Xavier falls in the NIT, but the future shines bright

Xavier defeated in-state foe Toledo in the first round of the 2019 National Invitational Tournament (NIT) last Wednesday before falling on the road to Texas in the second round, ending the Musketeers’ season.

The Toledo game marked the first time since 2000 that the Musketeers made an appearance in the NIT. The win propelled Xavier to a perfect 7-0 record in NIT games played on its home court.

This year’s NIT featured experimental tweaks to the standard NCAA basketball rules. The three-point line extended to 22 feet and 1.75 inches, and the paint was widened to 16 feet.

In addition, team fouls reset at the 10-minute mark of each half, eliminating the opportunity to receive bonus free throws.

Toledo utilized a zone look that, at first, forced Xavier to shoot from the outside. The Musketeers responded and had a fair amount of success inside, fighting through the clogged lane for 30 points in the paint.

“Toledo came out in a 3-2 zone, which we really haven’t played all year,” head coach Travis Steele said. “That threw us off in the first half, but I thought our guys responded really well.”

Xavier missed its first four three-point field goal attempts. However, the Musketeers and Rockets were tied at 10 points apiece at the 13:05 mark in the first half.

Graduate forward marksman Ryan Welage snapped the 11-minute scoreless slump from behind the arc by knocking down a three from the corner.

The Musketeers found themselves behind in the first half, but sophomore guard Elias Harden tied the game at 19 with a three-pointer of his own.

In fewer than 17 minutes, sophomore forward Naji Marshall ripped down 10 rebounds. He tacked on 11 more boards for a career-high total and collected 20 points on his way to a double-double.

Xavier reinvigorated life into the crowd after junior forward Tyrique Jones swatted a shot, which led to an emphatic dunk on the other end by junior point guard Quentin Goodin.

“We knew Toledo was a great team and we didn’t want to take them for granted,” Goodin said. “Coming out and playing (as) hard as we can was huge for us.”

In the first half, points were hard to come by as Xavier shot 34 percent from the floor and 14 percent from long range. The Musketeers were tied with Toledo at the break, 27 all.

In particular, sophomore guard Paul Scruggs –– who went 0 for 8 from the floor in the first half –– had a nice turnaround in the second half, totaling 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting.

“I thought the tempo of the game, we tried to pick it up a little bit there in the second half,” Steele said. “Pushing the ball, we were trying to press them as well … I thought these guys did a great job playing a couple passing lanes, being handsy, getting open an open dunk or an open three.”

 A 10-0 run capped by a Marshall and-one put Xavier in front, 45-36, with 13:30  left in the game. From that point on it was all Musketeers, as they eventually built up a game-high 20-point advantage.

The win against Toledo pushed Xavier into the second round of the tournament where it faced a Jaxson Hayes-less Texas team. Hayes, a Cincinnatian, was out for the season after sustaining a bone bruise on his left knee during the Big 12 Tournament.

Here are some takeaways from the road matchup with the Longhorns.

Overtime thriller: With less than five minutes to go in the game, Xavier trailed by a two-possession deficit. Goodin’s three-pointer sliced the Texas lead to one point. Later, he knocked down another triple to tie the game at 65 points. Goodin came through in the clutch again when he converted both of his free throws to tie the game and send it into overtime. However, Texas secured the lead with 16 seconds remaining, and Xavier was unable to tie or win the game.

The Four Musketeers: Despite the season-ending loss, Xavier had four double-digit scorers. Graduate forward Zach Hankins scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Jones finished with a team-high 22 points and 11 boards. Marshall made fine contributions as well, scoring 19 points and collecting eight rebounds. Goodin also had a productive showing with 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting and four assists.

A strong finish to the season: Xavier’s season came to a close, but the Musketeers finished the season strong, totaling eight wins in the final 11 games of the season. Additionally, Xavier returns four of the five players who averaged double-digit points from this year for next season.

By: Luke Feliciano | Sports Editor