By: Adam Tortelli
March 22, 1958, ignited Xavier’s long list of men’s basketball accomplishments with a 78-74 victory over nemesis and No. 11 ranked Dayton in the National Invitational Tournament’s (NIT) championship game — many still argue Xavier had no business playing in the tournament.
The 1957-58 season went downhill after a 10-1 beginning due to the academic ineligibility of Cornelius “Corny” Freeman (top rebounder and scorer for the Musketeers) in the second semester.
Despite losing seven of their last eight games played and being asked by NIT officials to give up their bid, Xavier and rookie head coach Jim McCaffery refused to relinquish what they had rightfully earned.
After ending the season with back-to-back losses, XU was given the 12th seed in the 12-team tournament.
Poor plays in the second half of the season and the inability to recover from Freeman’s ineligibility left the players and coaches feeling pessimistic.
The majority of the team only planned on being in New York City for one or two days, maximum.
However, with their backs against the wall, the Musketeers prevailed to pile on four victories over Niagara University, No. 2 Bradley University and No. 3 St. Bonaventure University in one of the nation’s most prestigious postseason tournaments at the time.
After a long and excruciating three months of basketball without its best player, Xavier headed into Madison Square Garden to face off against the top-seed in the tournament, No. 11 in the country and up-the-road rival Dayton.
The Dayton Flyers already won the two regular season matchups and an upset seemed nothing short of a miracle against a familiar team.
Dayton already finished as NIT runner-ups in 1951, 1952, 1955 and 1956.
Former XU player Hank Stein had a different outlook at the time and continued his stellar tournament play to prove that the third game would not have the same result as the first two.
Stein racked up 23 points on the biggest stage, apart of Broadway, including six points in overtime highlighted by the go-ahead basket to nudge Xavier to victory.
Stein was later named tournament MVP after averaging 22.5 points over four tournament games.