The NIT Championship ended with a game winning shot by Xavier to silence the Aggies 73-72
The Texas A&M Aggies and Xavier faced off in the NIT championship, after beating Washington State and St. Bonaventure respectively. Texas A&M got off to a slow start, and found themselves down 15-6 early on in the first half. Even so, they were able to rediscover their identity by the end of the first half. After some more early buckets from Jack Nunge, Texas A&M was able to find their ground, behind a special boost off the bench.
Hassan Diara, Texas A&M’s Sophomore shooting guard, came off the bench and provided a flurry of scoring and energy for Buzz Williams. In the first half, Diara provided the second highest amount of points for his team, with 10 points on 2-2 shooting from three-point land. His two three pointers were massive for A&M, and he was able to get them back on track when the starters couldn’t. Diara also found a backdoor cut on an insanely difficult angle, after defenders collapsed in on him for arguably the best pass of the night. The Queens, NY native wasn’t the only player making an impact as well. Quentin Jackson is the only other player to hit a three for the Aggies, and helped them out, by scoring 12 points and corralling in three rebounds. After a slow start, Texas A&M was able to shut down Xavier, and they continued to try to contain Colby Jones, who had a team-leading (and game-leading) 14 points. A&M got out on the break more (9-0 fastbreak) and played a more aggressive style of offense, they played better defense for a majority of the first half, and A&M’s massive disparity in bench points was a huge contributor as well to their 8-point halftime lead. After another Colby Jones three-pointer went in, this time coming from wing out of transition, Xavier was able to mirror the way they opened the first half. They did so in a fashion that energized the crowd, and Colby Jones’s huge three made the crowd go mad. So much so, that A&M was forced to take a time out, in order to halt their momentum. Diara continued to attack the rim for A&M, while Tyrece Radford forced his way to the rim and made his impact felt. However, the Aggies penetration-style play was overshadowed by Xavier’s guard Dwon Odom. After assisting Colby Jones’s huge three, Dwon Odom made two tough jumpers from point blank range, when A&M failed to capitalize on two straight possessions. A missed three-point shot by Quenton Jackson and Hayden Hefner, gave Odom a window of opportunity, and he made the most of it with two crucial buckets. Odom had 10 points in the first half as well, but these might have been the most crucial of the night. With nearly 8 minutes left in the second half, Xavier was able to officially evaporate the distance A&M created between them. The 7’0 Jack Nunge (who transferred from Iowa) also continued to be a stallworth down low for Xavier, grabbing rebounds, getting tip-ins, and even kicking it out to the open man as well. His play, along with their other big man Zach Freemantle, were perfect complements to Colby Jones’s scoring outburst tonight. Nunge and Freemantle are extremely dangerous, because they are constantly rotated in and fresh. Especially considering they are playing a small team like A&M, Nunge and Freemantle can dominate down low while Colby Jones, and Dwon Odom give extra buckets. With under two minutes left in regulation, the game was tied 70-70. Adam Kunkel found himself shooting two of the biggest free throws in his life, and failed to convert on the first one. However, he cashed in on the second which gave them a one point lead with over a minute left. Tyrece Radford failed to convert after another strong drive, and a loose ball ended up in Xavier’s hands. A missed mid range pullup by Kunkel then allowed Texas A&M to have the ball with 39.3 seconds left, still down one. Quenton Jackson earned himself a chance at the charity strike, and he was not only able to tie the game, but also give the Aggies a one point lead. Xavier then got blocked, but Jack Nunge hit a wild one-handed hook shot fading in the post that then gave Xavier a one point lead with 3.1 seconds. Nunge’s shot ended up being the game winner, and he ended Texas A&M’s season in epic fashion. Xavier won the game 73-72, and can officially call themselves NIT Champions, after an epic battle in the finale.