“I thought he was into the game in the first half, but he just got two fouls so we had to take him out of the game,” Hoyas Coach Patrick Ewing said of Pickett. “In the second half, I just told him to keep his composure. Keep on playing hard. Keep on going. He just kept on being aggressive and being smart.”
Blair sitting out the game was a “coach’s decision,” Ewing said afterward, declining to explain further. Blair is sixth in the Big East in scoring at 15.8 points per game, but this was the second time this season Ewing has removed him from action. Blair did not start a loss to Marquette on Jan. 2 and Ewing declined to explain why; Blair ultimately led the Hoyas with 20 points in 37 minutes off the bench in that game.
Ewing said Blair would be available for Tuesday’s home finale against Xavier.
His absence and some interesting lineup combinations in the first half gave the Hoyas (8-11, 6-8) a much different look, but they still managed their fifth win in eight games since returning from a three-week break because of coronavirus issues. Donald Carey got the start in Blair’s place, and Jamari Sibley, T.J. Berger, Collin Holloway and Malcolm Wilson logged first-half minutes despite being sparsely used this season. Pickett, fellow starter Qudus Wahab and Timothy Ighoefe had two fouls apiece before halftime, forcing Ewing to look far down his bench.
Neither team played particularly well in the first half — they combined for 20 turnovers and 16 field goals — as the Hoyas took a 30-26 lead. Chudier Bile picked up the scoring load with 15 points in the opening 20 minutes, including seven from the free throw line. He finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.
“Chudier played a great game,” Ewing said. “. . . He was huge for us. The thing I liked about him in the second half, he didn’t hunt shots. Usually when somebody’s hot in the first half, he’ll hunt shots in the second half. I thought he did a very good job of moving the ball and taking his shots when he had it.”
Bile did the heavy lifting to secure the four-point halftime lead, but Pickett’s second-half efforts overwhelmed DePaul (4-12, 2-12). Ewing ran a play for Pickett coming out of halftime, but he missed the shot. Just over three minutes later, he hit the first of his three straight three-pointers that ended up giving the Hoyas a 43-29 lead. Pickett was also active on the defensive end; his block after the third three-pointer led to a Dante Harris layup. Pickett, who surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this month, followed that with three free throws after being fouled behind the arc, stretching the Hoyas’ lead to 48-29.
Pickett finished with 14 points, including 12 in the second half, and six rebounds; Harris also had 14 points and added five assists. Ewing said Harris might have been unavailable to play because of a nagging injury, but he didn’t specify the area of concern.
DePaul responded to Pickett’s outburst with a 10-0 run to cut its deficit to nine, but it didn’t get any closer until a layup with 19 seconds left made it an eight-point game. Charlie Moore had a game-high 22 points, and Ray Salnave added 11 off the bench, making them the only Blue Demons in double figures.
The Hoyas, who have two games remaining, would be the No. 8 seed in the Big East tournament if the season ended today.
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