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Blue Demons Fall to Xavier in BIG EAST Action, 84-74
Melvin scored 20-plus for the 31st time in his career on Monday.

Melvin scored 20-plus for the 31st time in his career on Monday.

Jan. 20, 2014

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­­ROSEMONT, Ill. – These Blue Demons battled hard in the second half on Monday, hustling and pressing all over the Allstate Arena court.

But each time they would build a little momentum, a missed free throw or point-blank shot would prove to be their undoing in an 84-74 BIG EAST Conference loss to Xavier.

A Billy Garrett Jr. basket and free throw cut the deficit to 72-65. But Xavier went on a 9-1 run in building an 81-66 lead with 3 minutes, 32 seconds left. DePaul fought hard down the stretch but could not come any closer than the final margin.

Cleveland Melvin led DePaul (10-10, 2-5 in the BIG EAST) with 25 points while Garrett added 18 points. But 16 missed free throws prevented the home team from overcoming a 19-point deficit in the second half. Semaj Christon paced Xavier with a game-high 27 points.

“I told our guys they played with a lot of hard-nosed hustle and energy in the second half, and it gave us a chance to get back in the game,” said DePaul coach Oliver Purnell. “We had enough opportunities with the way the pace was going to come back. It was a chance to get the building really loud.”

After falling behind by 19, DePaul went on an 11-2 run sparked by its full-court press. Melvin hit back-to-back shots and Charles McKinney hit two free throws and then converted a three-point play. McKinney made a pair of steals when the Blue Demons began pressing.

A junkyard-dog defense featuring McKinney, Peter Ryckbosch, Greg Sequele, Durrell McDonald and Edwind McGhee infused some life into the team. A pair of Melvin free throws brought DePaul within 61-54. When Xavier (15-4, 5-1) went ahead by 11, Garrett splashed a 3-pointer to make it 65-57 midway through the second half.

“Clearly we needed the energy Charles provided in the second half,” Purnell said about McKinney who had nine points, six rebounds and three steals before leaving the game with an injury in the second half. “We missed that after he came out.”

The Musketeers led by 13 when Sandi Marcius converted a pair of free throws with less than nine minutes to go. Melvin’s layup off a Garrett feed made it 72-62 with 6:55 on the clock.

“Xavier took it to us and was more aggressive,” Melvin said. “We didn’t come out and compete in the first half.

“In the second half, we wanted to come back and win this game. That’s why we did a lot of pressing. No, I wasn’t getting tired during our press.”

Purnell said he was disappointed in the lack of leadership displayed by his seniors in the first half. After McKinney went down, he went with a lineup blending Melvin and Garrett with an assortment of reserves including McDonald, Marcius, McGhee, Sequele, Ryckbosch and Forrest Robinson. An injury limited Tommy Hamilton IV to six minutes of playing time.

“We weren’t getting the leadership and attitude that we needed,” Purnell said. “We made a decision that we needed to make a change.”

Garrett took some of that upon himself.

“Everybody leads in their own way, and in the first half we didn’t have any leadership out there,” Garrett said. “I take some of that responsibility. We missed a lot of free throws. I missed six by myself, and that’s terrible.

“In the second half, coach Purnell was looking for five guys to go out there and give it their all. The press was working. The longer we pressed, there was a little bit of fatigue. But we put ourselves in that position by not playing hard enough in the first half.”

Xavier jumped out to an early lead after the opening tip and was ahead by five when Melvin hit a 3-pointer and Robinson’s tip-in tied the game at 22-22.

The Musketeers responded with an eight-point burst. Brandon Young halted the run with a driving layup, but a Matt Stainbrook basket made it 32-24.

The Blue Demons kept the deficit in single digits until Xavier closed out the first half on an 11-1 run.  Christon scored six points down the stretch and had 19 points in the first 20 minutes. Melvin had 12 points at halftime, making five of his first seven shots.

DePaul returns to action with a 5 p.m. BIG EAST tipoff Saturday at Seton Hall.

Notes: DePaul leads the all-time series 8-4… It was the first meeting between the two programs since Dec. 27, 1997 and only the second since Feb. 9, 1974… DePaul made a three for the 631st game in a row, a streak … Garrett missed on his second free throw of the game, ending a streak of 21-straight makes at the line… Garrett’s 14 free throw attempts were a career-high… Garrett earned his fourth BIG EAST Rookie of the Week award prior to the game… Melvin finished with 20-plus points for the 31st time in his career and sixth time this season… With eight makes, Melvin passed David Booth (713 FG, 1988-92) for third all-time on the school’s list for made field goals…  McKinney tied a career-high with three steals for the seventh time in his career and set a season-high with six rebounds… Marcius tied a career-high with three blocks…