CINCINNATI (AP) — Jack Nunge had 18 points and 10 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier bounced back from a pair of narrow losses to beat DePaul 82-68 on Saturday.
Xavier fell earlier in the week by a combined three points to Butler and No. 11 Marquette.
The Musketeers (20-7, 12-4 Big East) reached the 20-win mark for the 34th time in school history, 32 of which have come since the 1982-83 season.
“I don’t make light of winning 20 regular-season games,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “It is not easy, especially in a conference like the Big East …. and in our case, the non-conference schedule that we played.”
It was the 17th career double-double for Nunge, eighth this season. Adam Kunkel scored 16 points and tied a career-high with eight assists for Xavier.
Jerome Hunter had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Musketeers and Colby Jones scored 14 points for the Musketeers.
Hunter fell one rebound shy of his first career double-double.
“I thought Jerome Hunter was really good,” Miller said. “He’s regaining the form he played at earlier in the season. When he plays like that, our team takes a step up.”
Umoja Gibson had 17 points and De’Sean Nelson 16 for DePaul (9-18, 3-13), which lost its eighth in a row.
Gibson scored 22 points in a win over Xavier last month.
Xavier went 8 of 17 from 3-point range in the first half. Kunkel made three straight 3s during a 14-3 run as the Musketeers built a 22-point halftime lead.
The Musketeers held DePaul to just 27 points in the first half after allowing 45 in the first half in the first meeting.
“It was great to get our confidence up and get back on the winning side,” Kunkel said. “We were really focused on the defensive side. We knew the offense would come.”
The Musketeers played their fifth game without second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Zach Freemantle, who is out with a foot injury but expected to return by the postseason.
ON THE DEFENSIVE
Xavier which was allowing more than 82 points per game, has held three straight opponents to fewer than 70. The improvement comes at a critical juncture when the Musketeers are without Freemantle’s 15.2 points per game. “I feel like we’re starting to improve on defense, but it took a while,” Miller said. “Today I thought our defense was as responsible for the win as our offense. That hasn’t been the case.”
DePaul: Nick Ongenda made his first start for the Blue Demons since undergoing wrist surgery in December and scored five points before fouling out with eight minutes left. The Blue Demons were without 6-10 forward Yor Anei, who injured his hamstring during Tuesday’s loss to St. John’s.
Xavier: The Musketeers have depth concerns at the moment. In addition to Freemantle being out, Desmond Claude has missed two games with a non-COVID related illness and Kam Craft injured his left knee in practice last week and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. “We have weathered the storm, and that’s a credit to our team,” Miller said. “We need to get healthy.”
DePaul: Hosts Butler on Wednesday.
Xavier: Hosts Villanova on Tuesday.
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