Xavier Gets Tough Win Over Blue Demons
Xavier earned their second Big East win of the season on Saturday afternoon in front of another sellout crowd at Cintas Center as the 6th ranked Musketeers defeated the Blue Demons of DePaul in a fast-paced and nail biting game. The Muskies were able to help head coach Chris Mack get his 200th win as a Musketeer on Mack’s 48th birthday. Xavier was led in scoring by senior J.P. Macura (19 points) as he helped the Muskies overcome a 16-point deficit on their way to a ninth straight win and the best start to a season in Xavier history.
The Musketeers starting lineup was tweaked with the replacement of senior guard Trevon Bluiett by freshman forward Naji Marshall. Bluiett was benched for the first five minutes of the game as a disciplinary measure following his inability to arrive at a team meeting on time. Bluiett appeared to remain focused as he came off the bench and played a significant role in the Musketeers comeback win over DePaul, scoring 16 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. Quentin Gooden and Kerem Kanter also had big games for the Musketeers, scoring 12 and 10 points respectively.
The game was a tale of two halves, as both teams appeared to have different identities in the first and second half of the contest. In the first half, the Muskies struggled shooting the ball and turned the ball over more than usual. Xavier, a team that averages only 12 turnovers per game, turned the ball over 12 times in the first half. The fifth best shooting team in the nation struggled shooting the ball as well, going 9-32 on field goal attempts (28%) and 3-16 (18.8%) from beyond the three-point arc. Xavier also struggled on defense, switching between a 1-3-1 trapping zone and a man defense. The speed of DePaul came as a surprise to the Musketeers, as they gave up 13 fast break points in the first half.
DePaul capitalized on opportunities given to them in the first half and early into the second half, as they caused Xavier to turn the ball over with solid defensive pressure. DePaul scored 14 points off Xavier’s 12 turnovers in the first half, as they went into halftime with an 8-point lead over the Muskies. DePaul opened the second half with a solid rebounding and fast-paced effort that would ensue for the remainder of the game. DePaul extended their lead to 16 points after an 8-0 run to open up the half. Xavier’s second half drought was finally ended with a short corner jump shot by Trevon Bluiett, making the score 51-37 in favor of the Blue Demons.
The momentum began to shift after a technical foul was called on Chris Mack for running onto the floor out of frustration due to what he believed should have been an inbounds violation on DePaul. Pleading his case to the referee, Mack rushed onto the floor and caught the attention of Xavier’s sell-out crowd. This, followed by two charging fouls drawn by J.P. Macura, shifted the momentum into the Musketeers favor and electrified the crowd at Cintas Center.
Xavier slowly crept back, as the comeback was led by J.P. Macura and the inexperience of DePaul in a tough road environment. Xavier regained the lead with seven minutes to play in the second half following a layup by Gooden, and this lead was extended to four points at the five-minute mark following two identical fast-break transition layups by Kerem Kanter. A DePaul turnover with 20 seconds left in the game resulted in an electrifying dunk by Quentin Gooden which proved to be the exclamation point on Xavier’s 77-72 comeback win. Despite struggles with shooting and turnovers in the first half, the Muskies were able to regroup at halftime and pull out a classic Big East nail biter.
The Musketeers will be back in action on January 2nd at Cintas Center as they take on the Bulldogs from Butler University. Tip-off is set for 7:00pm.