Friday, February 24, 2017

Spring in January: DePaul's superstar returned with ease

                                                        Photo Credit: DePaul Athletics

CHICAGO— 58 days ago, Big East preseason Player of the Year Jessica January suffered a right index finger injury in the conference opener at Georgetown on Dec. 29, 2016.

The injury forced January to miss the next 15 games of the Big East slate, but returned in the second to last home game in her DePaul career in a 77-50 win over Villanova on Friday night.

With five-time Big East Player of the Week Brooke Schulte assuming the role as the primary scorer for DePaul in January’s absence, most fans wondered how they would gel and the answer came right away with a combined 30 points, on 12-of-24 shooting.

“To see (Brooke and Jessica) on the court together and to try to find chemistry and synergy between them, that is something I am excited by with all of the possibilities that can be created moving forward," DePaul coach Doug Bruno said.

From the moment she received a standing ovation from the Blue Demon fans in the starting lineup, January felt at home again.

“It was a lot of excitement and nerves— mostly excitement just to get back on the floor after having good practices during the week,” January said.

Few nerves oozed out of her system as from the opening tip on, the swagger returned and it took 1:44 for her first jumper to go down the net.

With any return the normalcy comes rust and it showed at the 3:32 mark of the first quarter as a sharp pass from Amarah Coleman to January on the wing went off her fingertips and out of bounds.

In the stratosphere of a conference game in late February with conference tournament seeding at stake, January erased the memory on the next possession as a Kelly Campbell steal helped set up a layup, which highlighted an 8-2 run DePaul run to close the first quarter as it led Villanova, 20-13.

January’s effort off the ball showed in the early stages of the second quarter as she stood firm in position as she grabbed the offensive rebounds, but took a wicked hit from Villanova’s Megan Quinn as she fell to the ground, which served as her first major test as to how her finger would hold up in terms of tolerance.

With DePaul up 27-20 on Villanova, Any doubts of whether January could shoot with precision on the injured finger were answered with spectacular post moves on defenders at least four inches taller and long-range precision as she scored five straight. January’s presence helped steer a DePaul 14-0 run over a 4:10 stretch, which was missed over the majority of conference play and in its only two losses in Big East play to Marquette.

As the Blue Demons’ lead continued to build into the third quarter, January delivered a precision pass to a cutting Schulte for a layup to go up 47-27 on the Wildcats.

DePaul would not look back as they led by as many as 35 points in the fourth quarter, on its way to a 27-point win.

The rest of the Big East and the NCAA could be in for a surprise come March if January and Schulte can continue to gel in the backcourt.

"(Jessica) can drive, pull up on jumpers, can get to the basket, shoot the three-pointer and is a phenomenal player," Schulte said. I embody my game after her and watching her and getting our chemistry back and working together will be a fun down the stretch."

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.