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Javan Johnson bright spot in DePaul's lethargic season opening victory

In an offseason where DePaul lost its two leading scorers from the previous season — David Jones and Javon Freeman-Liberty — head coach Tony Stubblefield needed to find a way to replace the departure of his two best players.

Well, after one game, Stubblefield might have found his answer in a returning player: Javan Johnson. The fifth-year player exhibited the game that made him a key target for the Blue Demons in the transfer portal last year.

Johnson finished the game with 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead DePaul to 72-66 victory in its season opener against Loyola Maryland at Wintrust Arena Monday night.

“I feel like I scored like this within the flow of the game,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t really forcing too much. Just kind of scored through the flow of the game.”

Last season, Johnson did not join DePaul until December after transfering from Iowa State. He ended up appearing in only 10 games as a wrist injury ended his season. But with three starters leaving at the end of the season, Johnson was the ideal forward replacement who can hit perimeter shots, finish inside and guard multiple positions.

“I’m more impressed with the 10 rebounds than the 24 points,” Stubblefield said sarcastically. “His hard work is paying off. He’s a guy that can play multiple positions, so you have a guy like [forward] Nick [Ongenda] go down and he can slide in and play that position.”

In a mostly lethargic offensive performance for DePaul, Johnson provided most of the bright spots that should Stubblefield and his coaching staff hope that some of the offensive production lost from a season ago can be replaced by Johnson.

But the rest of the offense, however, struggled to gain consistency all night long. When the defense was able to force turnovers in the first half, it allowed the offense to get out in transition and get easy baskets. In the opening frame, DePaul forced 10 turnovers that led to 12 points.

In the second half, however, Loyola did a much better job of moving the ball around and limiting turnovers, which forced the Blue Demons to play most of their offense in the half-court.

Umoja Gibson, a transfer from Oklahoma, and Johnson were the only two DePaul players who managed to create any consistent offense. Gibson ended up finishing with 12 points, six assists and five assists.

“Coming in, leading the team in that point guard role, just trying to find guys more shots on the floor,” Gibson said.

DePaul had five other players make their team debuts on Monday: K.T. Raimey, Ahamad Bynum, Eral Penn, Da’Sean Nelson and Zion Cruz. Nelson and Penn were the two who provided the best boost for the Blue Demons on the night, with both making an impact on the defensive end.

The Blue Demons never had a large run in the game that put away the visitors. Instead, Loyola was always able to hang around between 8-10 points. At one point in the middle of the second half, Loyola got the lead down to six before a quick five-point spurt for DePaul ballooned the lead back to double figures.

“We just got to get better. We have to fine tune some things,” Stubblefield said. “And we will.”

DePaul ended up holding on in the end by knocking down nine free throws in the final minute, but the final offensive stats left the Blue Demons with a lot to work on before their next game. DePaul shot 43.1 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from the 3-point line.

Ongenda is considered “day-to-day, week-to-day,” according to Stubblefield, while Philmon Gebrewhit has to sort through an internal issue before returning to the court.

DePaul will next host Western Illinois on Friday.


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