Drama enthralled Madison Square Garden in the first game of the 2017 Big East Tournament and the Xavier Musketeers and DePaul Blue Demons hoped to continue the trend after the Georgetown Hoyas and St. John’s Red Storm set the table for them.
After a slow start, Xavier and DePaul traded blows for the better part of the first half. The Blue Demons showed plenty of fight for a team sitting in the cellar of the conference while the Musketeers countered each bucket, looking to stymie their slide of late and avoid the NIT.
In the end, it was Xavier who would speed ahead of DePaul. The Musketeers capped off the night with a 75-64 victory, teeing up a meeting with the Butler Bulldogs on Thursday evening.
“We came out of the locker room and played a little better offensively,” head coach Chris Mack said of his team’s second half performance, noting that they had played fine defensively but fine-tuned it offensively. “But offensively we loosened up and played a lot better, a lot more confident in the second half, along with getting some offensive putbacks. So we lived to fight another day.”
Freshman point guard Quentin Goodin went on a big spurt in the second half and helped pave the way for the Musketeer win. Goodin finished the game with 13 points on 6-8 from the field.
“I thought Quentin did a great job getting in the lane,” Mack stated, praising his freshman point guard who was thrown into the fire following Edmond Sumner’s injury in February. “The one thing he’s done a terrific job all year long, whatever his role has been, he’s been a really good defender for us.”
Speaking of, the young Musketeer would later tack on his own thoughts about his game and performance.
“I feel like I just took advantage of what the defense gave me,” Goodin said. “My game is to get to the rim and then make my team better. But my whole mindset today was to get to the rim, do the same thing you usually do. Just worked out today.”
Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura complemented Goodin with 17 and 13 points each. Bluiett’s shot was a bit off on Wednesday night, shooting 5-17 overall and 1-8 from outside but did strive from the free throw line, banking 6-9 shots from the stripe. Macura meanwhile converted on 5-11 field goal attempts and 3-5 from the 3-point line.
Bluiett was not bothered by his slow start however and neither was his coach.
“No, he just kept instilling confidence in me,” Bluiett replied when asked if there was something that Mack told him that kept him going. “Some of the shots I was taking were pretty good, just fell in and out, and just being aggressive when I, like I said, get lost in the game, make great passes, play hard defense, everything else will follow.”
DePaul’s Billy Garrett Jr., who was named as the Scholar Athlete of the Year in the Big East earlier Wednesday, racked up 16 points in what is likely to be his final college game. Garrett did so while making 7-16 shots from the field and 2-5 from the 3-point line, adding in a board and three assists to boot. Eli Cain added 15 points, five boards and an assist and Tre’Darius McCallum had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The mood for DePaul was a bit more somber as they said goodbye to one of the best players in school history. Billy Garrett Jr. wrapped up his college career on Wednesday night, and his coach heaped praise on him.
“He came here and what he has not gotten in terms of success on the court, he epitomizes what you want a man to be about,” head coach Dave Leitao said of his senior point guard.
Garrett would later reflect on his time at DePaul, saying, “From a pure wins and losses standpoint, it hasn’t been ideal. But I get that question a lot. And people ask me if it was a bad experience. No, not at all.
“No experience – I believe like nothing in life is necessarily bad. I mean, everything is a learning experience. So being at DePaul was no different.
“I’m coming out of here a lot more mature and ready for life. That’s why I went to school regardless of basketball.”
Garrett didn’t think that he had one thing in particular that stuck out, but said that if anything, his life at the university was what he’ll remember most. “Dealing with faculty and the staff and all the students. That’s something that I’ll take with me. I’ll keep with me forever,” Garrett said.
And to that point, what does he take away from being in the Big East Conference for the last four years?
“I’ve seen the change, but the Big East is in my opinion the greatest conference in the world with the greatest tournament in the world,” Garrett stated. “I’ll forever consider myself a part of the Big East.”