Ignore whatever you may have heard the irrepressibly bad Steve Wolf say during today's telecast, this was not ever a game. It wasn't a game when DePaul went 11-4 near the end of the first half, it wasn't a game when Xavier went 6-16 from the line in the first half, it wasn't a game when DePaul went 6-12 from deep in the first, it just wasn't ever a game. DePaul is outrageously bad at basketball right now, so the outcome of this one was decided before five minutes had elapsed.
At that point Xavier led the game 9-2 and looked like they were making a concerted effort not to go into cruise control too early. Semaj Christon (14/4/7) already had five, Justin Martin (22/7/2) was active and alert, and DePaul was already only 1-8 from the field. The announcers were trying desperately to convince viewers that this game was still in the balance, but it clearly was not. The Blue Demons (whom Wolf alternately called the Demon Deacons, Blue Deacons, Deacons, Dayton, and the Blue Devils) came out and played like the worst team in the Big East. As bad as Butler is, and they're very bad, DePaul is quantifiably worse.
Still, someone has to beat them, and today Xavier took advantage of that opportunity. At the ten minute mark it was 21-7 as the Musketeers just eased away. Dee Davis (17/2/7) jarred a three, as did Myles Davis (5/1/3), and Matt Stainbrook (7/3/1) demonstrated, again, that he was way too much inside. That doesn't mean that the first half was as convincing as it could have been, because Xavier somehow still completely neglected the opportunity to shut down the three point line. DePaul came into the game shooting 32% behind the arc in the Big East and drained 6-12. How the Musketeers continue to allow teams so many attempts is just completely beyond reason. If a mediocre team shoots 6-12 in a half, you have a problem. Thankfully, this was DePaul.
And because it was DePaul the 6-16 that Xavier shot from the line in the first half didn't doom the game either. There's no way to explain shooting like that other than a lack of focus by a team that was well aware it was coasting to a win, but that doesn't make it much more excusable. Again, that effort against a team capable of winning on the road in the Big East would've have been an issue, but this was DePaul. Only four threes in the last four minutes of the half kept this from being a complete rout at the half, rather than the 12 point gap it was.
Xavier started the second half by killing the game. Finally, the Musketeers punched a team out rather than leaving them standing and making this game more interesting than it needed to be. A 14-0 run out of the half, with 12 coming from Martin and Stainbrook, took only three and a half minutes and removed whatever faux suspense may have been left. Bad teams still need beating, and Xavier came out of the half and did it. Credit needs to be given to Coach Mack for impressing upon his team that leaving any team, even DePaul, close when you can't defend the arc is dangerous. Instead, Xavier broke off that run and held the Blue Demons to a 10% mark from deep in the second half.
Xavier's lead peaked at 53-27 with 16:25 left in the game. From there, it was a procession. The regulars tightened up to go 14-18 from the line in the second half, another indication that Coach Mack was not willing to leave anything to chance and got into his team during the halftime break. Xavier also shot a blistering 70.6% from the floor in the second half, went 5-6 from behind the arc, and didn't let up on the glass. Losing this game would have ended any chance Xavier had at an at-large bid, and they didn't do that. Was it a classic? No, and thank goodness for that.
- Can Xavier play good defense? Well... DePaul is really bad. Let's get that out of the way. You can take the numbers with a grain of salt because the Blue Demons are simply atrocious. That said, Xavier hasn't been this good on defense since beating St. John's on December 31st. The time before that was against Tennessee in a win on November 12th. Clearly, the defensive effort tonight was a tick up from the garbage they'd been serving up recently.
But that 6-12 for DePaul from deep in the first half really rankles. Even with the clampdown in the second half, teams are still shooting 39.6% behind the arc in conference against the Musketeers and taking 37% of their shots from there. While teams don't have a great deal of control over opponent's three point percentage, they have a great deal of control over opponent's three point attempts. Are you comfortable with Creighton or Villanova lifting 22 times?
- Does Xavier have it in them to kill someone off? Thankfully, this answer is more clear cut. This game wasn't much of a game in the first half, and Xavier opened the second half by going on a 14-0 run. That's kicking an opponent when they are down, and it's exactly what the Musketeers needed to do tonight. Again, no good was coming from this win, no matter what the margin, but there was no point in it being close.
- What is this team made of? I'll point to the start of each half to answer this. In the 12 minutes comprising the first six minutes of each half, Xavier outscored the Blue Demons 28-7. Clearly, the need for this win was impressed upon the team and they responded. There were other signs of some heart as well. James Farr (0/1/0 in 10 bad minutes) and Jalen Reynolds (4/1/0) each blocked a shot after the whistle had gone and a DePaul players was simply flipping the ball at the hoop. That may seem petulant, but it sends a message to opposition. Xavier also scored their second bucket on a backcut in which Semaj completely left his man. After a game full of failing to adjust to an overplaying Marquette defense, it was nice to see the Musketeers adjust instantly against DePaul.
Tweet of the Game:
This was the winner in an absolute runaway.