Xavier led for just 2:08, but escaped against the Blue Demons with a 68-67 road victory
By Joe Clark, Sports Editor
Xavier certainly didn’t play their best basketball on Wednesday night against DePaul, but the Musketeers escaped Wintrust Arena with a 68-67 win against the DePaul Blue Demons. Junior center Jack Nunge paced Xavier with 23 points and six rebounds.
“It’s huge,” Nunge said about the win. “If we want to accomplish all the goals that we want to this year, wins like this are absolutely what we need. A win is a win — road wins are even tougher than any other game, so being able to win a game on the road is huge.”
Xavier came out flat and trailed 10-5 just over three minutes into the game.
Senior guard Paul Scruggs missed two free throws, and a few possessions later DePaul’s Brandon Johnson hit his second three of the game to put DePaul up 15-7 with 14:12 left in the first half.
Xavier was sloppy early too, with four turnovers in the game’s first nine minutes. DePaul was also hot from the perimeter, starting 6-9 from beyond the arc as they built their lead to 29-17.
Sophomore forward David Jones had as many points as the entire Xavier team at the under-12 timeout with 17 points on 7-8 shooting. Xavier once again struggled with not allowing second chance points, as DePaul had five rebounds and 11 second chance points out of their first 29 points.
Xavier’s free-throw shooting was also poor early on, with the team shooting 4-8 in their first 12 attempts.The Musketeers responded with a much-needed 12-0 run to tie the game at 29, but DePaul answered with a 5-0 run to take the lead back.
DePaul would take a 36-34 lead into the half. Jones had 20 points in the first half, and the Blue Demons outrebounded the Musketeers 21-16. It was the third straight game where the Musketeers struggled mightily in the first half.
Xavier Head Coach Travis Steele singled out the second two-minute war (the period from 16:00 -12:00) as a specific area where Xavier needs to improve.
“I think I gotta look maybe at lineups too. We gotta dive into the analytical deeper a little more,” Steele said. “It’s been that second war in that first half that I’ve kind of noticed the last three games we’re getting punched in the mouth.”
In the second four-minute war against DePaul, Xavier was outscored 17-6.
DePaul opened the second half with a missed three and yet another offensive rebound, but they couldn’t convert the second chance. The Blue Demons still scored the first five points of the second half, and took a 41-34 lead a minute and a half into the second frame.
After a charge call against Scruggs, Steele took a timeout with 18:22 left in the game. DePaul’s Yor Anei torched Xavier on the interior, and the Blue Demons took a nine-point lead.
Later in the half, after sophomore Zach Freemantle missed a hook shot, Brandon Johnson made a three-pointer for DePaul and the Blue Demons took a ten-point lead at 50-40. DePaul opened the second half shooting 6-13, while Xavier slumped to a 3-9 start in the half. Once again Xavier climbed back, going on a 9-0 run before a DePaul timeout with them leading 50-49.
David Jones’ 25th point of the night came on a three that looked like it had no business going in, and DePaul took a 58-54 lead. With 7:45 left in the game, Xavier needed to string together stops to have a chance of getting the road win.
Instead, DePaul took a six-point lead with 6:33 left after David Jones went 1-2 at the line. A three by Nunge cut the lead to 63-61, but DePaul brought the lead right back to four. With three minutes left, DePaul led 65-62, but with 2:40 left, Nunge hit a three for his 20th point of the game to tie it up.
With 2:35 left, Xavier took a timeout with the game tied at 65. The two teams traded baskets, and at 67-67 with 1:15 left Nunge went 1-2 at the line to give Xavier a 68-67 lead.
Xavier turned the ball over with a one-point lead, and DePaul had a chance to win it with 0.3 more seconds on the game clock than shot clock. DePaul’s three at the buzzer was no good, and Xavier managed to escape with a 68-67 win. DePaul led for 35:22, and Xavier for just 2:08, but it was enough to get the job done.
“I thought we fought,” Nunge said. “We had a tough start to the game, but I thought we stayed together and stuck to our gameplan.”
Xavier moved to 14-3 and 4-2 in the Big East with the win. Next up is another road test against Marquette. The Golden Eagles have won five games in a row and just knocked off Villanova at Finneran Pavilion, the second team to do so since the current Big East formed in 2013.