NEW YORK (AP) — Even when his shots were clanging off the rim in the first half, Trevon Bluiett never lost confidence, and that’s a major reason Xavier still has a shot at the NCAA Tournament.
Bluiett scored all 17 of his points in the second half and Xavier posted its fourth straight 20-win season with a 75-64 victory over DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament on Wednesday night.
The win was the seventh-seeded Musketeers’ second in five days over DePaul, and it set up a second-round game on Thursday against No. 18 Butler, the second seed.
”They want to play in the dance,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said of the crucial upcoming game. ”They want to continue their season. So there’s a lot of pressure.”
The Musketeers (20-12) seemed headed to the NCAAs a couple of weeks ago, but they went on a late six-game losing streak that put a bid in jeopardy.
Bluiett kept it alive despite missing his first eight shots.
”When that happens, still be aggressive but find better shots, easier shots,” said Bluiett, who finished 5 of 17 from the field. ”Maybe start inside and work my way out and kind of get lost into the game. Just take what the defense gives me.”
Bluiett, who missed all seven of his first-half shots and his first of the second half, finally got going with a 3-pointer with 17:35 to play. It gave Xavier a 38-36 lead that it never lost and ignited a 17-7 run that opened a 52-43 lead with 12:58 to play.
”The coaches voted him first team all-Big East for a reason, because he has the ability to score the basketball,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said of Bluiett. ”What he is is a really good shooter and today he was a really good player. He only made one 3, but it was his ability to drive, his ability to rebound and his ability to pass, he had four assists, played a bigger part in the game than the ball going in the basket.”
JP Macura had 13 points and six assists and Quentin Goodin added 13 points for Xavier.
Billy Garrett Jr. had 16 points to lead No. 10 seed DePaul (9-23), losers of 11 of their last 12. Eli Cain added 15 and Tre’Darius McCallum had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The game was Garrett’s last at DePaul, and he said from a wins and losses standpoint his four years have not been ideal.
”I met a lot of great people and I learned a lot of lessons,” Garrett said. ”I come away a lot stronger person. It was a positive experience.”
Xavier, which was playing in the opening round for the first time in its four seasons in the Big East, led by as many as 14 points and was never threatened.
DePaul: The Blue Demons now have been eliminated in the first round in seven of the last eight Big East Tournaments.
Xavier: The Musketeers needed a big second half to beat the Blue Demons.
DePaul: The season is over.
Xavier: Will face No. 2 seed Butler in second round game on Thursday night.
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