NEW YORK — The final offensive play of Xavier’s season ended up not according to plan, much like its calamitous final month of the regular season that saw it go from NCAA Tournament lock to watching 68 other schools party in the Big Dance without them.
For once, however, what started out wrong went oh so right, leading to the ultimate redemption story and a postseason championship.
Jack Nunge banked in a running layup with three seconds remaining, the final push down on the see-saw that lifted the Musketeers to a 73-72 victory over Texas A&M in the 84th National Invitation Tournament championship. Colby Jones, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led the Musketeers with 21 points as Xavier won its second ever postseason championship, along with their NIT Championship it won in 1958.
Standing in front of Sean Miller, the team’s new head coach who sat five rows up in the stands and poised to take over the program right after the game, interim head coach Jarvis Hayes put on an audition for the ages in taking over the Musketeers two weeks ago and steering them to a championship. Travis Steele stepped down from the head coach spot after the team’s first-round win against Cleveland State, which was preceded by a stretch where the Musketeers lost 10 of 12, including a stunning last-second overtime loss at the hands of Butler in the first round of the Big East Tournament, held at Madison Square Garden, that doomed the Musketeers to missing the NCAA Tournament for a fourth season in a row.
What they did not miss tonight was their chance to end the season with a championship.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have a true belief great things are possible and you have people pulling in the same direction,” said Hayes, who has a job as associate head coach on Miller’s staff if he chooses to accept. “But believing in something, believing in themselves, believing in the group, believing in the cause and when you’ve got everybody on the same page, this just proved that great things can happen if you have a group of people that believe.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Thursday’s NIT championship game, with all photos taken by ALOST photographer Jenny Rohl. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 32 pictures in total.