By: David Woeltz ~Staff Writer~
In a conference that allows little room for error, the Xavier Musketeers (19-2, 7-2 Big East) were able to secure a tougher than expected 86-65 victory at DePaul (7-14, 1-8 BE) after a sluggish start.
It looked as if DePaul was ready to upset Xavier for the second straight season at Allstate Center after jumping out to an early 9-0 lead over the Musketeers. Head coach Chris Mack had to turn to his bench early, which contributed 42-points while DePaul’s reserves only notched 12.
J.P. Macura scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half to keep Xavier within striking distance. Larry Austin Jr. also contributed a career-high 12 points off the bench with a productive performance that included five rebounds and four assists.
Tommy Hamilton IV gave Xavier’s defense fits in the first half by knocking down three 3-pointers en route to a 32-25 lead for DePaul. The game went downhill for DePaul when the Musketeers ramped up their defensive pressure and went on a 17-1 run to go to the break with a 42-33 lead.
“Trying to have good offense with no energy or defense, it doesn’t really work that way,” Macura said. “When we got better energy, like throughout the game, that’s when we made a comeback and then we started pushing the lead.”
Xavier was aided by a technical foul on Joe Hanel in the middle of their run. Hanel was unsuccessful in getting a reaction out of Jalen Reynolds after an over the back foul.
Xavier’s momentum carried into the second half with sixstraight points to start the action. Billy Garrett Jr., who had a team-high 18 points for DePaul, stopped the bleeding with a layup to pull within 13 but the Blue Demons never got closer.
Trevon Bluiett scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half for the Musketeers who finally started playing like the No.7 team in the nation.
Makinde London was another bright spot for the Musketeers. The 6-foot-10 freshman knocked down two 3-pointers in seven minutes of action for a seasonhigh seven points.
Xavier’s depth and size, which helped to give them a 39-27 rebounding advantage, were ultimately too much for the Blue Demons to combat. The Musketeers now sit one game out of the Big East conference lead behind Villanova.
A Game of Runs:
Xavier has had some impressive runs this season. They used a 23-1 run to take a commanding lead on DePaul in their most recent outing. They’ve also had runs of 25-0 (Wright St.), 21-0 (Dayton), 21-0 (Marquette), 17-0 (USC) and 21-4 (Wake Forest) this season.
High in the Rankings:
Xavier moved up to No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches poll and No. 6 in the AP poll. Xavier’s rebounding margin of +9.4 RPG is first in the Big East and 13th in the nation. Xavier has held opponents to 30.5 percent on 3-point field goals which is also first in the conference. For comparison, Xavier is shooting 35.7 percent on threes this season.
Upcoming Game Notes:
Xavier will host St. John’s at 6:30 p.m. this Wednesday at Cintas Center before hosting Marquette at noon this Saturday. St. John’s (7-15, 0-9 BE) has been held to 66.4 PPG this season, which is last in the Big East.
St. John’s is still looking for its first conference win after going 10-8 in Big East play in both seasons since Xavier joined the conference. Xavier beat St. John’s 74-66 on Jan. 6.
St. John’s rookie head coach Chris Mullin faced Xavier in his first game as a player for St. John’s in 1981 in a 75-55 victory for the Red Storm. Mullin was a three-time Big East player of the year before becoming a Hall of Fame player for the Golden State Warriors.
Marquette (15-7, 4-5 BE) will be looking for a measure of revenge after falling to Xavier 74-66 on Jan. 16. The Golden Eagles will lean heavily on freshman forward Henry Ellenson, who scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the teams’ last matchup.