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Xavier closes hard on DePaul to win by a final score of 74-65, go to 1-0 in Big East

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It was touch and go with 35 minutes gone, then Xavier got out the body bags and erased DePaul.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Missouri
It was like that sometimes,
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With the game tied and 8 minutes on the clock, I tweeted some thing or the next about it being winning time and wondering who wanted it. For the next three minutes, it looked like the answer was, “those dudes on DePaul.”

Then it clicked.

On the offensive end, a Xavier team that had been content to dribble into hopeless jump shots for most of the half suddenly discovered the joy of layups and ball movement again. Naji Marshall (a mind-garbling 16/14/4) got to the line and converted and Ryan Welage (17/3/1 on 5-8 from deep) dropped a Welly Bomb to spur a 5-0 to give X fans some hope. The next time down, Welly’s gravity was sufficient to draw the defense, leaving Naj with a wide open three which he jarred for the last lead change of the game.

The offensive output of 15 points in four and a half minutes on 5-6/3-3/2-3 shooting before DePaul started fouling was impressive - more on that later - but the real work was done on the defensive end.

With 5 minutes left, DePaul had 61 points and had just taken a six-point lead. Frankly, they were clowning a bit, completely feeling themselves after their last bucket as they accepted the adulation of the home fans.

A gurney was already waiting.

In the five minutes between Coach Steele’s timeout with 5:10 left and the layup Xavier watched Eli Cain shoot because the game was over, the Muskies held DePaul to 2 points on 1-10/0-4/0-0 shooting with a turnover. Nobody could get anything. DePaul wasn’t missing open shots, either; Xavier was just smothering them at every point on the floor. Off of their 9 misses, DePaul got only 1 offensive rebound. Tyrique Jones slapped the stickback attempt out of the greater Chicagoland area.

I’m not saying you should cancel your plans for the Final Four weekend just yet, but - for five minutes - the defending Big East champs had their swagger back.

This team can’t dribble into jump shots

This was a huge key in the last 5 minutes. Every bucket the team scored other than Tyrique’s steal and slam was assisted. High-level talents like JP Macura and Trevon Bluiett spoiled Xavier by being able to bail out bad offense with tough buckets for the past four years. This team doesn’t have those guys or anyone like them. They have to execute offense to get buckets. The team had 16 assists on 23 made baskets today; when the ball moves, they score. When it sticks, they’re garbage.

Naji and Q are incredible at their strengths

Let’s try some positivity! Quentin Goodin had 8 assists and just 2 turnovers today consistently finding his colleagues in places from which they could score. He was also 2-2 from the line and, despite picking up his fourth foul with 6:22 to play, never came out of the game. Naji Marshall was a monster on the boards, particularly on the defensive end, repeatedly pulling down really tough rebounds out of crowds.

Just as importantly, those guys spent the bulk of their time guarding Max Strus. DePaul’s star came in averaging 19/8/3 and was held to 10/1/2 with 3 turnovers by Xavier, particularly Goodin and Marshall. Plenty of digital ink has been spilled on what those two guys could stand to do less of, but their strength shone for Xavier today.

Welly is loose

You can’t give this dude a frickin’ whisker. Since the beginning of December, he is 20-38 from behind the arc. It felt like every one of his 5 threes today was big, but none more so than the one he hit to make it 61-60 DePaul. Xavier was falling out of the game a minute before that, and his trey pulled it to within one and completely changed the tenor of the final stretch. His off the ball movement is excellent, and his teammates clearly have confidence in his stroke. He’s a dang Jimmy Chitwood out there right now.