Jasmine Penny was named Tournament MVP, and No. 23/22 DePaul placed four players in double figures as the Blue Demons beat St. John's 65-57 to capture their first-ever Big East Tournament title and an automatic bid to this year's NCAA Tournament Tuesday night at Allstate Arena.
DePaul won its first tournament title since beating Marquette, 70-53, in the Great Midwest conference title game on March 13, 1993.
But this title was a difficult one to mold.
"At halftime of the Seton Hall game, which was the first game after St. John's waxed us at home, and we were losing 34-27, I really wasn't sure if this team had it in them to turn this season around," said DePaul coach Doug Bruno.
DePaul then won 16 of its last 17 games, including its biggest one tonight.
That DePaul led 30-29 at the half was the best indication that tonight's game was going to be a far cry from last night's 190 point production by DePaul and Marquette the previous night.
But an early omen that things might go DePaul's way was Brittany Hrynko's attempted pass to Jasmine Penny just three minutes into the game. Hrynko's pass went off an outstretched St. John's player's hands and in to the basket.
"I was looking for Jasmine and then the [St. John's defender] smacked the ball and it went in the basket. Jasmine and I looked at each like, ‘alright, we'll take it," said Hrynko.
Hrynko's effort of a game-high 15 points, eight rebounds, and a game-high six assists helped her earn All-Tournament Team honors.
Her 23-footer from the left wing gave DePaul a 20-18 lead at 8:25.
St. John's is ranked No. 11 in the country in three-point field goal defense at 26.8 percent, and it has limited two opponents this year to under 10 percent from three-point range.
DePaul (27-6) shot just 3-15 from beyond the arc tonight, instead relying on a grinding game, one that should serve it well come NCAA Tournament time.
"When it gets to NCAA Tournament time, this is the type of game that has to be able to be ground out," said Bruno. "I think this is a team that is prepared to play tournament basketball. We were playing tonight for a No. 5 or 6 NCAA seed."
The Blue Demons are averaging 84.3 ppg, sixth best in Division I.
"If you told me we would hold them to 65 points, and we would shoot eight threes and come away with a loss, I would have told you differently," said St. John's coach Joe Tartamella.
After Hrynko's three-pointer, St. John's went on an 8-0 run to take a 25-22 lead.
But the momentum of this game may have turned on a block by Megan Podkowa (12 points, a game-high nine rebounds and a game-high two blocks) on Aliyyah Handford's lay up with 15:48 to play.
"My job defensively was to protect the basket," said Podkowa. "I was just trying to stay around the rim and do whatever I could when St. John's drove. Offensively, the guards were getting me the ball when I was in the paint."
A jumper by Briana Brown cut DePaul's lead to 44-42 with 11:10 left, but Podkowa answered with a three-pointer.
Hrynko's reverse lay up gave DePaul its biggest lead, 53-46, at 6:07. A Penny lay up off an assist from Chanise Jenkins was followed by a Podkowa backdoor cut and lay up on pass from Hrynko which extended the lead to 57-50 at 2:55.
Penny finished with 11 points tonight and 51 for the tournament.
"Jasmine wants to play because of the competitiveness and the competitiveness in the [present]," said Bruno. "She is not playing for glory, but for the purity of the sport. I never worry about her being at the highest level of competitiveness."
Handford's steal and lay up with 24 seconds left cut the lead to 62-57, but that was answered by three DePaul free throws.
Hats, t-shirts, nets, and much applause followed.
Megan Rogowski added 14 points for DePaul.
St. John's (22-10) was led by Handford's 13 points.
And despite this win, DePaul sees farther and bigger.
"This is not what we really play for," said Bruno. "The NCAA Tournament means so much more to me personally. What is important about this [tournament] is that we take the torch and hand it to a new generation of Big East."
The St. John's media guide states "We Are New York's Team." That may be true, but tonight the Big East Tournament trophy resides in Chicago.
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