Muskies Deal with DePaul!! Cement Second in Big East!!
Andy Mac Williams,
DePaul-Xavier Wednesday night at Cintas had the feel of a dreaded "trap" game. XU had righted the ship with 3 straight wins(2 of those on the road) and adjusted to the injury loss of PG Edmond Sumner. The Muskies had climbed from 5th in the Big East to 2nd place behind Villanova and ahead of Butler. DU arrived on a 6 game losing streak in 10th place in the league with a bunch of close disheartening defeats.XU slogged through a few rough spots and won in workmanlike fashion 72-61.
Things sort of played out as I had expected. Xavier lived by the "three" early. DePaul attacked the packline defense off the dribble, stayed close and X tossed in some zone looks. XU was loose with the ball and turned it over 12 times before the half cutting down on possessions.
I was worried about foul trouble for Muskie Frosh PG Quentin Gooden-matching up with longer older 6-6 Blue Demon Senior Billy Garrett. Sure enough-with about 1:35 left before halftime Gooden was tagged with foul#2 going for a steal vs Garrett. Iffy call on a loose ball!! "Q" went to the bench with XU leading just 33-31 after two FTs.
DU immediately slapped on the full court press to test Muskie ballhandling. XU turned it over once,but then J.P. Macura,Trevon Bluiett and company shredded the full court pressure repeatedly authoring an 8-3 run to halftime and posting a sigh of relief 41-34 Muskie lead at the break. Separation! Breathing room!! Plus 7 points felt good.Rashid Gaston scored 5 on a couple dunks and a FT. Bluiett nailed a wing three pointer. J,P and Trevon surgically dissected the press.
SECOND HALF CONTINUATION:
Xavier expanded the lead quickly to 10 out of the half. DePaul tried to counter,but XU mixed defenses,rebounded well out of their various zones(Kaiser Gates-career high 10 boards) and the Muskies made key shots and FTs(Macura 7-7 from the Ft line).
The roles are becoming more defined with TEAM 95. Bluiett is shooting at a high level(20 points-4 made threes) but he also chipped in 7 rebounds and aided immensely in ball handling especially while J.P slotted at PG.Macura did not make a three pointer,but that did not ruin his night. He stuffed the other stat sheet columns(13 points-7 rebounds-6 assists). J.P. cleaned up the turnovers after half time. He's becoming a serviceable PG back-up.
Gaston finished emphatically around the rim(14 points on 6-8FG) as did Tyrique Jones(8 points on 3-4FG). It's post play by committee for Xavier!! Gaston,Jones and Gates combined for 25 points and 19 rebounds. The Muskies crushed DePaul on the glass 37-22.
PG Gooden is now 4-0 as lead guard of record(wins over St Johns,Seton Hall,Creighton and DePaul) with niffy numbers(11PPG-5.5 assists/game and less than 2 turnovers). XU shared the ball at a high level against DU(20 assists on 26 field goals). 19 turnovers is way too many,but 7 in the second half was more acceptable. The bulk of the floor errors came from careless loose ball handling in the half court(J.P. 5-Malcolm Bernard 4). Gooden produced 8 assists and just 2 turnovers.
DePaul's not going to the Final Four anytime soon,but they're better coached and much pricklier than in years past. The Blue Demons almost upset Villanova at the Pavilion not that long ago(losing 69-66 and falling a missed Billy Garrett three pointer from forcing VU to overtime).
XU closes out the regular season against DePaul in Chicago Saturday March 4th. It will be Senior Day for 4 year starter Garrett and DU's last game at All State Arena. They move to the new 10,000 seat building in the South Loop off Lake Shore Drive next Fall.
AROUND THE BIG EAST:
Seton Hall edged Providence 72-70 in overtime Wednesday night at the Rock in Newark. Frosh sniper Myles Powell(26 off the bench vs Xavier) hit the winning bucket with 9 seconds remaining. SHU played with 6 guys. Ishmael Sanogo was injured and did not play. Guard Jevon Thomas quit the team(Kansas State transfer).
Seton Hall beat Georgetown in OT last weekend. The Pirates are 6th in the Big East(5-6) and 15-8 overall with a 38 RPI. It's shaping up as a three team scrap for a possible 5th NCAA bid from the Big East between SHU(5-6),Marquette(6-6) and Georgetown(4-8). First team to 10 wins gets in although that may be a bridge too far!! It could come down to one of those teams making a run in the Big East Tourney at Madison Square Garden.
This Saturday there's a full slate of five Big East games. Noon-Marquette(6-6) and Georgetown(4-8) on FOX. Also at Noon-Seton Hall(5-6) at St Johns(5-7)CBSSN at MSG. 2PM-Creighton(7-4) at DePaul(1-10) FS1. 4PM-Butler(8-4) at Providence(4-8)CBSSN. Don't forget Villanova(10-2) at Xavier(8-3) 2:30 on Fox. We'll have a full Scouting Report on the Villanova Wildcats Friday.