By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
It would have been understandable for Chante Stonewall to relax.
The DePaul forward had just converted a three-point play to give the Blue Demons a one-point lead over No. 13 Marquette in the 2019 Big East Women’s Basketball Tournament final. It was the Blue Demons’ first lead of the second half and only 5.4 seconds were left in the game. However, Stonewall was thinking only about defense.
“After [the shot] went in, of course, we were all excited. So I knew I had to hit that free throw and knock it down, but also, get another stop,” she said. “So after I made that free throw, it was ‘Ah, what’s next?’”
Stonewall stayed step for step with speedy Marquette guard Natisha Hiedeman, whose desperation jumper fell short, giving DePaul a 74-73 victory Tuesday evening, clinching their fourth Big East championship in five years.
Veteran DePaul coach Doug Bruno was effusive in his praise for his players and for a Marquette program he said was at “the forefront of the nation this season.”
“That’s a very, very good Marquette team that we just beat,” he said. “This coach sitting here talking to you didn’t get a rebound tonight, didn’t get an assist tonight and didn’t make a basket tonight. The players did the work.”
The Blue Demons led for only 6:34 of the entire game and at trailed by 13 points midway through the third quarter. However, 28 points from Stonewall, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and a brilliant all-around game from junior Kelly Campbell (nine points, 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals) enabled them to close the gap in the fourth quarter and eventually win.
“Chante had a really strong game all night long,” said Bruno. “She had to make a bucket, she had to make a free throw, then she had to make a very talented player like Hiedeman miss a shot at the end.”
Fifth-year senior Mart’e Grays, DePaul’s leading scorer during the season, had a tough shooting night, tallying only nine points on 4-of-11 shooting. However, she pulled down seven rebounds – three offensive – and made a key play late in the fourth quarter, tipping a missed Stonewall back to her teammate, who drew a foul and converted both free throws to cut the deficit to one.
“This is a very special moment,” said Grays. “Everyone keeps coming up and saying, ‘You guys did it, you guys won,’ and it’s so unreal right now. I’m just glad we fought through all that we fought through to get the W.”
After going on a 13-2 run over a 2:16 span between the second and third quarters, the Golden Eagles seemed to be in control. They had the lead and possession with under a minute to play, and after an offensive rebound by Danielle King gave the Golden Eagles a fresh shot clock, Hiedeman stepped to the line with 11 seconds left and a chance to stretch Marquette’s lead to three with two free throws. She split the pair, leading to the game-winning play from Stonewall.
It summed up a heartbreaking night for the Golden Eagles, who missed nine of 15 foul shots in the second half and shot only 47 percent for the game.
“It just came down to the little things,” said Marquette guard Allazia Blockton.
“Free throws, focusing on rebounding – we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds tonight. I think we have to be tougher on the boards and make our free throws.”
Head coach Carolyn Kieger agreed.
“Tonight, I’m really disappointed in our toughness,” she said. “We got [DePaul] rattled, we got the shots that we wanted them to shoot, and we didn’t produce on the rebounding end. It’s going to be hard to win a game when you miss 10 free throws and give up 22 second-chance points.”
It was the third straight meeting in the conference tournament finals for both programs. DePaul won in Chicago last year after splitting the regular season series; the Golden Eagles swept the Demons in 2016-17 before winning their first Big East postseason title at home in Milwaukee.
This year, the tournament was played at Wintrust Arena for the first time, and fans of both teams made their presence felt early and often. DePaul students streamed onto the court at the horn to celebrate with the team as confetti rained down from the rafters.
Both teams now set their sights on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, which begins next week. ESPN’s Charlie Creme predicts DePaul to be a 7-seed in the Albany Region with Marquette a 5-seed in the Chicago Region.
Regardless of the seedings, Kieger said she and her team will use this loss as “fuel” to make a run in the tourney.
“You’ve got to be tough, you have to be your own woman when it’s March,” she said. “We’ve got the NCAA tournament right around the corner, and I know, for certain, they will respond.”
Chris Pennant covers the Chicago Bulls and basketball in general for WARR