NEW YORK (AP)With two graduate students, two seniors and a junior in the starting lineup, No. 15 Xavier isn’t likely to panic in the postseason.
Jack Nunge had 23 points and 10 rebounds, Colby Jones scored 22 and the Musketeers pulled off 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 No. 24 Creighton in the second semifinal Friday night at Madison Square Garden after the third-seeded Bluejays beat sixth-seeded Villanova 87-74.
“We’re thrilled to still be alive,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “I thought that DePaul played a great game. Could have easily lost that game three, five, 10 times over.”
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.
“Just came up short,” forward Javan Johnson said.
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 seventh-seeded 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.
“I think coming into this tournament, we’re not coming here just to play one game; we’re trying to win it all,” Nunge said. “And I think it’s a fight no matter who we’re going to play. It’s March, so records are out the window. We’ve got to be ready from the jump no matter who we’re playing.”
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.
“I thought Colby was really the difference on offense down the stretch. We really went to him and he delivered,” Miller said.
Nunge sealed it with two foul shots with 5.8 seconds to go.
“When we needed key stops, we got them down the stretch,” Miller said. “But we had to overcome our defense tonight in a big way to win.”
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.
“I thought these guys were deserving of winning a basketball game,” Blue Demons second-year coach Tony Stubblefield said. “We weren’t able to get the stops, I think, when we needed them.”
DePaul: After an injury-riddled regular season, the athletic but long-struggling Blue Demons finally got healthy and showed some progress in New York.
“We’ve got to build upon this and take this to the next level,” Stubblefield said. “It’s now on me to make it happen.”
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.
DePaul outscored Xavier 26-7 off the bench and finished at 61% from the field. But the Blue Demons committed six more turnovers and shot only seven free throws to 27 for the Musketeers.
Xavier split two regular-season meetings with Creighton.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25