Not many would have drawn it up like this. After 30+ games, countless hours on flights, practices, shootarounds, and film sessions that fill every waking moment of every college basketball players winter and spring, it came down to this. The Big East final wasn’t the established powers this season. When the final game of the Big East tournament tipped off, it was DePaul vs. Xavier. The team picked to finish last and the team that finished seventh were playing for the hardware.
It was a game worthy of a championship. DePaul hit the Musketeers with a 15-2 run late in the first half and it looked like the team that beat Iowa, Minnesota, and Texas Tech was back. Charlie Moore sparked the run for DePaul by hitting one of his four three pointers. Moore was a threat all night, dishing out nine assists to go with his 18 points. He was answered by a three from Zach Freemantle, who turned in a monster game in the final. Freemantle stanched the Blue Demon run with a three of his own. Freemantle was tough all night, finishing with 18/4/1 on a night where Xavier’s offense sputtered.
It sputtered in large part because Naji Marshall simply couldn’t get it going it what now seems likely to have been the last game of his Xavier career. Marshall was excellent (6-8) in the lane, but missed all eight of his three point attempts. Naji’s final line of 15/8/8 was good, but Xavier Nation can only think of the party that might have happened had just one of those shots gone down. Fellow departing player Tyrique Jones saved some of his best for last. His 22/7/2 came on 9-11 shooting and 4-8 from the line. While Paul Reed (23/12/1) was also immense, he and Jaylen Butz had their hands full with Tyrique. As the game wore on, the Blue Demon defense collapsed on Jones and left Xavier to stand on the perimeter.
And that, like so many games before it this season, is where the story of this game was written. Naji Marshall was 0-8, KyKy Tandy was 0-3. Jason Carter, who shot a respectable 33% in conference play and was 9-17 since the St. John’s game, seemed reluctant to pull the trigger. Zach Freemantle and Quentin Goodin were the only Musketeers to make a three point shot as the team combined to go 3-17. Paul Scruggs, the best shooter on the team, could only forlornly watch from the bench as the first chance for Xavier to end their season on a win since 1958 went begging in large part because Xavier simply couldn’t make open shots.
As the last seven minutes of the game ticked away DePaul answered a 13-0 Xavier run with a 12-2 tear of their own. KyKy Tandy tried to take the game over, shooting five times in that span, but couldn’t. Naji couldn’t find a shot and Xavier’s season, a struggle from the start, ended in the final Big East game of the year. It was a spirited tournament run that got Xavier to this point. The memories made in the run that left the Musketeers one of the two final Big East teams to play a game will surely live on in Xavier Nation memory forever. For Team 98, the final game of the Big East tournament was just a game too far.