Those that stuck around late at Madison Square Garden were treated to a thrilling finish.
In the final basketball game that will feature an audience at the World’s Most Famous Arena, the seventh-seeded Xavier Musketeers and the 10th-seeded DePaul Blue Demons battled it out until the final seconds of the game.
In the end, the Blue Demons were able to hang on for the upset victory, winning 71-67, to advance to their first Big East Tournament quarterfinals since 2014.
“We want to live to play another day, and in order to get to where you want to get to, you’ve got to take it one step, one possession at a time,” DePaul head coach Dave Leitao said. “I thought we did do that, and I thought we were really good defensively, particularly early our hands were in passing lanes. They were a little off balance, we got some turnovers, and it fueled some fastbreak offense. That’s what you’ve got to do with a really good defensive team like Xavier.”
It was a close game from opening tip, but the Blue Demons were in front for a majority of the way, until Xavier was able to rattle off a 13-3 run to take a 61-56 lead, with 7:40 remaining in the game.
Unfortunately for the Musketeers, they proceeded to cool off on the court, struggling to hit shots or maintain possession of the ball.
“We got the lead up, and then we started missing a lot of shots,” Xavier forward Zach Freemantle said. “They went on a run, took the lead back from us.”
After a Tyrique Jones layup with six minutes remaining in the game, the Musketeers went 1-for-10 the rest of the way. DePaul took advantage, using an 8-0 spurt to regain the lead.
The only shot the Musketeers made was a desperate Naji Marshall layup, with 19 seconds to play, in hopes to salvage the game.
However, DePaul sank the necessary free throws to ice the game and pull off the upset.
“We just came out and stuck with the game plan, gave energy,” DePaul’s Charlie Moore said. “Tried to limit their offensive rebound attempts, just play defense as a team. I thought we did a great job of that tonight.”
It was a back-and-forth game from the start. A 13-2 run topped off by a Charlie Moore layup gave the Blue Demons a 35-24 lead, with 3:45 to go until the break. That would be the only moment that either team led by double figures, as the Musketeers crept back into the game.
Both teams would trade three-pointers to close out the first half, with the Blue Demons holding a 38-34 lead at the break.
Paul Reed led the way with a 23-point, 12-rebound double-double. It was quite the return for the Blue Demon forward, who hadn’t played since Feb. 25, which happened to be a loss against the Musketeers.
“You don’t have to run a bunch of plays for him to be in the middle of the action,” Leitao said. “...His ability to get us second shots for us is really important. Having him in the lineup gives us that advantage that we don’t have when he’s not there.”
Moore added 18 points and nine assists towards the winning effort. Jaylen Butz chipped in 11 points and six rebounds.
For Xavier, Jones paced the Musketeers with 22 points and seven boards. He shot an efficient 9-of-11 on the floor. Freemantle had 18 points. Naji Marshall chipped in 15 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.
Next up for DePaul is a game against the second-seeded Villanova Wildcats. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday night.