Macura, Bluiett help No. 6 Xavier hold off DePaul
CINCINNATI — Max Strus and the DePaul Blue Demons did their best to spoil Xavier head coach Chris Mack’s birthday celebration. But, a big night from J.P. Macura and a second-half surge earned Mack his 200th career win.
Macura scored 19 points and Trevon Bluiett scored 16 off the bench as No. 6 Xavier held off DePaul 77-72 on Saturday afternoon at Cintas Center.
Macura also had six rebounds and five assists for Xavier (14-1, 2-0 Big East), which won its ninth straight game on Mack’s 48th birthday. But, it wasn’t easy.
The Musketeers had to rally from a 16-point, second-half deficit to pull out the victory.
“We have to play better,” Mack said. “To have 12 turnovers in the first half, two in the second, there’s just not a focus there that needs to be, if we want to be the team I think we’re capable of.”
DePaul had possession behind by a point with under a minute left, but Macura’s steal and outlet to Quentin Goodin for a reverse dunk put the Musketeers ahead 75-72 with 22.5 seconds left. The Blue Demons turned the ball over on their next possession, and Xavier held on.
“We got consumed by the moment,” said DePaul head coach Dave Leitao.
The Blue Demons were coming off a 103-85 loss on Wednesday to top-ranked Villanova, but nearly pulled off the upset on Saturday in Cincinnati.
“What upset me on Wednesday is that it was the first game this year that we didn’t play hard, and playing hard should be a given,” said Leitao. “It was going take a great effort to beat (Xavier) in this building.”
Strus put on a show on Saturday, equaling his career-high with 33 points with six 3-pointers, and Justin Roberts added 16 points.
However, the Blue Demons (7-7, 0-2) committed a season-high 23 turnovers. Their previous high was 17.
Strus did his best to ruin Mack’s birthday, scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes of the game, including a fadeaway 3 that put the Blue Demons ahead 14-11.
He scored 16 points in the half, including four 3s, to help the Blue Demons build a surprising 39-31 halftime lead.
“That’s what we signed up for in the Big East,” Strus said. “We need to learn to execute at the end of the game and take the crowd out of it. I don’t care about (scoring) 33 points. We lost.”
Xavier was sluggish throughout the first half and did not have a field goal in the final 4:35 before halftime.
DePaul turnovers helped the Musketeers erase a 16-point deficit in the second half.
Goodin’s steal and emphatic one-handed dunk sparked the crowd and cut Xavier’s deficit to five. Bluiett ‘s 3 and a pair of free throws by Goodin capped a 7-0 run to tie the score at 60 with 8:19 left.
When Goodin scored off Kerem Kanter’s assist to put Xavier ahead 64-63 with 6:54 left, it was the Musketeers’ first lead since less than four minutes remained in the first half. Goodin had 12 points and four assists.
“I just got tired of losing,” said Goodin. “I wanted to do anything I can to help my teammates.”
Macura threaded a pass to Sean O’Mara for a layup, giving Xavier a 70-66 lead with three minutes left. Macura went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line and did not commit a turnover.
“Without J.P. (Macura) playing like J.P., we’re not winning this game,” said O’Mara.
Strus hit another 3 to cut Xavier’s lead to 73-72 with a minute left. But, the Musketeers held on.
“We were able to flip something with about 16 minutes left in the game, our energy was a lot better,” Mack said. “I give DePaul a lot of credit. They were a tenacious team. They were hungry. They were ready to go.”
NOTES: Xavier G Trevon Bluiett did not start because he showed up late for shootaround. The last time Bluiett did not start a game but played was Feb. 7, 2015 vs. Providence. Bluiett scored 19 points in that game. ... Xavier leads the all-time series 12-9, including seven straight wins. ... DePaul has faced four ranked opponents this season, including No. 1 Villanova, then-No. 4 Michigan State, and then-No. 14 Notre Dame.