DePaul (26-8) put four players in double figures, and DePaulBall was on full display for 40 minutes as the Blue Demons beat James Madison 97-67 at the KFC YUM! Center, snapping JMU's 20-game win streak. This was the largest margin of victory for DePaul in an NCAA tournament game since beating Liberty University by 25 points in 2006. JMU had been holding teams to 54.1 ppg this year.
DePaul coach Doug Bruno stressed to his team all week that rebounding would be key versus JMU, and they responded.
The Blue Demons notched a season-high and NCAA tournament-high 55 rebounds and have outrebounded their opponents in the last 10 games. JMU is No. 2 in the country in rebounds per game at 46.4, but lost that statistic by a -16 margin today. JMU is 25-3 this year when outrebounding its opponent.
DePaul's interior game of Megan Podkowa (10 points and eight rebounds), Jacqui Grant (tied career-highs in points and rebounds with 15 and nine) and Mart'e Grays (12 points and a career-high tying 10 boards) matched the Dukes for 40 minutes. The Blue Demons had 40 points in the paint.
"Coach Bruno made it a big deal that we had to defend and rebound, so we had to focus on that," Grant said. "We knew that this was a good rebounding team and that they got a lot of points off their offensive rebounds."
"We have been working on rebounding [since the St. John's game]," Grays said.
JMU (27-6) held its only lead of the game at 6-5 on two free throws by Angela Mickens at 6:57 of the first quarter. DePaul moved ahead for good a lay up by Podkowa off an assist by Brooke Schulte (10 points and four rebounds).
"We had a really high energy and confidence coming into this game and I think that had a lot to do with our quick start," Podkowa said.
JMU's largest comeback this year is from 18 points, but the Dukes got no closer than 11 points the rest of the way. DePaul led 55-30 at the half, the largest first-half point amount by a JMU opponent this year.
"Coach Bruno has been pounding us [all week in practice] about being on the glass and we know that is the one thing we can rely on if our shots are not going in," Podkowa said.
But the shots were going in.
Schulte missed DePaul's first three-point attempt with two minutes gone in the game, but Grays banked in her team's first three-pointer at 6:19 of that quarter and Ashton Millender (10 points and six rebounds ) followed with another one. DePaul, on a 17-3 run, led 22-9 with just over one minute to play in the quarter.
"I didn't think I was going to bank it in, but it felt so good to help my team," Grays said.
Grays shot 4-7 from the field and 3-3 from behind the arc to go along with four assists. She found Schulte underneath on a beautiful feed at 5:04 of the third quarter.
Schulte and Grays did the bulk of defending against CAA Player of the Year Jazmon Gwathmey, who scored 19 points, one below her average, but she needed 17 shots to do it. Gwathmey fouled out with 5:48 left in the game, the eighth all-time leading scorer at JMU leaving the court with her face buried in her uniform top.
But for all of DePaul's success inside, it played to its strength from the outside as well: the three-point shot.
The Dukes are No. 1 in country in three-point field goal defense at 23.2 percent and are No. 7 in the country in field goal percentage defense at 34.2 percent.
The Blue Demons shot 52.4 percent from behind the arc (11-24) and 53.6 percent (37-69) from the floor for the game. DePaul is No. 11 in country in three-pointers per game at 8.8. The best an opponent had shot against the Dukes from behind the line this year up until today had been William & Mary's 41.7 percent. DePaul now has 302 three-pointers this year, the third time in DePaul history a team has made 300+ three-pointers in a season.
Freshman Tanita Allen's two free throws with 2:10 left gave DePaul a 91-61 lead and eclipsed the most points the Duke's had given up this year (90 versus UCLA). The Blue Demons placed 11 players in the scoring column. This was also JMU's largest margin of defeat this year.
DePaul's Jessica January scored a team-high 19 points and had five assists and two steals. She is No. 14 in country in assists per game at 6.0.
"We wanted to use our pressure and wear them down so they had to expend a lot of energy and effort [to run their game plan]" January said. "The difficult thing about pressure is that you don't get immediate results, so in the second half they were not making the same amount of cuts and they were taking more of their time."
DePaul's 24 assists gives it 714 for the year, surpassing the 2013 team's school record of 705.
"Our biggest fear was that [DePaul] was a better passing team than I anticipated," JMU coach Kenny Brooks said. "It was really hard for us to do some of the things we have been doing all year, just because they had five players on the court pretty much at all times who were exceptional passers and exceptional shooters."
No. 6 seed DePaul plays No. 3 seed Louisville in round two play on Sunday at a time yet to be determined.
Notes: These two teams first met in 1999, an 89-75 DePaul win. Current DePaul assistant coach Candis Blankson scored 14 points in that game.