A game that almost went awry for the Xavier Musketeers was rescued by a strong second-half performance. The Musketeers had easily one of the most lackadaisical first halves of their season but completely flipped the script in the second half against the DePaul Blue Demons to survive what could have been an early in-conference upset, 77-72.
Xavier opened up the game with a quick short jumper and a 3-point field goal by J.P. Macura. Then, Xavier was pretty much ice cold from the floor the rest of the first half, especially from long range.
The Musketeers shot a mere 18.8 percent from 3-point range in the first half and 28.1 percent overall. This was the first game since February 7, 2015 that Trevon Bluiett was active but not in the starting lineup for the Xavier Musketeers. Perhaps, this could have been a reason why Xavier looked so out of sync the first half.
At the under 16-minute media timeout, the score was deadlocked at nine points apiece. DePaul would soon take the reigns and take a 14-11 advantage at the under-12.
The Musketeers switched to a 1-3-1 defense, but that made them susceptible to the 3-point shot. Which DePaul took advantage of. Junior transfer Max Strus crushed from deep. He was 4-6 shooting from beyond the arc, tallying 16 first half points.
By the under-8, Xavier raised the tempo up a notch and regained a slim 22-19 lead. DePaul answered with a 7-0, reclaiming a six-point lead at the under-4 timeout.
Xavier was outplayed by DePaul in the first half and was down 39-31. Xavier not only struggled to defend Strus, but also speedy freshman guard Justin Roberts, who picked apart their defense on the dribble-drive. He collected 10 in the first half.
Turnovers plagued the Musketeers in the first half. They were disrupted by the Blue Demons’ zone looks. They turned the ball over 12 times and were largely kept in the game behind a perfect 10-10 effort from the free throw line.
At the start of the second half, Xavier still struggled to defend the Demons’ offensive attack and not even three minutes into the second half, a 10-0 DePaul run forced them to take a timeout after incurring a 14-point deficit.
Xavier then started to mount a comeback, but still faced an uphill battle, down 53-41. But they weren’t done yet. At the 12-minute timeout, Xavier was back in the game, within just six points.
DePaul was hit with a torrent of possessions resulting in turnovers. The Musketeers took advantage of the Demons offensive miscues. By the 8:15 mark, Xavier erased a 16-point deficit and tied the score at 60 all. sXavier, back on the offensive, took a one-possession lead into the under-4.
The Musketeers had a four-point lead with just over a minute to go in the game, but the reliable Strus responded with a clutch 3-pointer, his sixth of the game. Trevon Bluiett missed a shot in the land and on the ensuing possession, Xavier forced a double team and J.P. Macura snatched an errant lob pass. He passed the ball up court to a wide open Quentin Goodin who finished off the fast break with an acrobatic reverse dunk.
Macura: 19 points, 6 rebounds
Bluiett: 16 points, 7 rebounds
Goodin: 12 points, 4 assists
Kerem Kanter: 10 points, 6 rebounds
Strus: 33 points, 6 rebounds
Roberts: 16 points, 4 rebounds
Life in the Big East will be a grind
DePaul was projected to be a bottom-feeder in the fierce Big East Conference and they very well may be just because of how competitive this league is. There is almost a night and day difference between DePaul’s team from last year to this year. That is largely thanks to the play of transfer Max Strus, who was dominant in the loss. This game showed that perhaps, DePaul isn’t as bad as everyone thought, especially if they can hang with the No. 6 team in the land.
On the flip side, Xavier cannot afford to play as streaky as it did if they are going to contend for a Big East title. The Musketeers are a team that has high ceiling, possibly even enough to go deep in the tournament. But not playing the way they did Saturday. The season is still early, and Xavier has time to regroup and take on the rest of the Big East.
Was Deadpool at Cintas? This game took Maximum Effort
Not only did this win take a true team effort, but Xavier also had to dig deep to down the Blue Demons. The Musketeers had 38 bench points, although these numbers could be inflated because of the fact that Blueitt did not start this game. Regardless, this game featured four Musketeers that scored in double figures. Xavier itself is typically a very unselfish team, and unless Trevon Bluiett absolutely takes over a game, the Musketeers will have to win games together as a team.
One consistent trend this year? The Musketeers have been successful in come-from-behind victories. Good news: Xavier is winning. Bad news: The Musketeers should be beating some of these teams much more handily than the scores indicated. This is just the latest installment of a comeback win directed by Xavier, that has had to survive a few nail-biting victories this season. Despite a haphazard first half, Xavier registered its 13th victory in the win column.
With the Musketeers win on Saturday, Xavier head coach Chris Mack collected his 200th career win. With four more victories, he will become Xavier’s most winning coach in program history. The Xavier grad turned coach has built up the Musketeers basketball program to national prowess and a perennial Top 25 team.
Without a doubt, this Xavier team has talent and potential. Some even believe this is the best team Mack has had at Xavier and I buy it. However, if you watched this team for the first time Saturday, you wouldn’t have thought that.
The Big East is a conference that will wear teams down. Game in and game out, you are getting a matchup that threatens an upset. Saturday was no exception to that as DePaul gave the Musketeers everything it had. Moving down the stretch, Xavier has to be more consistent in both halves, although this game was a character building affair.