BY SHANE DAVIES
NEW YORK — The Big East Tournament tipped off on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden with two first-round games that offered varying levels of intensity. Since rebranding to a 10-team conference back in 2013, the conference has struggled to maintain the traditional ‘old-school intensity’ that the old Big East conference tournament carried for so many years, but Wednesday night flashed glimpses.
In the night-cap, No. 10 seed DePaul fell to No. 7 seed Xavier in a contest that played out in a similar fashion to the one last Saturday in Rosemont.
DePaul held a six-point lead with under three minutes remaining in the first half, but went ice-cold on offense and entered halftime with only a 31-30 lead.
And the second half belonged almost exclusively to Xavier.
Xavier dropped 28 points in the first ten minutes of the second half alone, outscoring DePaul by 15 in that time-span. The run was spurred largely by DePaul turnovers, which is an issue that has plagued the Blue Demons all season. Scoring was mostly even moving forward, but the damage had already been done.
In his final game with the program, DePaul senior guard Billy Garrett Jr. had a team-high 16 points, 4 assists and 5 turnovers.
Three Xavier players scored in double figures, led by junior wing Trevon Bluiett with 17 points, all in the second half.
DePaul will be left looking for a plethora of answers heading into the offseason. The program has failed to finish above .500 for the 10th straight year, and the attendance issues are starting to become a serious concern. The team is scheduled to move into a new $164 million arena this fall, which wouldn’t be an issue if DePaul was winning games and attendance was even somewhat average. According to Crain’s Business Magazine, DePaul had less than 1,000 fans in seven homes this season, with two games registering less than 600.
Head coach Dave Leitao, in his second stint with DePaul, could be coaching on a much shorter leash next season, but was optimistic about next season when asked about how he felt about his team next season.
“I feel really good about the direction of where we’re going and what we’re doing,” Leitao. said. “And 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. We’ve got to get get the guys in our program better. We’re at a very critical part in our history.”
Xavier will take on #2 seed Butler tomorrow night at 6 p.m. CT while DePaul’s season ends with a 9-23 record. The Blue Demons finish the year 3-23 against the Kenpom top 200 with the three wins coming by a combined five points.
Most Telling Stat from DePaul vs. Xavier:
- Xavier nearly matched their first-half output of 30 points in the first ten minutes of the second half with 28.
In the first game, St. John’s snapped a six-game Big East Tournament losing streak with a narrow, 74-73 victory over Georgetown in what was a surprisingly excellent game to start the tournament.
Georgetown had an opportunity to win the game in the end, but missed two contested layups in the final five seconds to seal a Red Storm victory.
The intensity of the game completely flipped with 8:35 left to play in the second half when a flagrant foul on St. John’s forward Amar Alibegovic resulted in a near bench-clearing brawl, igniting the pro-St. John’s crowd for the remainder of the game.
St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin stormed all the way across the court to confront the referees before being assessed a technical foul for getting into a verbal confrontation with Georgetown head coach John Thompson III.
When asked about the confrontation after the game, Thompson said: “It’s just competition. It’s the Big East Tournament. It’s just competition, that’s all.”
Mullin’s response was more candid.
“I just went out there to see what was going on,” Mullin said. “Close game like that, the whole team is going to lose, their season is over. I think it was just really competitive juices flowing towards the end of the game.”
Mullin said he also talked to Georgetown assistant coach Patrick Ewing Jr. after the game to discuss the altercation.
“Asked if he was going to beat me up like his father did,” Mullin said of the postgame exchange. “He said no, I love you, so I said OK. He was on the 1992 Olympics trip with us to Barcelona and he was a little baby. There’s just a tremendous amount of respect there.”
Freshman guard Shamorie Ponds had 17 points to lead St. John’s while Morgan Park alum Marcus was held to 4 points.
Georgetown guard L.J. Peak had a game-high 24 points, and Evanston native Rodney Pryor had 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting in his final collegiate game.
St. John’s will have a quick turnaround for their tilt against No. 1 seed Villanova at 11 a.m. CT Thursday.
Most Telling Stat From St. John’s vs. Georgetown
- Georgetown shot 14-of-25 from the free-throw line, and more importantly, 3-of-6 in the final two minutes.