Men come up one shot shy of senior-day upset


The Blue Demons (Pictured: Brandon Cyrus) looked deflated after coming up just shy of an upset in DePaul's final regular season game. before the Big East. (Jim Young | AP News)

A career night from Blue Demon sophomore guard Brandon Cyrus and a late game comeback that gave DePaul a chance to tie on the last possession weren’t enough, as the No. 3/4 ranked Xavier Musketeers (27-4; 15-3 Big East) escaped Wintrust Arena with a 65-62 win over the DePaul Blue Demons (11-19; 4-14 Big East).

With 16.3 seconds remaining in the game, the Blue Demons found themselves down three points. Junior guard Eli Cain missed a clean look from behind the 3-point line after a fake dribble handoff, but Cyrus collected the offensive rebound and passed it out to Max Strus. Strus rushed a 3-point attempt at the very end of regulation that ricocheted harmlessly off the back of the iron.

“We’ve ran that play a number of times this year,” Blue Demon head coach Dave Leitao said. “We wanted a good look. I think some guys zero in on a three and end up taking a bad three. I just wanted a basket real quick. I saved a timeout, so that if we scored a two or a three we could set up the defense. We faked the exchange on the dribble handoff so we didn’t have a clear lane to the basket. Eli took a step back and we got, obviously, a good rebound, and I’ll take the clean look Max had almost any day.”

The climatic ending canceled out the first 16 minutes of the second half where both teams mostly traded buckets, and the Xavier lead wavered between 11 and six points before the late Blue Demon comeback.

Cyrus finished with a career-high 20 points on 8-for-14 from the field. Musketeers star Trevon Bluiett notched the all-time Xavier career record in 3-point field goals made (he now has 310 career 3-point field goals) and led all scorers in this game with 22 points. In contrast, Strus was in foul trouble all day as he finished with just seven points after scoring 33 points in the first matchup between the two teams on Dec. 30.

“I think we just chased him off ball screens and stagger screens a lot better than the first game,” Xavier guard J.P. Macura said. “(The) first game, he was hitting everything, and I think we locked in a little bit more in this game today.”

A late Blue Demon comeback began with just over 2:23 to play after Cain converted a driving right handed layup was fouled, and then hit the free throw. That cut the deficit down to 63-60, and on the next defensive possession senior forward Tre’Darius McCallum got smacked in the face on a rebounding attempt. McCallum subsequently went to the line and nailed two free throws to make it 63-62 with just under two minutes to play. But that free throw ended the scoring for the Blue Demons, who dropped another close game.

“Ever, ever so close, we’ve experienced that throughout the year (and these close losses) haven’t allowed us to be in a better position than we are now,” Leitao said.

Xavier recovered from a 1-for-8 start from behind the 3-point line to create the sense of an impending blowout by stretching the lead out to eight points early. Later, Strus was called for a technical for arguing a charge call as the Musketeers ballooned their lead to 19-8 by the 8:43 mark in the first half.

Despite some key players sitting for long stretches with foul trouble, the Blue Demons valiantly battled back. A long Cain 3-point field goal from the left wing coupled with a Cyrus to McCallum alley-oop dunk in transition – then another McCallum reverse layup in transition on the following possession – cut the deficit to just two points with 3:20 left in the first half. It was all part of a stretch where the Blue Demons made six of their seven shots. Cyrus’ hot shooting was a big part of the Blue Demons offense all night.

“I don’t really focus on the offensive side a whole lot,” Cyrus said. “My job on the team is to defend the best offensive player, so I put a lot of time into that. The offensive stuff just comes with the game, if my teammates find me they find me. But my focus is on the defensive end.”

In the first half, the Blue Demons compensated for ugly half-court offense by running in transition and getting easy baskets, finishing the half with eight fast break points. However, they retreated to the locker room down 32-26, and although they outscored the Musketeers by three in the second half they never led.

DePaul’s season continues on Wednesday in the first round of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.