Men’s basketball: DePaul’s upset bid over No. 20 Xavier comes up just short


AP Photo/Paul Beaty

Xavier’s Paul Scruggs (1) and DePaul’s Jalen Terry (3) watch the ball get away during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Chicago. Xavier won 68-67.

It’s been three decades since DePaul last won back-to-back games versus ranked opponents. 

It’s been three years since DePaul last won consecutive Big East games. 

DePaul has never beaten two ranked Big East teams in one season.

On Wednesday, that all could have changed. 

But a similar story played out for the Blue Demons, one that fans of this program have seen happen too many times in the past decade: DePaul (10-7; 1-6 Big East) takes a big lead, looks like it’s in control, only for the opponent to storm back and steal the victory in the final minute. 

Sophomore guard Jalen Terry had an open look from the corner to hit the game-winning 3-pointer against No. 20 Xavier (14-3; 4-2 Big East). His shot, however, failed to go in, giving the Musketeers a 68-67 victory on Wednesday at Wintrust Arena.

“I thought we played well, I thought our guys played hard,” head coach Tony Stubblefield said. “But you got to play hard and smart at the same time. We got to play smart at the same time and get the shots we want on our end, and be able to dig down and get the defensive stops,”

The Blue Demons, who beat No. 20 Seton Hall in their last game last week, had another great opportunity to knock off a ranked opponent. DePaul led for most of the game and even had double-digit leads multiple times. 

The Blue Demons led by as many as 10 points in the second half before Xavier started clawing its way back into the game. DePaul managed to hold onto the lead for most of the second half until the Musketeers took a 67-65 lead following a layup from Jack Nunge. 

Terry quickly responded with a jumper to tie the game, but the game-winning point would come from Nunge who spilt two free throws to put his team up one. 

Paul Scruggs turned the ball over with 30 seconds to play, which gave DePaul the ball back with a chance to hit the game-winner. Stubblefield elected to call a timeout and draw up a play.

Sophomore forward David Jones had the ball knocked loose with a couple of seconds left, but Terry picked it up and fired away a 3-pointer that would not fall in.

“We ended up getting a good look, but we just did not knock it down,” Stubblefield said. “We really wanted to get something going at the rim.”

Senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty missed his first game of the season due to a groin injury. He is the team’s leading scorer this season at 21.1 points per game. 

Jones stepped up on the offensive end for the Blue Demons, scoring 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting. He scored 20 in the first half to help propel his team to a 36-34 lead going into the break. 

Turnovers were a problem for DePaul in the first half, with 10 of them leading to nine points for Xavier. DePaul cleaned up the mistakes in the second half, limiting the turnovers to only three. 

But a costly giveaway in the final minute from Terry allowed Nunge to pick up the ball and to get to the basket where he was fouled. Nunge hit the second free throw that put Xavier up for good. 

Nunge had a strong outing for Xavier, finishing with 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He made some big shots for the Musketeers in the closing stretch, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 65. 

Yor Anei, making his third consecutive start, had another strong performance for DePaul. Even though it doesn’t show up in the scoring column, Anei’s ability to keep offensive possessions alive has proven to be invaluable for a team that shot below 40 percent Wednesday night.

This was a missed opportunity for DePaul to build on its win over No. 20 Seton Hall a week ago. Even without Freeman-Liberty, the Blue Demons had a chance to build some momentum before heading off to Creighton and Villanova, two programs that DePaul has struggled to beat in the last decade. 

“Without a doubt,” Stubblefield said when asked if Wednesday’s loss was a missed opportunity. “That was a very winnable game. That’s a game I feel like we should have won. I think that was a missed opportunity to try to get back”

Freeman-Liberty’s status is still up in the air for DePaul’s trip to Creighton, per Stubblefield. It will depend on how Freeman-Liberty is progressing in his recovery before he’s able to return, the first-year DePaul coach said after the game.