Xavier Triumphs in NIT Tournament Championship

By Justin Malone, Staff Writer

In a thrilling championship game at Madison Square Garden, the No. 2 seed Xavier Musketeersfended off the No. 1 seed Texas A&M Aggies to win the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) last week by a score of 73-72.

The victory marks the second time the Musketeers have won the NIT championship, their first in 1958. 

Xavier started off strong on the offensive front, with the team shooting 4-6 on the floor and racing to a 15-6 lead early on.

The Musketeers’ 8-2 run after the opening basket and subsequent 7-0 run during that time was highlighted by sophomore guards Colby Jones and Dwon Odom, who both made their first three shot attempts. 

The Aggies then roared back after struggling defensively and committing several sloppy turnovers early into the game with their own 14-4 run, capped by sophomore guard Hassan Diarra’s three-pointer. 

The Aggies then maintained control throughout the rest of the first half, outscoring the Musketeers 34-17 to close out the half. 

Xavier managed to keep the game close, narrowing the gap to only eight points by halftime. Jones led the field in scoring with 14 points in the first half, including a buzzer-beater layup to end the half.

Both teams fought throughout the second half of the game, with the Musketeers mounting a comeback that left fans on the edge of their seats.

This resulted in 17 lead changes and 10 ties during the game.

With 1:28 left and a tied game, senior guard Adam Kunkel drained one of two free throws to give the Musketeers a 71-70 lead. 

In dramatic fashion, Aggies senior guard Quenton Jackson then responded by sinking a pair of free throws to give the Aggies the 72-71 lead with only 0:27 left in the game.

Xavier drove down the court and after the Aggies blocked junior forward Zach Freemantle’s shot attempt, setting up an inbound play for the Musketeers. Jones found junior forward Jack Nunge in the paint, who then banked in a clutch hook shot that allowed the Musketeers to take a 73-72 lead.

The Aggies then took a timeout and had an opportunity to win after junior guard Tyrece Radford dribbled up the court and attempted a three-point shot that missed the mark. Nunge rebounded the ball to secure the championship victory for the Musketeers as the buzzer rang and the crowd erupted.

Jones was voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding player. He led Xavier in scoring and had a career night, posting 21 points and four rebounds. 

Odom added 18 points and three rebounds, and Nunge contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds.

The victory marked an impressive end to an adversity-filled,  difficult season for Xavier. The team lost senior guard Paul Scruggs to a torn ACL midway through the tournament and underwent a head coaching change with the firing of Travis Steele.

Amid coaching uncertainties and impending player decisions on the team, Xavier flourished under interim head coach Jonas Hayes. In the tournament, Xavier defeated No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Vanderbilt and No. 5 St. Bonaventure under Hayes’ helm to make the championship game.

Even after falling to Butler in the first round of the Big East tournament, the Musketeers played some of their best basketball throughout the NIT tournament, culminating in a first-place finish. 

The team hopes to build on this newfound success under the leadership of Head Coach Sean Miller next season.