freeman-Liberty, the Blue Demons still had the lead for most of the night. David Jones got a fortunate bounce on a 3-pointer and Nick Ongenda drove the baseline for a dunk to make it 62-56 with 5:50 to go.

But Xavier came right back. Nunge made a 3-pointer and a slick layup to put the Musketeers in front at 67-65 with 2:02 remaining. He also made a tiebreaking foul shot with 1:15 to go.

“We have warriors in our locker room, from top to bottom,” Nunge said. “We have guys who don’t get fazed by the little things. They stick with it and they keep going.”

A Xavier turnover provided one more chance for DePaul in the final seconds, but Jalen Terry missed a 3 as time expired.

“I told those guys `I don’t want David Jones to win the game. Make somebody else shoot the ball,”‘ Steele said.

The Musketeers got off to another slow start, and David Jones took advantage. The sophomore forward had 20 points in the first half on 8-for-12 shooting, helping the Blue Demons to a 36-34 lead at the break.

Brandon Johnson’s 3-pointer made it 50-40 DePaul with 14:13 left, but Xavier responded with a 9-0 run. Colby Jones connected from long range and Dwon Odom converted a layup to trim the Blue Demons’ lead to 50-49 with 11:27 to go.

“We had some critical breakdowns the last 13 to 14 minutes of that game that really cost us,” Stubblefield said. “But I thought our guys really scrapped. … We still got to be more connected defensively.”

BIG-TIME BACKUPS

Led by Nunge, Xavier’s reserves outscored their counterparts 33-15. Adam Kunkel had eight points for the Musketeers while playing through an illness.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: It was ugly for the Musketeers for much of the night, but they turned up their defense to escape with the road win. The Blue Demons shot 38.7% from the field in the second half.

DePaul: Hoping to build on the win over Seton Hall, the Blue Demons came up just short. They wasted an 11-for-29 performance from 3-point range.

UP NEXT

Xavier: At Marquette on Sunday afternoon.

DePaul: At Creighton on Saturday.

Durham scores 17, No. 21 Providence rolls past DePaul 70-53

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CHICAGO- Forward Justin Minaya realizes the target will grow as the wins pile up and No. 21 Providence climbs in the rankings. The Friars are staying locked in for now.

On Saturday, Providence eliminated any suspense early, getting 17 points from Aljami Durham and burying DePaul with a dominant first half to win 70-53.

The Friars (13-1, 3-0 Big East), off to their best start since the 2015-16 team won 14 of its first 15, grabbed a 25-point halftime lead on the way to their eighth straight win.

“We’re trying not to think about it too much,” Minaya said. “We kind of brought this `1-0 today’ mentality every day. We try to just win each day … and not worry too much about everything else that’s going on around us.”

Minaya and Jared Bynum each scored 12 points. Minaya grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds and blocked two shots. Bynum had seven assists and two steals.

The Friars made 8 of 15 3-pointers, and coach Ed Cooley earned his 299th win over 16 seasons at Fairfield and Providence.

“I think it’s a credit to the maturity,” Cooley said. “We have an older group out there. They’ve been great in our preparation. They’ve been really, really good asking questions in the scouting reports. I give our staff a lot of credit. The coaches are doing a great job presenting it to the team and then presenting it to the staff.”

He said DePaul is talented and called this “one of our better road wins” in a “long, long time.”

Javon Freeman-Liberty led DePaul (9-3, 0-2) with 22 points. The Blue Demons shot 29.8% while setting a season low in scoring for the second straight game.

“They flat-out beat us,” coach Tony Stubblefield said. “I take 100 percent blame on that, of not having these guys ready to play, to play at this level, of what it takes to win in the Big East. I told them in the locker room that’s on me as a coach, to have these guys ready for the physicality.”

Providence made it look easy after beating short-handed, 15th-ranked Seton Hall on Wednesday night.

The Friars endured an off day from leading scorer Nate Watson, who finished with a season-low three points. A.J. Reeves had his left pinky and ring finger taped together in the early going and played just nine minutes.

Even so, any doubts about the outcome vanished soon after the opening tip. It was 42-17 after the lowest-scoring half this season for both a Friars opponent and DePaul.

Providence went on a 15-2 run in the opening minutes, capped by Reeves’ 3 that made it 18-7. And with the score 20-14, things really got out of hand.

The Friars scored 22 straight, with Minaya nailing a corner 3 in the closing seconds to make it 42-14. David Jones banked in a 3 for DePaul at the buzzer, ending a scoreless stretch of 9:27.

INJURY CONCERN

Cooley was awaiting the report on Reeves from team doctors. “I just pray it’s not something that’s gonna be long lasting because he’s a big, big, big weapon for us,” Cooley said.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars have experience and balance, with four players averaging double figures in points. Providence’s bench outscored DePaul’s 22-11, and the Friars committed just nine turnovers.

DePaul: The Blue Demons are counting on Stubblefield to turn around the program. There is obviously work to do. They struggled to score again coming off a 63-59 loss at Butler on Wednesday.

“We have to get better,” Stubblefield said. “And we’ve got to do it sooner than later.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Providence figures to move up after beating No. 15 Seton Hall and taking out the Blue Demons. The Friars earned their first ranking since February 2016 when they entered the poll at No. 22 on on Dec. 20.

UP NEXT

Providence: At Marquette on Tuesday.

DePaul: At St. John’s on Wednesday.

DePaul fires Leitao seeking spark for once-proud program

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CHICAGO — DePaul fired coach Dave Leitao on Monday six years into his second tenure in another effort to lift a once-proud program.

The Blue Demons went 5-14 overall in a season that started about a month late because of COVID-19 issues. They finished last in the Big East for the fifth straight year at 2-13.

DePaul beat Providence in the conference tournament before getting knocked out by Connecticut. Now, the search for a new coach is under way.

“After evaluating where our men’s basketball program is currently and where we envision it to be moving forward, a decision was made to make a change in the head coaching position,” athletic director DeWayne Peevy said in a statement.

He thanked Leitao “for his many contributions to the program” and said a national search for the program’s 15th coach will begin immediately.

Leitao, signed through the 2023-24 season, was 127-146 over nine years at DePaul. He is 212-241 in 15 seasons as a college head coach, with stops at Northeastern and Virginia.

The Blue Demons went 58-34 from 2002 to 2005 with winning records in all three seasons as a member of Conference USA and its most recent NCAA Tournament appearance in 2004.

But they were nowhere near as successful his second time around.

DePaul went 69-112 with losing records in four of the six years since Leitao returned in 2015 playing in the tough Big East. This season was particularly rough, with the Blue Demons posting their worst winning percentage (.263) since the 2010-11 team went 7-24 (.226).

All eyes are on Peevy, hired in August to replace the retiring Jean Lenti Ponsetto. He spent the previous 12 years in Kentucky’s athletic department, going from a role in media relations to deputy athletic director.

Now, it’s up to him to find the right coach to fix a program that once ruled winters in Chicago. The Bulls’ dominance with Michael Jordan and the steady decline in recent decades after late Hall of Famer Ray Meyer built a powerhouse has pushed the “Little School Under the L” into the background.

The Blue Demons played before mostly sparse crowds in the years prior to the pandemic. That didn’t change with the move from Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont to the sparkling Wintrust Arena in the city’s South Loop in 2017.

DePaul has been upstaged by another Catholic school about a 25-minute L ride north of the Lincoln Park campus, with Loyola Chicago making the 2018 Final Four and getting back to the tournament this year.

Despite playing in a city with plenty of recruiting opportunities, the Blue Demons have posted losing records in 13 of the the 16 seasons since they moved to the Big East. They finished last in the conference for the 11th time in 13 years.

DePaul lost all 18 league games in 2008-09 and went 1-17 in the conference each of the next two seasons under Jerry Wainwright, interim replacement Tracy Webster and Oliver Purnell. Leitao, who left for Virginia in 2005, had a rough time in his second tenure.

His only winning season since his return was in 2018-19. The Blue Demons went 19-17 and reached the College Basketball Invitational championship.

The NCAA suspended Leitao for the first three games of the 2019-20 season and placed the program on probation for three years, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The Blue Demons got off to a 12-1 start and beat NCAA runner-up Texas Tech. But tailed off, finishing with a 16-16 record. The school then announced a contract extension through the 2023-24 season, with Lenti Ponsetto citing the “improvement and stability that coach Leitao has instilled.”