CHICAGO — Now that it’s tournament time, No. 3 Xavier appears poised to make a big splash.
Trevon Bluiett scored 22 points, and Xavier set a school record for regular-season wins while clinching the top seed in the Big East with a 65-62 victory over DePaul on Saturday.
The Musketeers (27-4, 15-3 Big East) hung on for their 12th win in 13 games after DePaul’s Eli Cain and Max Strus missed 3-pointers in the closing seconds. That ended Villanova’s four-year run of first-place finishes.
“I always want to be the little kid that flies up and jumps in the pool, doesn’t test the water like a 48-year-old would,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “Just jump right in. I’m a big believer in you get what you earn and you earn what you get and you go after things. You don’t play on your heels and play defensive and scared and have success. That’s how I want our team to play.”
The Musketeers come into the conference tournament with soaring expectations, a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs in sight and a big run looking like a strong possibility. Mack wants his team to embrace all of that.
Winning the Big East regular-season championship was an important step.
“We’ve been preparing for this since Day 1,” Bluiett said. “We knew this was a goal that was possible to reach. We stayed hungry throughout the process, and it turned out well for us.”
Bluiett became the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, making four to give him 310 in his career.
Brandon Cyrus led DePaul (11-19, 4-14) with a career-high 20 points. Cain scored 14 as the Blue Demons lost for the fifth time in six games.
“For us to win against a team of that stature, you have to bring you `A’ game,” coach Dave Leitao said. “We played very well in spurts. We hung tough.”
The Musketeers had already clinched a share of the Big East regular-season title with a win over Providence on Wednesday. They took sole possession with a performance that was sloppy at times but just good enough to get past the struggling Blue Demons.
Xavier won despite committing 20 turnovers and scoring just two points in the final 4:47. The Musketeers led by 11 in the second half but couldn’t put away the Blue Demons.
Things got particularly tight after a three-point play by Cain and two free throws by Tre’Darius McCallum cut it to 63-62 with 1:58 remaining. That brought DePaul fans to their feet, but there wasn’t much for them to celebrate in the end.
The Musketeers’ J.P. Macura went backdoor for a layup to make it a three-point game. Najii Marshall blocked Cyrus’ layup with 45 seconds left, and Xavier hung on after Cain and Strus missed those 3-pointers just before the final buzzer.
Bluiett made all but one of his 3’s in the second half while surpassing Romain Sato as Xavier’s all-time leader.
He hit his school-record 308th 3-pointer about 7 1/2 minutes into the half, when he nailed one in front of the Xavier bench. He answered a DePaul basket with another from long range to make it 50-39. And he struck again from the outside, hitting a 3 after DePaul cut it to 52-47.
Xavier: The Musketeers were bothered at times by DePaul’s length but did just enough to come away with the win. They’ll need to do a better job hanging onto the ball and make more shots if they’re going to capture their first Big East tournament title and make a big NCAA run.
DePaul: The Blue Demons once again came up a little short, losing by single digits for the ninth time. They struggled from the outside, making 6 of 25 3-pointers.
Xavier: The Musketeers play in the Big East quarterfinals on Thursday.
DePaul: The Blue Demons play Wednesday in the first round of the Big East tournament.