CHICAGO — DePaul senior Max Strus scored 36 of his career-high 43 points in the second half Sunday against St. John’s, but another shocking number contributed just as much to the Red Storm’s undoing.
St. John’s committed a season-high 34 fouls and had four players foul out in a 92-83 loss to a DePaul team that entered the game in last place in the Big East.
The previous high for the Red Storm (20-10, 8-9) was 26 fouls in the season opener against Loyola University Maryland. Four months later, that figure was eclipsed by a wide margin and baffled coach Chris Mullin. “You’re going to have to ask somebody else besides me,” he said when asked for a reason.
A procession of disqualified St. John’s players began with Josh Roberts with 7:07 left and ended when Mustapha Heron, back after a two-game absence with a knee injury, committed an offensive foul with 1:37 to go.
Mullin had to substitute more liberally than he would have desired. “Not that difficult,” he deadpanned. “They fouled out, we put another guy in.”
Justin Simon was limited to 19 minutes and was the primary defender on the 6-6 Strus, who bounced back from 1-for-6 shooting in the first half to connect on 13 of 16 attempts after the break. He shot 6-for-10 overall from three-point range.
“He’s a heck of a player, he makes tough shots, he gets rolling,” Mullin said. “But we didn’t have our guy that we wanted on him.”
The Red Storm also couldn’t stop 6-9, 260-pound Femi Olujobi, who played for Brentwood High School. Olujobi had 23 points and 10 rebounds.
DePaul (14-13, 6-10), which swept two Big East meetings from St. John’s for the first time, got into the bonus with 12:34 left in the first half and with 10:32 to go in the second. That’s how it stayed close in a first half in which the Red Storm had the upper hand. St. John’s started the game on a 16-4 run and used an 11-4 closing spurt that featured nine points by Shamorie Ponds to lead 42-33 at the break.
“Mysterious,” Mullin said. “Momentum changed and we let them come back into the game. I thought we actually had one of our best starts of the year, and we weren’t able to maintain.”
Roberts was part of the early surge in his first career start. Heron, who came off the bench, played only 10 minutes and scored eight points.
“I don’t think I did a good job tonight making adjustments,” Heron said. “Same thing with the team, I don’t think we did a good job making adjustments. It’s just something that you learn from.”
The Blue Demons, who lead the Big East in rebound margin, had a 20-10 edge in a 59-point second half in which they shot 71.4 percent (20-for-28).
“We spent too much time with our head under the basket,” Mullin said. “We’ve gotta do a better job of carving space out.”
Ponds had 29 points for St. John’s, which will conclude the regular season Saturday at Xavier. Said Heron, “We’ve gotta regroup, take a couple days, get your minds right, get your bodies right and then get ready to go to Cincinnati.”