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Blue Demons fall short to (20) Xavier, 68-67

The Blue Demons lose a heartbreaker and fall to 1-6 in conference play

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at DePaul Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

After a six day layoff, the Blue Demons played host to the No. 20 (13-3) (3-2) Xavier Musketeers.

David Jones was the main man for DePaul to start this game. He scored nine of the Blue Demons’ first 12 points. Along with some great defense, DePaul found itself with a 12-7 lead entering the U16 media timeout.

This was the second straight game that DePaul hosted the No. 20 team in the country. It was also the second straight game that the Blue Demons got out to an early lead. In the first eight minutes, DePaul got out to a 15-7 lead. Brandon Johnson and David Jones were the sole contributors to this early point total.

After DePaul’s early eight point lead, the game would be back and forth until David Jones’s hot start would reignite. He would go off for another eight points in a one minute stretch to extend DePaul’s lead to 12 (29-17).

Another notable contributor for the Blue Demons in the first half was SMU transfer Yor Anei. The forward has been a monster on the boards over the past couple of games, and that continued in the first half tonight. At the U8 media timeout, Anei had already collected 4 offensive rebounds.

A layup from Zach Freemantle, great defense from Colby Jones, and a three pointer from Adam Kunkel brought the Musketeers back within 6 points of DePaul’s lead with around 6 minutes left in the first half. This would extend to an 10-0 run after a pair of layups from Paul Scruggs and Colby Jones. Xavier’s run would get all the way to 12-0 until it was ended by a Brandon Johnson jumper.

DePaul would still enter halftime with the lead, 36-34. David Jones led all players in first half scoring with 20 points and Yor Anei led all players in first half rebounding with five rebounds.

The Blue Demons did not skip a beat to start the second half. DePaul opened the half on a 5-0 run after a David Jones layup and Jalen Terry three. This run brought its lead back to seven points, which is where the lead was for the majority of the first half, until Xavier went on its 12-0 run.

In the second half, it looked like DePaul was just playing at a different level than it had been in its first five Big East games. When the Blue Demons went on stretches where they could not score, their defense picked up the slack until they were able to put one in the basket.

Right when it looked like DePaul had a great chance to win this game, the Musketeers went on a 9-0 run led by Colby Jones. The sophomore has been one of the most underrated players in the BIg East this year, and it showed tonight against the Blue Demons. The combination of his defense and natural ability to score makes it hard to stop him for long. If he stays at Xavier, he will be in Big East Player of the Year conversations next year.

After this Xavier run, the next portion of the game would be close. Both teams traded threes and pull up jump shots. With 7:45 left in the game, DePaul would have a 58-54 lead after a David Jones three that popped into the air off of the back of the rim before falling back into the hoop.

Back and forth would once again continue for the next few minutes. With 4:26 remaining, DePaul led 65-62. After a couple minutes of great defense from both sides, Jack Nunge broke the drought with a humongous three to tie the ball game at 65.

Nunge would go on to score the next three points for the Musketeers. This would give Xavier a one point lead with the ball, with only 1:01 left to play. DePaul would go on to get a steal, and have a chance to win the game with 23 seconds remaining. A three pointer at the buzzer for Jalen Terry...would rim in and out. Xavier escaped with a 68-67 win.

Analysis

Positives:

There were a lot of positives that can be taken away from this game. David Jones stepped up in a tremendous way. He was that big contributor that the Blue Demons needed in light of Javon Freeman-Liberty being a DNP. The sophomore had 26 points which is more than JFL’s average total of 21. Another great positive has been the play of Yor Anei. The SMU transfer has averaged almost 10 rebounds per game in his last three games. Anei keeps DePaul in every offensive possession, which showed tonight when he totaled 5 offensive rebounds. Another positive for the Blue Demons has been their strong starts in the last couple of games. They have opened out to 8+ point leads in their last 2 games.

Necessary Improvements:

The main thing that DePaul needs to work on is its second half play. After building up solid leads, the Blue Demons have let them crumble down in crunch time. This was apparent in its last two games. Luckily against Seton Hall they had a big enough lead, but that luck did not translate tonight. The other main thing that the Blue Demons need to focus on is a more balanced scoring effort. Guys like Javon Freeman-Liberty and David Jones can’t do it all each game. David Jones had 38.8% of DePaul’s points tonight. That will not win Big East games. Role players like Philmon Gebrewhit and Javan Johnson need to start helping out more, so the top scorer is not left out to dry.

Final Thoughts:

I honestly think that DePaul played its second best game of the season. Along with its win against Seton Hall last week, this game was beyond impressive. The Blue Demons outplayed Xavier tonight, but sadly fell just short. This is a rebuilding year for DePaul, and Coach Stubbs has proved that the future will be bright.

Next Up:

The (10-7) (1-6) DePaul Blue Demons travel down to Omaha to play the (11-5) (3-2) Creighton Blue Jays at the CHI Health Center.