As has been a recent pattern, Xavier staggered out of the gate like a baby wildebeest taking his first, tentative steps only to realize the lion is already chasing him. After falling behind early to Marquette a week ago, and slowly fading from the first half against Providence on Thursday, the Musketeers combined poor perimeter defense with worse perimeter defense on their way to letting DePaul build a substantial cushion early. By the time the first media timeout rolled around, the score was already 16-9 and DePaul was 4-7 from three point range. In what would be a tend of the first 20 minutes, the Blue Demons couldn't miss early on, an Xavier was paying for their willingness to cede the three point line.
As the game ebbed and flowed early in the first half, it became obvious that these teams were going to score a lot today, as DePaul continued their barrage, while also not having an answer when Xavier's guards would work themselves free in the lane. However, right after Tommy Hamilton's three pointer at the ten minute mark, Rashaun Stimage drilled a jumper himself, and DePaul suddenly had expanded a 4 point lead to 12 in scarcely over 2 minutes. While Stainbrook would respond with 4 points of his own, most of Xavier's responses came from the tandem of Myles Davis and Trevon Bluiett, who both went into the half with double digits and looked for the most part to be scoring with ease inside the arc. While Xavier would get as close as 4 points by the under-4 timeout, DePaul's ridiculous 11-19 mark from three point range had them up by 8 at the half, a situation with which Xavier is becoming all too familiar.
In Xavier's last three games before this point, they had come out of halftime trailing and outscored their opponents in the second half. Part of this could most likely be linked to their off-season commitment to a rigorous conditioning program, although at the DI level, it is to be expected that most teams would engage in similar practices. Part of it can be contributed to the fact that Chris Mack is growing into a better coach, and his halftime adjustments have shown marked improvement as the season has gone on. What made the difference for Xavier today was the realization that DePaul wasn't going to be able to stop Myles Davis or Trevon Bluiett if they kept double teaming Matt Stainbrook in the post. With a renewed commitment to feeding the hot hand(s), Xavier tried to swing a second straight home comeback of double digits.
After some (ahem) questionable officiating at the half, DePaul stretched their lead to 9 before a second had even ticked off the second half clock and 10 with the ensuing possession out of the break. Xavier instantly went to work on the lead by knuckling down on defense and forcing DePaul into 5 misses in the first 3 minutes of the half. With their opponent's scoring streak briefly quelled, Xavier began having their way on offense as well, and when Remy Abell hit Xavier's first three of the game to cut the lead to 54-50 with 17:44 left, the tide in Cintas Center began turning bac to the home team.
Trevon Bluiett and Myles Davis have had markedly different seasons for the Musketeers thus far, with Bluiett's hot start having cooled with conference play, and Myles' knack for big shots having carried him to a much better second tour through the Big East than he suffered through last season. However, they shared the spotlight today as 10 of Xavier's next 12 points in what would prove to be the game's defining run belonged to these two. It started with a Bluiett lay-in that cut DePaul's lead to two. After a Billy Garrett miss, the freshman buried a three pointer while fading away into the Xavier bench to give Xavier their first lead of the game with 16 minutes to play. After Jamee Crockett gave the Blue Demons the lead back, Myles knocked down a pair of free throws to restore the tie and then followed a Stainbrook lay-in with a three point play of his own as Xavier pushed their advantage to 5 points. All in all, it was a frantic 20-5 run that gave Xavier control in the second half of this one, fueled by the efforts of two emerging stars.
With their standing among the top teams in the Big East on the line, DePaul could never muster a strong enough comeback to wrest control back from Xavier. Tommy Hamilton cut it back to 3 with 14 minutes left, but Dee Davis responded immediately with a jumper of his own. It would take DePaul until 7:53 left to even get that close again, but Bluiett cleaned up Myles Davis's miss and put it back to restore a 5 point cushion, from which point DePaul never got closer. As hot as the Blue Demons had gotten in the first half, shooting 19-30 overall, they slumped badly in the second half, firing up 9-30 from the floor and just 2-13 from three. Myles Davis's final layup with 37 seconds remaining pushed him to a career high 25 points joining Trevon Bluiett and his 21 as the Musketeers to hit a new high scoring mark for their career. In a game that Xavier trailed by double digits in the first half, they survived an almost surreal barrage from DePaul, mustered themselves, and won by a deceptively comfortable margin.
-How does Xavier defend Robinson? Robinson, who you may remember from his free-scoring excursion at DePaul, was kept quiet today, registering just 3 points on 1-5 shooting (all threes). DePaul's other big man, Tommy Hamilton went off for 13 in the first half on 5-5/3-3/0-0, so it is not like the issue was fixed. It was just a different guy this time.
-Can Xavier control the glass? Not really. Xavier held a 33-31 edge on the boards, and the splits between the two ends are similar enough to call it a wash. Xavier at least held their own, which helped them get stops in the second half.
-Can anyone slow down Billy Garrett? DePaul's offense typically flows through Garrett, but he had one of his worst league games of the season today. His 6/0/6 came on just 1-4/1-3/3-6 shooting, he turned the ball over three times, and he fouled out. Aaron Simpson carried the mail for DePaul's backcourt today, posting his third double digit effort in the last four games, but Garrett was almost a complete non-factor.