NEW YORK – It was a match worthy of a title.
There were 10 ties and 17 lead changes in Thursday’s National Invitation Tournament Championship Game at Madison Square Garden between Xavier and Texas A&M, and the 17th lead change came in the closing seconds.
With Xavier trailing 72-71 and 26.8 seconds left, the Musketeers called a timeout to set up a final game.
Xavier’s goaltender Adam Kunkel came down and attacked the basket, but his shot fell short. Zach Freemantle grabbed the offensive rebound and his shot was blocked out of bounds, keeping the ball with Xavier and just over five seconds left on the clock.
Xavier ran a baseline entry play and handed the ball to Jack Nunge, who spun down the lane and kissed a shot on the glass to give Xavier a 73-72 lead with 3.1 seconds left. to play.
“The game was originally for AK (Kunkel) to get a shot in the corner but I watched Jack before. I know players tend to slip away so I watched Jack to slip away , to hit
him,” said Colby Jones, who got the ball in on the game-winning shot.
Nunge, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, earning a spot on the NIT All-Tournament team, said, “Colby looked at me and said he was going to throw the ball at me and I had the chance to reverse the shot.”
Texas A&M’s Tyrece Radford got one last shot at the buzzer and he went back and forth, securing Xavier’s second NIT Championship in program history.
The adversity that led to Xavier’s victory on Thursday has often been talked about. The Musketeers have lost six of their last seven games during the regular season to miss the NCAA Tournament. Former head coach Travis Steele was fired the day after Xavier won over Cleveland State in the NIT first round, Sean Miller was named Steele’s successor three days later, and the day after Miller’s deal and Xavier on a deal, fifth-year senior Paul Scruggs suffered a torn ACL, ending Xavier’s basketball career.
“Every day the coach (Hayes) talks about coping with adversity,” Nunge said. “The only thing that’s guaranteed is tomorrow and you have to give it your all no matter what. We all got together. We love everyone in the locker room, we love everyone up and down and we wanted to win it for each other.”
Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams acknowledged that adversity after the game.
“In my 28 years as a college coach, every head coach at Xavier has had great success,” Williams said. “I worked in a camp at Xavier when Pete Gillen was the head coach and I had just finished my freshman year of college. And what happened in their program over the last two weeks is historic. and anyone (athletic director) who has a job offer should hire Xavier’s undefeated head coach, Coach Hayes, because what they were able to do in a very unique playoff series with an interim coach. ”
Hayes’ mother, Yvonne, and her twin brother, Jarvis, were there Thursday at Madison Square Garden to watch.
Asked what Williams said, Hayes replied: “Yeah, that’s special. … People don’t remember interim coaches, you know. But it’s an amazing opportunity to do it in front of my family. It’s a surprise that they came to get the game. But I think the most extraordinary thing, what I’ve had is to have the adversity that they had, but also to having the competitive drive, the competitive greatness to pull it all together and win a championship. I think that’s more amazing.
There were ups and downs, bumps in the road and an ongoing list of challenges that made the Madison Square Garden Cup of the Nets all the more special.
“It means a lot, just knowing what our whole team has been through, all the ups and downs, we all stick together,” said Jones, who had a career-high 21 points and was named the most noteworthy from the NIT. “Really showed that we have a real connection and that we play for each other. It just means the world for this group wins a post-season championship.”
There’s a list of important things that happened in 40 minutes on Thursday night. There were blocked shots, key rebounds, on-time and on-target passes, hits and misses, and arguably Dwon Odom’s best performance in a Xavier uniform with 18 points, but in fact, this team didn’t. never gave up, they never stopped fighting for each other.
Thanks to this, the Musketeers acquired a memory that they will keep long after they finish playing basketball.