Second half woes continue as Xavier drops DePaul


Roberts fell three points shy of tying a career-high of 19 points he set earlier this season against Illinois. (Konrad Markowski / The DePaulia)

Paul Steeno, Sports Reporter

Same script, new game.

In a defeat that made the Dec. 16 loss against Northwestern look like a minor annoyance instead of a heartbreaker in retrospect, the Xavier Musketeers (14-1) used a furious comeback over the last 15 minutes of the game to escape 77-72 against DePaul (7-7) Saturday afternoon at the Cintas Center.

Also in a flashback of the Northwestern game, on DePaul’s last meaningful possession of the game with 22.5 seconds remaining and the score at 75-72 in favor of the. Musketeers it was junior forward Eli Cain who drove through the lane, went up for a layup that Xavier guard J.P. Macura smothered and ended up having the ball bounce off his hand out of play to give the Musketeers possession.

Justin Roberts dropped 16 points visiting Xavier Saturday in his best performance since he broke out with 19 points against Illinois on Nov. 17. (Photo Courtesy of DePaul Athletics)

Junior Max Strus matched his season high with 33 points as he and freshman Justin Roberts (16 points) were the Blue Demons only answers offensively for most of the afternoon.

It was a crushing ending to a game that couldn’t have started better for the Blue Demons.

DePaul sprinted out to an eight-point halftime lead as Roberts and Strus combined for 26 of the Blue Demons 39 first half points. The usually high-powered Xavier offense shot 28.1 percent from the field and coughed the ball up 12 times (Xavier has averaged 12.6 turnovers per game on the season) as they looked out of rhythm offensively for most of the first half. Musketeer stars Trevon Bluiett and Macura combined for 16 points on 3-for-12 from the field as the Musketeers also couldn’t reap the benefit of gathering eight offensive rebounds in the first half.

Strus tied a career high 33 points Saturday against Xavier. (Konrad Markowski / The DePaulia)

The Blue Demons kept their foot on the gas pedal to start the second half. They watched their lead balloon to 16 behind a 12-4 run through the first 3:20 of the half. But at the 17:13 mark, Bluiett, who didn’t start per a coaching decision, hit a jumper and the packed Cintas Center crowd sprang to life, coaxing their Musketeers all the way back from 16 down to grab their first lead since the first half at the 6:54 mark in the second half.

Back-to-back transition layups from Xavier big man Kerem Kanter stretched the Musketeer advantage to four points with five minutes left in the game, but the Blue Demons refused to quit keeping the deficit within four points for the next three minutes. With 1:19 left in the game, Strus hit a 3-point field goal with three Musketeer defenders around him to cut the deficit to 72-73. The Blue Demons had a chance to take the lead down the same score with 40 seconds remaining, but senior forward Tre’Darius McCallum turned it over on a wild pass to the top of the key that Macura stole and who then passed it to a streaking Quentin Goodin on the break for a dunk. After Macura stuffed Cain on the next possession, Bluiett iced the game with two free throws.

Second half collapses against quality opponents have been the story of the season for the Blue Demons. In seven losses this season, opponents have outscored the Blue Demons by an average of 9.6 points in the second half.

The loss pushes DePaul’s road record to 5-41 since the 2013-2014 season and robbed the Blue Demons of their first win against a top ten opponent since they downed Kansas in 2006. The Blue Demons leave the Cintas Center still searching for that signature win that has eluded them during Dave Leitao’s second tenure as head coach at this school

The Blue Demons will look to bounce back on Tuesday when they welcome Georgetown to Wintrust Arena for a 8 p.m. tipoff.