• Sat. Feb 4th, 2023

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 the Musketeers (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 Xavier 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 couple of years — ending a college basketball tradition that dates to 1938.

MSG won’t host the semifinals and finals in 2023 and 2024, the NIT announced this week, saying a bid process has begun to find new sites for those years and an announcement is expected this spring. Nothing has been determined beyond 2024.

Quenton Jackson had 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.

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.

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.

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

Radford finished with 15 points and Hassan Diarra, a New York City native, added 12 for Texas A&M.

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 watched from the MSG stands Thursday night.

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.