Team 95 isn't quite done yet.
Xavier showed some fight and a reinvigorated defensive effort Saturday afternoon in a 79-65 win over DePaul in the final game ever at Allstate Arena.
The Musketeers dealt with some of the same issues they've had since Edmond Sumner went down and found themselves trailing by one with 13 minutes to play in the second half. However, instead of falling apart with a late collapse as we've seen all too often from them recently, they responded with a 13-4 run over the next four minutes to take control.
They closed the win out during the final four-minute war with a 12-4 run by holding DePaul to 2-of-5 shooting. Malcolm Bernard also had two steals during that stretch.
After one of his worst performances of the season on Wednesday against Marquette, Trevon Bluiett struggled again with his shot early but showed a lot more energy, particularly on defense and on the glass. That eventually got him going on offense and he returned to star form in the second half. He finished with 24 points (7-18 FG, 4-11 3PT), 17 of which came in the second half, and 10 rebounds.
The first half started in disastrous fashion and looked like it was going to be a brutal close to Xavier's regular season and chances at an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.
After falling behind 17-6 over the first nine minutes, the Musketeers chose to fight back instead of waving the white flag.
They were just 5-for-17 (29.4%) from three in the first half, but all five of them came in a four-minute stretch to power a 15-3 run that took them from down 11 to up one.
Mack changed defenses from man-to-man to 1-3-1 before settling into a 2-3 zone for most of the remainder of the game, which kept DePaul off balance. The Blue Demons toiled through multiple scoring droughts in the final 10 minutes of the first half. Xavier closed on an 8-2 run to take a 33-30 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Mack was most pleased with the way his team responded after multiple big shots by DePaul's Chris Harrison-Docks. Harrison-Docks hit an end of shot clock three with 7:04 to play that cut the Blue Demons' deficit from eight to five and Bluiett answered with a three at the other end. After a free-throw by Joe Hanel, Malcolm Bernard buried another three to push XU's lead to 10. Harrison-Docks followed that up with a four-point play to make it a 6-point game with 5:28 left. Bluiett drew a foul and sank a pair of free-throws on the ensuing possession, which jump-started a 14-6 Xavier run to close the game.
Xavier took better care of the basketball (nine turnovers) than they had in recent games, which allowed them to outscore the Blue Demons 18-5 in points off turnovers. They also outscored DePaul 19-10 in second chance points, while grabbing 15 offensive boards.
It was a win that said more about the current team's character than it did about their level of play or them deserving a tournament bid. DePaul is a bad team. The play was ugly for a good portion of the game. The Musketeers didn't change anyone's opinion of them on Saturday, but they did show some pride. A repeat performance on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden should lock them into the NCAA tournament.