Xavier rallies past Texas A&M for 1st NIT title since 1958

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NEW YORK — If this was the last NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden, it certainly was a thriller.

Especially for Xavier.

Jack Nunge made the go-ahead basket with 3.1 seconds left and the Musketeers won their first NIT crown in 64 years Thursday night, rallying for a 73-72 victory over Texas A&M.

Colby Jones scored 21 points for Xavier (23-13) and was selected the tournament’s most outstanding player. Dwon Odom added 18, and Nunge had 15 points and 11 rebounds to help the Musketeers erase an eight-point halftime deficit under interim coach Jonas Hayes.

“I can’t say enough about our guys,” Hayes said. “That’s what Xavier basketball is.”

It was the final National Invitation Tournament title game at Madison Square Garden for at least a few years – breaking a college basketball tradition that dates to 1938.

MSG won’t host the semifinals and finals anymore in 2023 and 2024, the NIT announced this week, saying a bid process has begun to find new sites for those years. Nothing has been decided for 2025 and beyond.

“Madison Square Garden is a special court,” Nunge said. “Everybody knows the feel when you’re playing out there and you just want to give it your all – all the history that’s there. I’m just grateful to be part of this team and have our names in the record books.”

Quenton Jackson scored 23 points for the Aggies (27-13), left out of the NCAA Tournament despite reaching the SEC final, where they lost to Tennessee. It was a surprising snub by the selection committee that drew criticism from Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams and others.

After getting over their disappointment, the Aggies nearly took the consolation prize.

“We’ve been through a lot this year, a lot of ups, a lot of downs, but through it all I think we’ve all learned just how to persevere and remain resilient through everything,” Jackson said. “I think everybody in this room should have learned something from this year. But like I said, it’s probably one of the greater experiences I’ve had playing basketball.”

In a championship game with 17 lead changes, Adam Kunkel made one of two free throws to give Xavier a 71-70 advantage with 1:28 left.

Jackson was fouled by Odom on a drive and sank both free throws to put the Aggies in front with 27 seconds remaining.

Texas A&M blocked a shot out of bounds on the other end, and Xavier inbounded from the baseline. Jones found Nunge inside and he wheeled into the lane and banked in a one-handed turnaround shot that put Xavier ahead 73-72.

“Ever since Jonas has taken over as head coach, we haven’t really had any out-of-bounds plays,” Nunge said. “I tried to call – look at the bench and call a simple one everybody knows, and Colby looked at me and said he was going to throw me the ball, and I was fortunate enough to knock down the shot.”

After a timeout by the Aggies, they still had a chance to win. Tyrece Radford dribbled up the left side and tossed up a runner from the 3-point line that rimmed out.

“Unbelievable game,” said Hayes, his NIT championship T-shirt soaked. “I thought our guys met the challenge. I’m fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to lead these guys for a couple weeks, and these guys deserve the amount of success they have.”

Nunge grabbed the rebound at the buzzer to seal Xavier’s second NIT championship. The other one came in 1958.

After a disappointing flop in the Big East this season, the Musketeers took off in the NIT despite losing senior guard Paul Scruggs to a torn knee ligament.

“What has happened in their program over the last two weeks is historical and any AD that has a job opening should hire the undefeated head coach at Xavier, Coach Hayes,” Williams said.

Hayes took over when head coach Travis Steele was fired following Xavier’s victory over Cleveland State in the first round of the NIT.

Sean Miller, the former Arizona coach, was hired for his second stint at Xavier and will now take charge of the program. A smiling Miller, who also coached the Musketeers from 2004-09, watched from the MSG stands Thursday night.

Radford finished with 15 points and Hassan Diarra, a New York City native, added 12 for the Aggies.

Texas A&M had a 10-point lead, its largest of the night, late in the first half.

Jackson and Diarra combined for 22 points to give the Aggies a 40-32 edge at the break. Texas A&M shot 14 for 25 from the field.

Diarra came off the bench to spark a 18-10 surge over the final six minutes of the first half. His layup evened it 26-all and he capped a 7-0 spurt with a 3-pointer that extended the Aggies’ lead to 31-26.

Jackson then took advantage of a Xavier turnover and ignited another 7-0 run with a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws before Radford tipped in Jackson’s miss to make it 40-30.

Former Arizona coach Sean Miller returning to Xavier

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CINCINNATI — Former Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller returned to Xavier on Saturday, less than a year after the Wildcats fired him amid an ongoing NCAA investigation that’s stretched nearly five years.

Miller replaces Travis Steele, his former assistant who was fired Wednesday after four seasons.

“Xavier is thrilled to welcome Sean Miller and his family back to Victory Parkway,” Xavier athletic director Greg Christopher said. “Sean is an elite college basketball coach and a proven winner who understands the expectations, traditions and values of Xavier and the Big East Conference. He will bring a high level of energy and excitement to our program and he will do it the right way.”

Miller went 120-47 at Xavier from 2004-09, leading the Musketeers to the NCAA Tournament his final four seasons before being hired at Arizona. He had success in the desert, leading the Wildcats to five Pac-12 regular-season titles, but was embroiled in the investigation his final three years.

“Amy and I are humbled to be returning to Xavier,” Miller said in a statement. “Xavier and the Big East Conference both hold special places in my heart. I enjoyed my experience competing at the highest level in the Big East as a player and have always dreamed of being a head coach in the best basketball league in the country. Xavier has always done things the right way.”

Arizona has been in the NCAA’s crosshairs since being ensnared in a 2017 FBI investigation into shady recruiting practices.

The NCAA issued a Notice of Allegations last year and the case is currently going through the Independent Accountability Resolution Process. Arizona issued a self-imposed postseason ban in 2019.

Miller became the third Wildcats coach to reach 300 wins with the program and went 302-109 in 12 seasons. Arizona reached the Elite Eight three times, won five Pac-12 regular-season titles and three Pac-12 Tournament titles under Miller.

But Arizona failed to reach the Final Four under Miller and had not won an NCAA Tournament game since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2017.

Miller didn’t have to wait long for another shot, returning to a place he was once successful.

“Man, that’s great for him,” Arizona guards Dalen Terry said Saturday as the Wildcats prepared to face TCU on Sunday in San Diego in the NCAA Tournament. “We’re all proud of him. He was proud of us everything we did this year. I’ve spoken to him numerous times. That’s just real good for him.”

Miller was named Atlantic 10 coach of the year in 2008 after leading the Musketeers for a school-record 30 wins and to the Elite Eight. Xavier went to the Sweet 16 the following season.

All-Big East: Gillespie unanimous, Champagnie honored again

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Villanova guard Collin Gillespie was the only unanimous pick for the all-Big East team Sunday, and St. John’s forward Julian Champagnie joined him as a repeat selection.

Connecticut guard R.J. Cole and forward Adama Sanogo also were on the first team, along with Marquette forward Justin Lewis and Seton Hall swingman Jared Rhoden.

Gillespie, the co-Big East player of the year last season, is averaging 16.3 points per game to pace the 11th-ranked Wildcats. He leads the conference in 3-point shooting (43.1%) and free-throw percentage (91.5%).

Champagnie is averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. He just missed winning the Big East scoring title for the second consecutive year, nipped by Lewis in the final game of the regular season.

Two players from regular-season champion Providence were included on the all-Big East second team: guard Jared Bynum and center Nate Watson. Joining them were DePaul guard Javon Freeman-Liberty, Creighton forward Ryan Hawkins and Villanova guard Justin Moore.

Receiving honorable mention were St. John’s point guard Posh Alexander, Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner, Marquette guard Darryl Morsell and Xavier center Jack Nunge.

The conference’s head coaches vote for the all-conference teams and are not allowed to pick their own players.

The league’s player of the year will come from the all-Big East first team. The winner will be announced Wednesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden before the Big East Tournament opener, when the conference also reveals its coach of the year, freshman of the year and scholar-athlete of the year.

Creighton had three players on the all-freshman team: guard Trey Alexander, forward Arthur Kaluma and point guard Ryan Nembhard, who was chosen Big East rookie of the week six times before a season-ending wrist injury late last month.

Nembhard was a unanimous selection to the all-freshman team, along with Georgetown guard Aminu Mohammed and Marquette guard Kam Jones. UConn guard Jordan Hawkins also made the squad.

Bynum’s 27 points lift No. 11 Providence over Xavier in 3 OT

Kris Craig / USA TODAY NETWORK
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Providence coach Ed Cooley has been hearing a lot about how lucky his team has been to keep winning close games.

He hopes to start hearing about how much talent his 11th-ranked Friars have as well.

Jared Bynum scored 27 points, including a key 3-pointer to help Providence hold off Xavier 99-92 in triple overtime Wednesday night.

A.J. Reeves added 16 points and Al Durham had 13 to help the first-place Friars (23-3, 13-2 Big East) win their second consecutive overtime game. They are 3-0 in OT this season – all in the past four games – and it’s the first time in school history Providence has notched 13 Big East wins.

“We’re just really fortunate. For whatever reason we play well in close games,” Cooley said. “That luck better come from somewhere. It’s called talent.”

It was the first triple-overtime game in the Big East since St. John’s beat DePaul 90-82 on March 5, 2010. It was Providence’s first game of at least three OTs since it lost 79-77 in five overtimes to Dayton on Jan. 28, 1982.

A charter member of the Big East in 1979, the Friars can clinch their first regular-season conference championship by winning one of their final two games. They host Creighton on Saturday and visit No. 8 Villanova next Tuesday.

Adam Kunkel had 20 points and Paul Scruggs added 19 for Xavier (17-10, 7-9), which has lost two straight and seven of 10. Scruggs hit a tying 3-pointer as time expired in the second overtime.

“Those guys, they emptied the tank out there,” Musketeers coach Travis Steele said. “Give their guys credit, they made some big plays.”

A putback by Nate Watson put the Friars up 94-92. Kunkel missed a 3 on Xavier’s next possession and Bynum’s 3-pointer increased Providence’s lead to five with 27.8 seconds left.

Xavier missed a 3 and putback attempt on its next touch and Noah Horchler was fouled. He hit two free throws and, after another Musketeers miss, Providence was able to run out the clock.

“I’ll be lucky anytime of the day if we keep winning like this,” Watson said.

The last sequence followed wild finishes in each of the first two extra periods.

Zach Fremantle scored the first five points of the first OT to put Xavier up 75-70. But the Friars scored the final five points to send it to a second.

They carried that momentum forward and Bynum scored four quick points in the second OT to give the Friars a 79-75 lead.

The lead was down to 79-77 when a turnover gave the ball back to the Musketeers. Scruggs was fouled and hit both free throws to tie it.

The Friars turned it over again and Kunkel sank a floater in the lane with 1:43 left.

Bynum was fouled but made only one of two free throws.

Xavier missed its next time down the floor and Bynum knocked down a 15-foot jumper that gave Providence an 82-81 lead.

Kunkel got caught in the air in the lane and turned it over, leading to a Xavier foul. Alyn Breed, who hadn’t attempted a shot to that point, sank two free throws to make it 84-81.

Scruggs got it back to a point with his basket on the other end before two more free throws by Breed.

Two more free throws by Scruggs cut it to 86-85, but Xavier fouled Watson before the next inbounds – a flagrant foul. Watson made one of two, but Providence was immediately fouled again with six seconds left.

Breed hit the first but missed the second, allowing Scruggs to race up the court and swish a tying 3 from the wing at the buzzer.

BIG PICTURE

Providence hasn’t played its cleanest basketball over the past two games, but remains in the driver’s seat to capture its first Big East regular-season title with two games to play. The Friars had three conference games canceled because of COVID-19.

IN REGULATION

Providence struggled to find an offensive flow in Sunday’s overtime win at Butler without Durham, who sat out with a sports hernia. He returned to the starting lineup, but some of the same issues again cropped up against the Musketeers.

Xavier led by as many as five in the second half before Reeves’ 3-pointer tied the game at 60 with 5:08 to play in regulation.

The Musketeers responded with a backdoor layup by Scruggs, followed by a corner 3-pointer by Horchler.

A short jumper by Kunkel put the Musketeers back in front 64-63.

The Friars missed twice coming out of a timeout, then turned it over when Justin Minaya’s inbounds pass was intercepted by Scruggs and passed ahead to Dwon Odom for a layup with 2:43 left.

Play was then stopped after condensation began to form on the court. The delay lasted about 15 minutes before play resumed.

Reeves knocked down a 3 to tie it on the ensuing possession, followed by a steal by Durham. He was fouled but connected on only one of two free throws to make it 67-66.

A tip-in by Jack Nunge put Xavier back in front before Watson went 1 for 2 at the foul line to leave the game tied.

Fremantle then got free for a layup to give the Musketeers a 70-68 edge with 45.2 seconds to go.

A turnaround jumper by Durham tied it again with 23 seconds left.

UP NEXT

Xavier returns home to host Seton Hall on Saturday.

Providence celebrates Senior Day on Saturday when it hosts Creighton.

No. 25 Xavier snaps 2-game skid, beats No. 24 UConn 74-68

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CINCINNATI – Jack Nunge had 22 points and nine rebounds, and No. 25 Xavier snapped a two-game losing streak with a 74-68 victory over No. 24 Connecticut on Friday night.

Zach Freemantle scored all 12 of his points in the second half, and Nate Johnson also had 12 points for Xavier (17-7, 7-6 Big East).

“UConn’s as talented as any team we’ve played all year,” Musketeers head coach Travis Steele said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do, we can compete with anyone. This is great for our confidence moving forward.”

R.J. Cole scored 22 points to lead UConn (16-7, 7-5 Big East). Tyrese Martin added 18 points for the Huskies.

“We lost the game with our defense on Nunge (and) not guarding (Paul) Scruggs off the dribble to start the second half,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said.

The game, originally scheduled for Dec. 28, was postponed due to COVID-19 issues in the UConn program.

The teams met for just the fourth time, and second time at Cintas Center, with UConn winning there, 80-72, on Feb 13, 2021.

Both teams have been plagued recently by slow offensive starts, especially Xavier, which trailed at halftime in seven of its previous eight games.

But the Musketeers raced to a rare halftime lead on Friday, helped by Johnson’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer which put them ahead 34-31. Johnson had 10 points in the first half.

Cole and Sanogo each picked up two early fouls and played a combined 18 minutes in the first half.

“I thought they were brutal calls in the first half,” Hurley said. “That’s not why we had the deficit at the half. But yeah, what a joke.”

Scruggs and Zach Freemantle, who were scoreless in the first half, combined for 15 points to help the Musketeers extend their lead to 54-46 with 9:50 left. Scruggs finished with nine points.

“Paul (Scruggs) was getting to the rim,” Steele said. “We were getting UConn in rotation, which would open up the lane for drives. Our guys did a nice job of taking what the defense gave us.”

UConn kept the score close by converting 10 Xavier turnovers into 14 points.

The Musketeers led by as many as 10 points in the second half before the Huskies got within three points with 30 seconds remaining. But, Xavier held on.

“I felt like this was a huge momentum game for us, and we needed it,” said Xavier guard Colby Jones, who had six assists.

The Musketeers played without their second-leading 3-point shooter, Adam Kunkel, who was sidelined by illness not related to COVID-19, according to Steele.

HURLEY HOT

The Huskies’ head coach wasn’t pleased with a few calls in the first half that led to early foul trouble for his team. Late in the second half, Hurley and Huskies guard Andre Jackson received technical fouls less than a minute apart.

“I see a lot of coaches in the ear of the officials, and I didn’t think there was anything there that warranted a technical,” Hurley said. “So I will be calling up our head of officials, because I want an explanation on that.”

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over No. 18 Marquette on Tuesday to begin a stretch of four games in nine days, three on the road. But they couldn’t build off that momentum. “The Big East is a hard league to get momentum in,” Hurley said. “It’s really easy to fall into losing streaks and very hard to stack wins.”

Xavier: After losing two straight games, and four of their previous six, including a bad loss at home to DePaul, the Musketeers needed a win to get back on track and get above .500 in the Big East. “Everybody in the locker room, we believe we have a great team. We just have to go out there and show it,” said Nunge.

UP NEXT

UConn: Plays at St. John’s on Sunday.

Xavier: Hosts St. John’s on Wednesday.

Lewis paces Marquette to 75-64 win over No. 20 Xavier

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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MILWAUKEE- Justin Lewis had 20 points and 13 rebounds to pace Marquette to a 75-64 victory over No. 20 Xavier on Sunday.

Paul Scruggs scored on a layup to get Xavier within 64-59, but the Musketeers did not get another field goal until Jack Nunge’s basket with 34 seconds left to make it 73-64.

Xavier hit its first six shots of the second half, but was just 5 of 26 the rest of the way.

Darryl Morsell scored 19 and Kam Jones added 12 points for Marquette (14-6, 6-3 Big East), which shot 53% in the second half.

Scruggs had 13 points and Colby Jones and Adam Kunkel 12 each for Xavier (14-4, 4-3).

Xavier, which trailed 33-29 at the half, took the lead at 40-38 on a three-point play by Colby Jones. Kam Jones’ reverse layin capped a 10-point run that put Marquette in front 58-53.

Kam Jones converted a steal into a layup at the other end to put the Golden Eagles up by five with just under eight minutes left.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers are 3-3 in their last six games after an 11-1 start.

Marquette: After a road game at Seton Hall, the Golden Eagles face three ranked teams in a row – at No. 21 Providence, home vs. No. 11 Villanova and then on the road at No. 25 UConn. Marquette already has beaten Providence and Villanova.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Coupled with a 57-54 victory at No. 11 Villanova on Wednesday, Marquette could crack the Top 25. The loss could cost Xavier a spot in the rankings.

UP NEXT

Xavier hosts No. 21 Providence on Wednesday.

Marquette is at Seton Hall on Wednesday.