Davis, Bluiett lead Xavier’s 2nd half wakeup vs. DePaul

CINCINNATI — Chris Mack was M.I.A. The Xavier University basketball coach was due in the Cintas Center media room for a post-game press conference to talk about the Musketeers’ 89-76 win against DePaul. It was a big win for Xavier against a team that came into the game tied for the lead in the Big East standings, but Mack was oddly absent.

He was finally discovered upstairs at a reunion of the 1990 team, the first team in school history to reach the NCAA tournament Sweet 16. A messenger gave him the word that he was wanted.

"Let me set the record straight," said Mack, setting his can of Diet Mt. Dew to his right side, "I wanted to imitate our team and not show up on time."

Mack was good in his press conference. His team was better in the second half as it rallied from a 13-point deficit in the first half to improve to 13-7 overall and even its Big East record at 4-4. This season has been one of extremes for Xavier: unbeaten at home but can’t win on the road. Can score with anyone but often times can’t defend to save its life.

This game fit right into that scenario.

Sophomore guard Myles Davis started for the second straight game as freshmen guard Trevon Bluiett came off the bench but it was the two of them that kept Xavier in the game through the first half and sparked the Musketeers’ surge in the second half. Davis had a career-high 25 points to go with a career-high eight rebounds, while Bluiett broke out of shooting slump to score a career-high 21 points.

"We woke up, plain and simple," said Davis. "They were out-playing us. They were playing much harder than us and it was about time that we get it together and wake up and start playing Xavier basketball. We shouldn’t have to wait a whole half to play our basketball but that’s what happened. The good thing is we turned it around.

"We’re just trying to get out of these positions we keep putting ourselves in. I’m just glad we finished the game."

There was audible tone of frustration and disbelief from Davis. Finishing games hasn’t been Xavier’s strong suit lately. The Musketeers had rallied from a 14-point deficit at Providence on Thursday and had a late lead in regulation as well as in overtime before falling to the Friars, 69-66. They were unable to finish the first time they played DePaul, in Chicago, on Jan. 3. They were unable to finish in the final 10 minutes in what turned out to be a lopsided loss at Butler on Jan. 10.

That’s three potential road wins Xavier has missed out on in a conference that’s not giving up too many wins away from home. XU is on the road its next two games, at Georgetown on Tuesday and at Seton Hall next Saturday. The Muskies have beaten both teams already at the Cintas Center.

"I feel like by now we should learn that we’ve got to come out strong in the first half," said Davis. "Our challenge right now isn’t here; it’s on the road. It’s this game and having it and taking it to Georgetown, and then taking it to Seton Hall on the road. We’ve got to get better coming out with energy. When we play our basketball and we play hard we’re a pretty tough team."

Xavier trailed 50-42 at halftime and forward Jalen Reynolds picked up a contact technical foul after the clock expired when he was called for throwing DePaul guard Darrick Wood to the floor as Wood dribbled down court. Billy Garrett Jr. made one of two free throws as the second half began.

It was the first time Xavier had allowed 50 points in the first half of a game since Duke scored 55 points on Dec. 20, 2008, in the first half of an 82-64 win against the Musketeers. DePaul made 19-of-30 field goals in the first half, including 11 3-pointers. The Blue Demons had 15 assists on their 19 made baskets.

Xavier trailed 31-18 with 9:03 to play in the half after DePaul’s Tommy Hamilton made his third 3-pointer of the half. Xavier went on a 26-9 run over the next eight minutes to cut the deficit to four points, 44-40. Davis and Bluiett combined to score 17 of those points.

Bluiett scored just five points, all from the free throw line, in the loss at Providence. He only took three shots from the field. He made eight of the 10 shots he took against DePaul.

"I try not to worry about (scoring) and typically just do what the team needs and find spots offensively," said Bluiett. "I let defense predict what I do on offense. It starts on the defensive end."

Xavier’s defense did a 180-degree turnabout in the second half. DePaul was just 2-of-13 shooting 3-pointers in the second half and committed nine of its 14 turnovers after halftime. Xavier, which committed a season-low five turnovers, had a 17-8 advantage on points off turnovers. The Musketeers had a 16-7 advantage on fast break points and outscored DePaul 52-24 in the paint.

Mack said Xavier played a variety of defenses in the first half but it didn’t matter the design, the result for DePaul was the same. The second half he used a smaller lineup and stuck with playing man-to-man defense.

"If you fall into the trap of being discouraged then you’re playing defense hoping they’ll miss rather than making them miss. That’s sometimes our team’s problem," said Mack. "In the second half we played with a lot more energy, they got less looks, their looks were a little bit more rushed because of the effort we gave in the second half versus the first half."