DePaul pulls off upset win over Xavier in first round of Big East Tournament

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Kathy Willens/AP

DePaul guard Charlie Moore reacts during the second half of the team’s the first round Big East Tournament game against Xavier at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday

NEW YORK — DePaul went into the Big East Tournament knowing exactly what they needed to do in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament — win all four games and they are in. Well, that challenge began against Xavier in the first round at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night. 

The Blue Demons were able to survive the first night in New York, with a 71-67 victory over the Musketeers. This is DePaul’s first win in the Big East Tournament since 2014 and their third win all-time. Xavier, who made 20 3-pointers in two meetings against DePaul this season, went 3-of-17 from behind the arc in the loss. 

“I thought we were really good defensively to be early, hands were in passing lanes, we got deflections, we got some turnovers and it fueled some fastbreak offense,” DePaul Head Coach Dave Leitao said. “That’s what you got to do against a really good defensive team like Xavier. We outrebounded them, which is the No. 1 key because they feed off their ability to get second shots.”

DePaul did receive good news prior to the game, with junior forward Paul Reed returning to the starting lineup after missing the last three games with a hip pointer injury. Even though Reed has not played in two weeks, he came out attacking from the start with a layup to begin the game. 

“He’s well-rested,” Leitao said with a laugh. “That’s who he is. He is so long and he’s to box out. The most positive way is awkward about how he does things. He scores in unconventional ways. You don’t have to run a bunch of plays for him to be in the middle of the action and he did that today.”

The Blue Demons took a 5-3 lead after junior guard Charlie Moore hit a 3-pointer inside the first three minutes of the game. But three turnovers in the first four minutes allowed Xavier to get out in transition and get good looks inside the paint. The Musketeers scored eight points off eight DePaul turnovers in the first half, and poured in 16 points in the paint. 

After DePaul grabbed a 5-3 lead, the Blue Demons only scored four points in the next four minutes, while Xavier was able to grab a 15-9 advantage thanks to six points from Zach Freemantle. The Musketeers were able to build their lead to 17-12 after Freemantle hit a jumper. 

DePaul, however, responded with a quick 6-0 run to take an 18-17 lead, but KyKy Tandy then converted a 3-point play to give his team back the lead. Both sides traded baskets the next couple of minutes, but with Xavier holding a 22-20 lead with 9:32 to play, that’s when the Blue Demons started building momentum on the offensive end. 

In a five-minute stretch, DePaul went on a 15-2 run to take a 35-24 lead. Moore was the catalyst during the run, contributing seven points and dishing out multiple assists. With the Blue Demons holding an 11-point advantage, Xavier’s head coach Travis Steele called a timeout in an effort to get his team back on track. 

It worked. 

The Musketeers closed the first half on a 10-3, with Freemantle and Tyrique Jones leading the charge. Senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands was able to make it a seven-point with his 3-pointer, but Freemantle responded with his own three to close the half. 

“In two games we played them, they killed us from behind the arc,” Moore said. “So, we wanted to lock in today, take away their 3-pointers. I think we did a great job with this, especially in the second half since they went 0-of-10.”

With Xavier being able to close the gap heading into the second half, the Musketeers used that new-found energy to score six of the first seven points and get within 40-39.

Both teams went shot-for-shot in the next couple of minutes, with the Blue Demons holding a 43-42 lead with 16 minutes to play in the game. But, once again, DePaul was to create some distance between themselves and Xavier. In a three-minute stretch, the Blue Demons went on an 8-4 run that saw them take a 51-46 advantage.

However, that was when the game turned back in Xavier’s favor. After Reed dunked the ball to put his team up five, he got handed a technical foul for hanging on the rim for too long. As a result, Reed went back to the bench with his third foul, which propelled the Musketeers to go on a 13-0 run. During the run, Naji Marshall scored seven points for Xavier and helped them take a 59-53 lead with nine minutes left in the game.

But there was no quit from No. 10 seed. 

With the Blue Demons trailing by six and all the momentum with Xavier, Moore came down the other end and drilled a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three. The next couple of possessions for the Blue Demons, Moore had multiple looks from behind the arc to tie the game — but all of them failed to go in. 

Jones then hit a layup to put his team up 63-60 with six minutes to play, but it would wind up as the last shot the Musketeers would hit until 16 seconds left in the game. As a result, the Blue Demons went an 8-0 run that would see them take the final lead of the game. Moore also had a huge block on Tandy with 47 seconds to play, which allowed DePaul to get the ball back.

“My message to the team was to be poised throughout all of the highs and the lows,” Leitao said. “We got up 12 in the first half, they came right back and it was a four-point game. Just allow us to be who we are supposed to be, live in the moment. I was trying to get the guys to understand that when we are doing well or times they are playing well, we’ve got to be just even killed.”

Marshall converted a layup to get his team within 68-65 with 16 seconds to play, but Reed hit three free throws in the final seconds to close out the win for the Blue Demons. The Florida native finished the game with 23 points and 12 rebounds, while Moore added 18 points and nine assists. 

DePaul will face Villanova in the quarterfinals Thursday night, but the Big East announced that each team can only have 200 tickets for the rest of the tournament because of coronavirus concerns. Other conferences around America have already announced that they will be playing their tournaments with a restricted amount of fans. The NCAA also said on Wednesday that both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be played with no fans allowed to attend games.