Less than three weeks after getting left out of the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament, Xavier completed an impressive flip of the script to end its 2021-22 college basketball season on Thursday night by outlasting Texas A&M 73-72 for the NIT title. Musketeers' center Jack Nunge hit the game-winner with 3.1 seconds left to lift the program to its first title in the annual postseason tournament since 1958.
Texas A&M's Tyrece Radford's dribbled the length of the floor for a decent look at a potential buzzer-beater as time expired, but his left-handed shot rattled out, prompting a celebration on the Xavier sideline. In the days after getting left out of the NCAA Tournament field, the school fired coach Travis Steele and hired former coach Sean Miller as Steele's replacement.
All the while, the Musketeers soldiered on under interim coach Jonas Hayes, who was reportedly in the running for the Georgia job before that position went too Mike White. Amid the uncertainty involving all the coaches and looming decisions for players on the roster, Xavier pulled together to play some of its best basketball since an an 11-1 start to the season.
Xavier knocked off Cleveland State, Florida and Vanderbilt in the early rounds of the 32-team tournament before arriving in New York for the semifinal round at Madison Square Garden. The Musketeers beat St. Bonaventure on Tuesday to reach the final against an Aggies team whose only loss in the past six weeks came against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament title game.
Texas A&M, like Xavier, managed to put the disappointment of missing the Big Dance behind it to play well during the NIT. But on Thursday, a 16-7 edge in second-chance points and 40-32 edge in paint points helped lift Xavier to the title. Colby Jones led Xavier with 21, while Dwon Odom added 18 and Nunge had 15. Quenton Jackson led Texas A&M with 23.
Success in the NIT does not always predict bigger things the following season, but it can. Last season's champion, Memphis, was in the NCAA Tournament field this season and gave No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga a run for its money in a close game on Saturday night. Baylor reached the Sweet 16 in 2013 after an NIT title in 2012, and West Virginia did the same in 2007 after winning the NIT in 2006. Here is a look at the full bracket.
2022 NIT schedule
March 31 at Madison Square Garden
(2) Xavier 73, (1) Texas A&M 72
Tuesday, March 15
(1) Oklahoma 89, Missouri St. 75
(3) VCU 90, Princeton 79
(4) Vanderbilt 82, Belmont 71
(2) North Texas 67, Texas St. 63
(2) Xavier 72, Cleveland St. 68
Oregon 83, (4) Utah St. 72
(1) Texas A&M 74, Alcorn St. 62
St. Bonaventure 76, (4) Colorado 68
(4) Washington St. 63, Santa Clara 50
Wednesday, March 16
(1) Dayton 74, Toledo 55
(2) Wake Forest 74, Towson 64
Virginia 60, (3) Mississippi State 57
Northern Iowa 60, (3) Saint Louis 68
(1) SMU 68, Nicholls 58
(3) Florida 79, Iona 74
(2) BYU 93, Long Beach State 72
Saturday, March 19
(1) Texas A&M 75, Oregon 60
(2) Wake Forest 80, VCU 74
(2) BYU 90, Northern Iowa 71
Sunday, March 20
(2) Xavier 72, Florida 56
(4) Vanderbilt 70, (1) Dayton 68, OT
(4) Washington State 75, (1) SMU 63
Virginia 71, (2) North Texas 69, OT
St. Bonaventure 70, (1) Oklahoma 68
St. Bonaventure 52, Virginia 51
(2) Xavier 75, (4) Vanderbilt 73
(1) Texas A&M 67, (2) Wake Forest 52
(4) Washington State 77, (2) BYU 58
March 29 at Madison Square Garden
(2) Xavier 84, St. Bonaventure 77
(1) Texas A&M 72, (4) Washington State 56