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No. 15 Xavier rallies to beat DePaul, reach Big East semis

BEast DePaul Xavier Basketball
Posted at 11:34 PM, Mar 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-09 23:34:18-05

NEW YORK — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 10 rebounds, Colby Jones scored 22 and No. 15 Xavier needed a late comeback to beat DePaul 89-84 in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals Thursday night.

Souley Boum added 16 points for the second-seeded Musketeers (24-8), who trailed by 13 in the second half and led for only 2 1/2 minutes total. They will face Villanova or No. 24 Creighton in the second semifinal Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Umoja Gibson had 22 points and six assists as the 10th-seeded Blue Demons (10-23) gave Xavier all it could handle. Nick Ongenda added 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and Caleb Murphy scored 10 off the bench.

DePaul, with no Big East success to speak of since joining the league in 2005, flirted with winning twice in the conference tournament and reaching the semifinals — both for the first time.

But in the end, Xavier's experience and know-how came through down the stretch against a Blue Demons squad that rallied in the waning seconds to stun Seton Hall 66-65 in the first round Wednesday — snapping a 12-game losing streak.

After losing their Big East Tournament opener in each of the previous three years, the Musketeers improved to 7-0 in the quarterfinals of this event.

Xavier trailed by 13 with 14 1/2 minutes left before a 3-pointer by Adam Kunkel got the Musketeers going.

Consecutive baskets by Jones trimmed the deficit to one and Nunge tipped in his own miss with 2:03 remaining to give Xavier its first lead, 81-80, since the first minute of the game.

Jones made a key steal, a floater and another soft shot to help the Musketeers hang on. Boum sank two free throws with 20.8 seconds left to extend the lead to 87-84, and DePaul missed two good looks at the other end.

Nunge sealed it with two more foul shots with 5.8 seconds to go.

Playing with a confidence and efficiency on offense that belied their dreadful record, the Blue Demons made 16 of their first 21 shots from the field — a blistering 76% — to open a 39-26 lead 14 minutes into the game.

Xavier responded with a 7-0 spurt, but DePaul took a 49-40 advantage into halftime behind 69% shooting (including 7 for 10 from 3-point range) and Gibson's 13 points.


DePaul: After an injury-riddled regular season, the athletic but long-struggling Blue Demons finally got healthy and showed progress in New York under second-year coach Tony Stubblefield.

Xavier: Perhaps playing without forward Zach Freemantle is finally catching up with the Musketeers, who have questions to answer on defense looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament. The team’s leading rebounder will miss the postseason after having surgery on his left foot. Xavier is 7-3 since the 6-foot-9 senior went down. He is third on the team in scoring at 15.2 points per game.