Same old story: DePaul can’t close in Big East opener


DePaul forward Paul Reed, left, drives against Xavier guard Paul Scruggs during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Chicago. Nam Y. Huh | AP

In a 74-65 loss Saturday afternoon against the Xavier Musketeers (9-5), the DePaul Blue Demons (8-4) found a new way to lose a tight game in their Big East Conference opener.

After DePaul big man Paul Reed drained an open mid-range jumper to pull the Blue Demons back to within two points with 2:08 to play, Xavier would finish the game on a 9-2 run. On the next possession, Musketeer guard Paul Scruggs was left wide open behind the short corner 3-point line and drained the shot to extend the lead to five points.

On the next Musketeer possession, Blue Demon point guard Devin Gage swiped a bad pass but in his haste to create a transition opportunity for his team, he turned the ball back over. Xavier big man Tyrique Jones scooped the ball up and slammed down an uncontested dunk to extend his team’s lead to seven points with 44 seconds to play.

“It’s emotion, emotional belief,” Leitao said when asked what the common denominator has been in the close losses his team has endured this season. “You have to be a creature of habit, and you have to practice a certain way so when you get into these moments there’s nothing new. The only way I know to get through it is to continue to push the envelope, to put guys in an uncomfortable position. You have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

“It’s up to us in the locker room and up to the coaches to figure out what it is [reason why they’ve struggled in close games],” DePaul senior guard Eli Cain said after the game. “Like you said, there’s been a lot of them, same thing last year. I think this year it’s different, I don’t like to compare this year to last year that much. There’s been two or three games where we could have won. We just need to figure it out.”

Over the last 5:11 of game time, the Musketeers exploded for a 19-4 run. Xavier hit three 3-point field goals in that stretch while DePaul floundered offensively shooting 2-for-10 from the field.

“We just got hesitant enough on offense that we passed up opportunities,” Leitao said. “We had some miscues and ended up taking shots that weren’t in our best interests and weren’t the best shots we could take. On the other end, we lost [Ryan] Welage in transition a couple of times, and just [missed] assignments.”

Meanwhile, Xavier head coach Travis Steele made a few adjustments to help ignite the run.

“We went 2-3 zone towards the end for a couple reasons,” Steele said. “They had Max out for a little bit and I felt like they had a non-shooting lineup in. Quentin Goodin for us had four fouls and we didn’t want to take him out of the game. I thought our 2-3 zone was very effective and I thought they took some rushed shots. Some tough ones around the rim. I thought we came up with some of those 50-50 balls that could have gone either way. We came up with those late and that was big.

The Blue Demons led for just 3:39 on Saturday afternoon. When they had success, it was probably the result of one of their big men.

The sophomore big man duo of Reed and Jaylen Butz combined for 33 points and 15 rebounds, helping the Blue Demons enjoy a 10-point scoring advantage in the paint. Butz had a career high in points (16), free throws made (6) and free throws attempted (8), and minutes (nearly 33). Reed also had a career high with 17 points. But the stats rang hollow without a victory attached to them.

“It would have been nice if we got the win,” Butz said. “That’s just a small accomplishment for me personally [the career high in points], but I’d like to get the win.”

The slog of the Big East Conference schedule continues for the Blue Demons on Wednesday evening when they travel to Philadelphia to square off against Villanova.