Xavier Pulls Out Win in Regular Season Finale - Become Big East Champions Outright
The Xavier Musketeers escaped DePaul University on Saturday afternoon in the final game of the regular season with a 65-62 win in Chicago. Senior Trevon Bluiett led the way in scoring for the Muskies with 22 points after a slow start. The No. 3 ranked Musketeers clinched an outright Big East regular season championship for the first time in school history with the win, making them a No. 1 seed for the Big East Tournament next week at Madison Square Garden.
J.P. Macura opened up the game in scoring for the Musketeers with a deep three-pointer. The effort was followed up by two straight fast break point opportunities for DePaul as a result of poor transition defense from Xavier. Despite the early make for Macura, Xavier struggled shooting in the first 5 minutes of the game and for the remainder of the first half, making only 3 three-pointers out of 12 attempts.
The first half was sloppy for both teams as the early tip-off seemed to have impacted the player's performance early in the contest. Both Xavier and DePaul struggled to get going on the offensive side of the ball, scoring only 7 total points in the first 4 minutes of play. Freshman Paul Scruggs came off the bench with the energy and scoring ability that Xavier needed significantly, scoring 9 points in the opening half and accounting for half of Xavier's total points scored at one point during the contest.
DePaul found itself in foul trouble early when their top offensive weapon, Max Strus, picked up 3 fouls halfway into the first half, forcing him to sit for the remainder of the half. DePaul had 3 players with 4 fouls in the game, a result of their aggressive defensive effort and "nothing to lose" attitude. DePaul shot 11-31 in the first half and struggled to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. Xavier's 10 turnovers in the first half and sloppiness at times enabled the Blue Demons to go into halftime trailing by 6 points.
Trevon Bluiett emerged in the second half, scoring 13 straight points for the Musketeers to keep them in the lead before an 8-2 run and a 7-0 run by the Blue Demons. A layup inside by Kerem Kanter gave Xavier a 10-point lead with 8:00 left to play, though DePaul would not roll over. A late Xavier foul and DePaul made basket allowed the Blue Demons to cut Xavier's lead to 1 point. On the following possession, Sean O'Mara found J.P. Macura on a wonderfully executed back cut for a wide-open layup, giving Xavier a 65-62 edge with 1:30 left to play in the game. With just seconds remaining, DePaul missed two three-point opportunities to send the game into overtime. Macura had scored the final points of the contest, allowing Xavier to become outright champions of the Big East in the 65-62 win.
The Musketeers clinched a No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament and, therefore, advance to the quarterfinals. The Muskies will be back on action on Wednesday, March 8th at noon in New York at Madison Square Garden. They will take on the winner of the game between the No. 8 seed St. John's and No. 9 seed Georgetown which will be played on March 7th at 7:00pm.