No. 23/22 DePaul Beats St. John's 65-57 for First BIG EAST Title
March 11, 2014
ROSEMONT, Ill. - When it was all over, these Blue Demons mobbed one another at center court with television cameras and photographers recording the moment for posterity.
They donned championship hats and T-shirts after a hard-fought 65-57 victory over St. John's Tuesday night at Allstate Arena for their first BIG EAST Tournament championship.
It was hugs all around in this "seashells and balloons" moment as DePaul locked up its 12th straight NCAA tournament appearance by virtue of winning the BIG EAST postseason title.
All-tournament selection Hrynko was nothing short of brilliant on this night, alternately attacking the basket to score inside and setting up teammates with her intuitive passing.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Penny came away with 11 points after helping lead the Blue Demons to the title game.
It all came together for No. 23/22 DePaul (27-6) in winning its seventh in a row, 16th in the last 17 games. This was DePaul's first conference tournament title since winning the Great Midwest in 1993.
The offense was steady throughout the night and its defense allowed just two players in double figures for St. John's (22-10) as Aliyyah Handford led her team with 14 points.
After starting out the BIG EAST season 2-2, the Blue Demons were down 34-27 at halftime at Seton Hall.
"We had just come off a loss to St. John's where I thought we had not competed very well," said DePaul coach Doug Bruno. "I wasn't sure this team had it in them to turn the season around.
"Brittany turned her season around and started making unbelievably good decisions. She has become a great facilitator and has a chance to play at the next level."
The Blue Demons came back to beat Seton Hall and launched a nine-game winning streak.
The shot of the night came early in the game. Hrynko was attempting a pass to Penny down low when it bounced off the shoulder of a St. John's player and into the basket.
That might've been a sign this was going to be Hrynko and DePaul's night.
"I was looking for Jas when the St. John's player got in the way," Hrynko said. "Jas and I just looked at each other and said: `all right, we'll take it.'"
Hrynko was aggressive from the opening tip as if determined to impose her will on this championship game no matter what.
"I came out ready to play," Hrynko said. "I wanted to attack the basket. Once I got into the lane, I was patient looking for my teammates cutting to the basket."
Both teams traded big shots down the stretch. Podkowa scored on a backdoor layup off a brilliant pass from Hrynko. Keylantra Langley hit a 3-pointer that narrowed the Blue Demon lead to 57-53 with 2:24 left.
Rogowski converted a free throw and Penny scored off a Hrynko assist for a 60-53 advantage with 1:22 to go. Amber Thompson scored inside, but Jenkins came back with two free throws. Handford's layup made it a five-point game with 24 seconds to go. Jenkins and Podkowa locked it up from the free throw line in the waning moments.
"Megan Podkowa goes about her business silently, and we needed her to step up and score tonight," Bruno said. "She had to create scoring opportunities on her own. She did a good job exploiting mismatches and Brit did a good job finding her."
It remained tight in the second half. The lead went back and forth until a Penny three-point play gave the Blue Demons a 40-37 lead. That ignited a seven-point burst as DePaul moved in front 44-37.
The Red Storm retaliated with five unanswered points. Podkowa responded with a three-point play midway through the second half for a 47-42 advantage. Rogowski's layup made it a seven-point game.
The Blue Demons maintained a five-to-seven point lead as this title game approached crunch time. Hrynko's reverse layup gave DePaul a 53-46 edge until Eugenia McPherson hit a pair of free throws with just over four minutes to go.
"This was one of the best moments of my life," Penny said. "To see us work so hard all season and accomplish this is just amazing."
From the opening tip, the Blue Demons were intent on scoring inside along with attacking the basket. They had attempted just four shots from beyond the arc by the middle of the first half.
St. John's went on a 14-6 spurt in taking a one-point lead. Hrynko's deep 3-pointer regained the lead for DePaul. Seven unanswered points put the Red Storm on top 25-22 with 4:12 left in the first half.
Back the Blue Demons with a 6-2 burst in retaking the lead on a Jessica January bucket. Two Handford free throws tilted the balance St. John's way until a Rogowski layup off Podkowa's feed sent DePaul into the halftime locker room with a 30-29 lead.
Notes: DePaul won its first BIG EAST Conference Tournament championship and its fifth overall... DePaul won two in the North Star and two in the Great Midwest with its last coming in 1993... the Blue Demons (27-6) have won 7 straight games and 16 of their last 17... senior forward Jasmine Penny was voted the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, and junior guard Brittany Hrynko was voted onto the all-tournament team... DePaul won despite scoring a season-low 65 points, previous low was 71 at Villanova... Blue Demons were 14-17 (82.4%) from the free-throw line, while St. John's was just 5-10.