New York City- The championship game of the NIT came down to the final possession. It proved fitting for a game with 17 lead changes and 10 ties. In the end Xavier prevailed to finish their season as NIT Champions, with a 23-13 record. Texas A & M ended 27-13. The NIT will be staged in a different city the next two seasons. Word has it that the tournament may not get back to the Garden. Sad, but if true, fans in attendance or viewing on TV were treated to a classic.
First half: First five possessions saw Xavier take an 8-6 lead. Texas A & M was allowing dribble penetration and backdoor cuts. Not a good start for the Aggies on the defensive end. At the under 16 media time out Xavier led 12-6. Musketeers’ pressure on the guards in half court proved to be a problem. Buzz Williams’ Aggies, in the early going, didn’t resemble the well oiled offensive machine they were two nights earlier. The game was less than five minutes old and Buzz has the jacket off.
Xavier led by 7 at the under 12 media timeout. Texas A & M’s defense started to pick up the last four minutes. Just as the Aggies appeared to be making a run, Xavier showed poise and kept the lead at three possessions. Earlier, Xavier coach Jonas Hayes did not have Jack Nunge and Zach Fremantle on the court simultaneously. At this juncture both are out there together.
The Aggies grabbed the lead on a Hassan Diarra three pointer. The outside shot was not the key. Getting dribble penetration, especially from Quenton Jackson turned this into a one possession affair. At the under eight timeout Xavier held a 24-22 lead.
Four minutes to go in the half, A & M led 28-26. As their offense settled in and played better, their defense picked up. Xavier lost the momentum and needed to regain it by closing the half on a strong note. As it played out, A & M finished strong taking a 40-32 lead into intermission.
Possessions : 33
Offensive efficiency: Texas A & M 121, Xavier 97
Points to consider: Xavier needed to settle down and get back to do what they did earlier. Run their sets, do not panic and protect the paint on defense.
Texas A & M - Attack the basket and use good judgment in their shot selection.
Second Half: The first four minutes, always important but tonight crucial, saw Xavier ‘win’ by an 8-5 count. A good start was essential for the Big East representatives, considering how Texas A & M closed out the first half strong.
The Aggies built a seven point lead. Xavier stopped the bleeding as Freemantle and Colby Jones buried threes in successive possessions. With just over a dozen minutes left, Texas A & M held onto a one point lead.
Teams traded baskets. With just under ten to go, A & M held a one point lead. The margin stayed that way with the under eight minute media timeout upon us. Neither team at this point could obtain separation.
Ahead by two Xavier missed two open threes. Jackson answered following the second attempt on the other end. Score tied at 63 with just over five minutes remaining. Nate Johnson’s corner three broke the tie. Xavier got a stop on the other end. Texas A & M was suddenly on their heels.
Xavier came empty on several possessions and the Aggies took advantage and a one point lead. A Colby Jones floater gave Xavier the lead before Jackson tied it from the line at 70 with 98 seconds to play. An Adam Kunkel free throw gave the Musketeers the lead once again. Following a stop Xavier regained the ball with 72 seconds to play. Kunkel had the look but his midrange jumper missed. Rebound and full time out for A & M with 39 seconds left. Jackson was fouled going to the basket. He hit two to give the Aggies a one point lead. Xavier ball and time out with 26 seconds remaining. After two misses the ball is out of bounds to Xavier. On the inbounds play Nunge banked it in from inside the lane. Time out A & M with 3.1 seconds to play. Aggies pushed the ball upcourt and settled for a long range jumper by Tyrece Radford. It rimed in and out. Game and championship to Xavier.
Texas A & M 72
Offensive efficiency: Xavier 109, Texas A & M 107
Leading Scorers: Xavier- Colby Jones 21, Dwon Odom 18
Texas A & M - Quenton Jackson 23, Tyrece Radford 15
Tournament Most Outstanding Player- Colby Jones, Xavier
Final notes: Xavier played with poise the second half. They set the tone not allowing Texas A & M to expand on that eight point lead at intermission.
Free throws were nearly Xavier’s undoing. When they missed from the charity stripe, the Aggies seized the opportunity.
"My 28th year in college coaching but never experienced anything that transpired within a team the last six weeks. Belief, love, work trust. Player to coach, coach to coach player to player. I believe our program changed forever the last 6 weeks. What has happened at Xavier the last two weeks is historical. I first worked a camp my freshman year in college at Xavier when Pete Gillen was head coach. What they did was unique. Any AD with an opening should hire coach Hayes. The undefeated head coach." - Texas A & M coach Buzz Williams
"Unbelievable I thought coach Williams had his team well prepared. These guys right here (Nunge and Jones) deserve a lot of the credit for what we did the past two weeks. Unique when you have so much love for a group of people…It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you have a group of people that believe and are on the same page. This team the past two weeks has been fighting adversity. Keeping their commitment to one another…We won a championship." - Xavier coach Jonas Hayes