DePaul Wins Big East Tourney, Podkowa MOP

ROSEMONT, Ill - The biggest contrasts in Tuesday’s Big East tournament title game were Seton Hall coach Anthony Bozzella letting out a big sigh before the game, and DePaul’s Megan Podkowa and Brittany Hrynko hugging one another after the game.

Megan Podkowa scored a team-high 19 points and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player as No. 2 seed DePaul beat No. 1 seed Seton Hall 78-68, winning the tournament for the second straight year. DePaul’s Chanise Jenkins was named to the All-Tournament team. DePaul locks up an NCAA tournament with the win.

DePaul (26-7) is ranked No. 2 in the country in offense at 87.1 ppg, but it was defense today that helped capture the crown.

The Blue Demons forced 16 turnovers, made 10 steals, and the defensive combination of Centrese McGee and Brooke Schulte held Tabatha Richardson-Smith to six points on 3-8 shooting from the field. Richardson-Smith scored 35 points in Seton Hall’s 107-87 win earlier this year.

“I think DePaul is known for their offense, and they are one of the best teams in the county,” said Bozzella. “But their defense won the game today. They defended better today than in any game I have ever watched.”

McGee added a career-high 14 points, and she set the tone early today as she hit her first two shots of the game, both 3-pointers, as DePaul jumped out to a 15-3 lead with just over five minutes into the first half.

DePaul shot a Big East tournament record 54.9 percent (28-51) from the field and 39.1 percent (9-23) for the game. Seton Hall leads the conference in field goal percentage defense at 37 percent and in 3-point field goal percentage defense at 30.6. DePaul leads the conference in field goal percentage at 43.2.

Podkowa picked up her second foul at the 13:18 of the first half and sat the rest of the stanza.

Two free throws by Ka-Deidre Simmons with 1:16 left in the first half cut DePaul’s lead to 33-29, with the Blue Demons committing five of their 21 turnovers in the prior 6:18. DePaul stemmed the Pirates’ tide with just under one minute to play, with McGee making a steal under the Seton Hall basket, firing an outlet pass to Brittany Hrynko, who fed Schulte for a layup and a 35-29 halftime lead. The teams shot a combined 3-14 from the field to end the first half. DePaul never trailed today. Seton Hall had 14 steals, the most DePaul has given up this year.

Hrynko is the conference Player of the Year, and she added 12 points and a game high nine assists today. But her impact was almost more psychological than numerical.

“Brittany did a great job of huddling us up every time she could and getting us re-focused,” said Jenkins. “The leadership from her in this entire game was key for us.”

DePaul opened the second half on a 13-2 run, with Podkowa draining a 3-pointer from the right wing thirty seconds into play, clapping her hands in a rare show of on-court emotion for her.

“I feel like I was getting a lot of easy lay ups, wide open threes, and the guards were doing a great job getting me the ball,” said Podkowa. “And with Centrese McGee stepping out and hitting those three’s kind of opened up a lot of opportunities for all of us.”

The Pirates got to 55-45 on an 8-0 run with 8:21 to play, but Hrynko countered with a 3-pointer.

Seton Hall (28-5) closed to 63-53 with 4:15 to play, but Podkowa scored on a layup off an assist from Jenkins. Jenkins converted six free throws in the final minute to secure the win. She finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

Conference tournaments are one of the two shortest seasons in college basketball. And seldom is either season won by one player. From early season losses to then-No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 5 Notre Dame, and No. 2 Connecticut to this, a post-game celebration of players wearing hats that serve as a symbol and a reminder of how for DePaul has come this year, it was DePaul coach Doug Bruno who summed up today what brought them from there to here.

“Any championship is all about the players.”

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