No. 15 Xavier will look to record its fourth straight victory on Thursday night when it faces DePaul in the Big East Conference tournament quarterfinals in New York City.
Xavier (23-8) finished 15-5 in Big East play and earned the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the tournament.
DePaul (10-22), which is seeded 10th, rallied late for a dramatic 66-65 win over seventh-seeded Seton Hall on Wednesday in a first-round game.
Xavier and DePaul split the season series. DePaul won 73-72 on Jan. 18 before dropping 12 in a row, including an 82-68 decision to the Musketeers in Cincinnati on Feb. 18.
Xavier is 6-0 in quarterfinal games in its nine years of Big East tournament play. The Musketeers, however, are looking for their first-ever Big East tournament championship.
Xavier forward Zach Freemantle will be unavailable following Tuesday’s season-ending surgery on his left foot. Jack Nunge and Jerome Hunter have picked up the slack in his absence.
Xavier ranks first in the nation in assists per game (19.9), third in field-goal percentage (50.0), fifth in 3-point field-goal percentage (39.8), and 10th in scoring offense at 82.1 points per game.
Musketeers coach Sean Miller warned his team this week about following strong first-half performances with slow starts to begin the second.
Such was the case in an eventual 78-66 win against Butler on Saturday in the regular-season finale. Xavier led by 10 at half, only to be outscored 23-11 in the first seven minutes of the second.
“That’s the thing about March, it’s unforgiving,” Miller said. “You have to be at your best. Teams are playing with unreal confidence and energy. As much as I’d like to say we have a lot of confidence, it can leave us quickly. It’s a concern.
“You can only see the same movie so many times. It would be nice if one time we came out after halftime and punched the other team in the mouth, because that’s what happens to us, the other team just sucker punches us and I call a timeout. I almost should just save a timeout because I’m gonna call it right in around that first four minutes of the second half.”
DePaul won in dramatic fashion Wednesday against Seton Hall after Nick Ongenda blocked Femi Odukele’s bid for a layup at the buzzer. The Pirates initially awarded the layup and game-winning basket before replay overturned the goaltending call.
“I knew it was a block,” Ongenda said. “I knew their great players (like) to get to the rim. But that’s what I do about everything. That’s my specialty. So I was excited. Everyone’s out rallying, you know, because they all have faith in me and I have made the most of faith in yourself.”
Umoja Gibson hit three free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining to give DePaul the 66-65 lead.
–Field Level Media