No. 24 Xavier aiming to extend streak vs. DePaul

CINCINNATI — Since losing dynamic point guard Edmond Sumner to a season-ending ACL injury, No. 24 Xavier has won two straight games including a signature road victory at Creighton.

Without Sumner, the Musketeers are riding the coattails of junior guard Trevon Bluiett, who’s been carrying them for most of the season.

Bluiett earned Big East Conference player of the week honors for the second straight week after averaging 20 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in wins over Seton Hall and Creighton.

Despite playing on a sore ankle, Bluiett scored 16 points including a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the win over the then-No. 22 Bluejays.

“We’re smart with him in practice, doing reps where the ankle really isn’t at risk,” said Xavier head coach Chris Mack. “Where he is Tuesday versus where he was five or six days ago, is a lot better.”

Bluiett and Xavier (17-6, 7-3 Big East) face DePaul on Wednesday night at Cintas Center, looking to extend its winning streak to four games heading into Saturday’s showdown with league-leading Villanova.

“They’re a good team, they have good players,” said Mack of the Blue Demons. “It’s a big challenge. It’s a Big East game. It’s the next game on our schedule.”

The Musketeers’ NCAA Tournament resume is strong with a top-10 RPI and strength of schedule. But, XU’s roster is thin with zero margin for error injury-wise.

J.P. Macura was moved into the backup point guard role behind freshman Quentin Goodin who has averaged 11.5 points and six assists since taking for Sumner.

Sharp-shooting big man Kaiser Gates also has been doing a little bit of everything for the Musketeers with a team-high 8.7 rebounds.

With plenty of quality Big East wins for the taking in the final month, Xavier can ill-afford to stumble against the struggling Blue Demons at home.

The Musketeers lead the series against the Blue Demons 9-8, including a 5-1 mark since the two teams became Big East rivals. But, DePaul has proven itself to be a tough out at times this season, losing by just three points at top-ranked Villanova and taking Butler to overtime at home.

“Those were one-possession games they could’ve won,” said Mack.

DePaul has been looking for scoring options outside its top two scorers Eli Cain and Billy Garrett Jr. One possible solution to that issue could be junior transfer forward Tre’Darius McCallum.

McCallum went 4-of-7 from 3-point range and scored a career-high 21 points in a loss to Marquette this past weekend.

“Tre has done as good of a job as anyone can possibly do of coming from a junior college and meshing with a team and finding his place,” Blue Demons head coach Dave Leitao said. “Usually it takes a guy almost a full year to get adjusted, so I’ve got nothing but credit to give to him. His attitude, the way he plays the game.”

It’s a tall order for any team to face the Musketeers at Cintas Center where they’ve won 17 of the past 18 games and 26 of 28. Over the past five years, Xavier is 227-32 at Cintas giving it the fifth-best home winning percentage among Division I schools.