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DePaul ends season with first-round loss to Xavier in Big East Tournament

A tumultuous 2016-17 season in now in the books for DePaul, as the Blue Demons lost their Big East Tournament first-round game to the Xavier Musketeers, 75-64, on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

After playing a spirited first half, which saw the Blue Demons take a 31-30 lead into halftime, the wheels came off in the second half. Xavier opened the second stanza on a 26-13 run and with that first half punch landed, the Demons never were seemingly able to recover.

“I thought their (Xavier) ability to come right after us at the beginning of the second half (took us out of rhythm),” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said after the game. “They got point-blank (shots) and defensively  (we) started to break down because they drove. They drove and kicked and we didn't rotate. We didn't keep the ball in front of us.”

Conversely, Xavier head coach Chris Mack was happy with his team's effort in the second half.

“We came out of the locker room and played a little better offensively,” Mack said. “I thought defensively we were fine, other than not being able to rebound the ball out of a zone. But offensively we loosened up and played a lot better, a lot more confident in the second half...along with getting some offensive putbacks. So, we lived to fight another day.”

DePaul will now end the season at 9-23. It was another frustrating season that saw the Demons not crack 10 wins for the second year in a row.

Leitao was frustrated there were no tangible results that reflected the growth the team had over the season. He said he still has trust in the process.

“There's that inevitable word of 'a process',” Leitao said. “The thing that I've thought about is obviously we are all judged on whether you win or lose and that's how it gets determined. But when you're trying to do what we're trying to do, that becomes the culmination of everything that goes into a process. And I think we're ongoing in that process.”

“I feel really, really good about the direction of where we're going and what we're doing,” Leitao added. “I'm going to try to make some significant strides forward between this spring and next fall to put us in a much better position.”

DePaul was led by Billy Garrett Jr.'s 16 points. He shot 7-16 from the field and added four assists, but also had five turnovers.

Earlier in the day Garrett picked up the Big East Scholar Athlete of the Year award.

He reflected on his career at DePaul with the class and dignity you've accustomed from him.

“I met a lot of great people, and learned a lot of valuable lessons and dealt with a lot (on and off the court),” Garrett said. “I'm coming out of here as a lot stronger person and it reaches beyond basketball. Overall, I think it was a positive experience. I'm coming out of here a lot stronger. I'm coming out of here a lot more mature and ready for life. That's why I went to school, regardless of basketball.”

Eli Cain added 15 points (but only shot 4-16 from the field) and Tre'Darius McCallum posted a nice double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

For Xavier, they shot 54.8 percent in the second half, whereas DePaul shot 36.4 percent from the field in the second stanza. It truly was a tale of two halves.

With so much on the line for Xavier in regards to its NCAA Tournament chances, they showed more fight against an undermanned DePaul team.

The Musketeers got a team-high 17 points from its star guard Trevon Bluiett. This after he opened the game missing his first seven shots. Xavier will now play the No. 2 seed Butler in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

DePaul will now wait another eight months before they open up a new season, and at their new state-of-the-art Wintrust Arena. With it, there is hope DePaul can turn the page on an ugly decade of basketball.

“We're at a very critical part in our history,” Leitao concluded. “We're moving into a new arena. We have a lot of of new things going on and it really means a new direction.”

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