NEW YORK — In Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, there were teams with two different mindsets. Xavier, who had a bad losing skid to close out the conference season, were trying to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive after they had been so strong just two months ago. A loss to the last-place team in the conference would severely hurt those chances.
On the other side was DePaul, a team mired in multiple seasons of losing and struggle. They were in the midst of another poor season and needed to win just to keep playing. A tournament berth was out of the question, barring a miracle run.
The game went as many had gone for DePaul (9-22) this season. They kept pace with a better opponent for a decent amount of time before letting the game get away from them. Xavier (20-12) controlled the second half to earn the 75-64 win in the first round of the Big East tournament, ending DePaul’s season.
“It’s what’s happened a bunch of times this year,” DePaul head coach Dave Leitao said. “We stop being in sync and it costs us.”
Xavier’s leading scorer Trevon Bluiett scored 17 second half points after going scoreless in the first to lead the game, a reflection of Xavier’s performance this game.
“(Xavier head coach Chris Mack) kept instilling the confidence in me,” Bluiett said. “Some of the shots I was taking were pretty good (in the first half) just fell in and out.”
Neither team shot particularly well in the first half. The Blue Demons found some success in breaking down Xavier’s zone by hitting mid-range jumpers, but their success beyond the three-point arc was limited. They only hit one three in the half. Xavier could not take advantage of their defensive performance and so the teams were locked in a close battle. DePaul did go on a 7-0 run to take the lead late in the first half and got to as high as a six-point lead, but the Musketeers erased that.
The exclamation point of the half was a JP Macura three from long range at the buzzer to pull Xavier within one at the break. DePaul, however, still led 31-30 at the half. DePaul sophomore guard Eli Cain led the game with ten points.
“I thought (the shot) brought a lot of momentum into the locker room,” Bluiett said. “It brings more life into us in the locker room and it just gave us more confidence.”
The teams opened the second half with much more aplomb than the first. The Musketeers went on a 12-5 run to open the period and they continued to find their scoring stroke. With Billy Garrett Jr out for the majority of the second half with four fouls, the Musketeers opened the game up and were up by twelve at the under-8 media timeout.
Xavier kept the lead all throughout the second half and persevered to win 75-64.
The Musketeers will play No. 2 Butler tomorrow in the Big East quarterfinals, while DePaul goes into the offseason, preparing for Leitao’s third season next year.
“There’s that inevitable word of “a process,”Leitao said. “We are all going to be judged on whether you win or lose and that’s how it gets determined. But when you’re trying to do what we’re trying to do that becomes the culmination of everything that goes into a process. And I think we’re ongoing in that process.”
This game marked the end of careers for several DePaul seniors, most notably Billy Garrett Jr., who has been a starter all four years and led DePaul with 16 points in his final game.
“I met a lot of great people, and learned a lot of valuable lessons, and dealt with a lot of other people, Garrett said. “I’m coming out of here as a lot stronger person and it reaches beyond basketball, you know what I mean? Overall I think it was a positive experience. And I’m coming out of here a lot stronger. I’m coming out of here a lot more mature and ready for life.”
Now life for DePaul begins without Garrett as they move into a new era next season with their new arena.