by Tim Daniel
Being fortunate enough to cover Xavier Basketball for the last five seasons, I've been fortunate to see a lot of great games. I was there for the 2019 Charleston Classic Double-OT game vs UCONN, defeating Villanova, and even this season in the Gavitt Games when the Musketeers beat Ohio State.
Tonight, with a trip to the Final Four of the NIT on the line, was one of those great games. Between an entertaining back-and-forth matchup, an opposing fan base that traveled, and a Xavier team knowing this was the last night this season they would play at the Cintas Center we had all the ingredients from a memorable night.
Throughout the evening Xavier had many moments where the game could have been taken away from them as Vanderbilt kept making big runs, and taking big leads, but Xavier overcame adversity and continued to have an answer each time they fought back from a Vanderbilt run.
Vandy star Scotty Pippen Jr, with his legendary father in attendance, put on quite the performance in the first half scoring 19 of the Commodores' 31 first-half points. Though in the second half of the game Xavier held Pippen to just nine points, shooting 2-9 from the floor.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse ran many different sets to test Xavier's defense, and Jonas Hayes had his team ready for everything thrown their way.
The Musketeers had multiple contributors to tonight's victory. Zach Freemantle paced the team with 16 points off of the bench for the team followed by Colby Jones who took a lot of the lead ball-handling responsibilities in Scruggs's absence scoring 15 points as well as grabbing eight rebounds and four assists.
Junior guard Adam Kunkel made his share of plays through the night including a big baseline go-ahead jumper in the second half, and a nice assist to Freemantle on a drop-off pass as he was attacking the rim finding Freemantle in the dunker spot. Nate Johnson scored 12 points in his final game at Cintas Center, all in the second half, and Jack Nunge once again had his share of moments including a poster dunk early in the game that he followed up with a blocked shot on the next defensive possession.
Interm coach Jonas Hayes was quick to give credit to big men Cesare Edwards for a clutch three-point field goal, and Dionte Miles for the defense he played in his short stint in the game.
Overall this was a big team win for Xavier where they went nine deep, saw some big deficits, and still overcame to get the big win. Xavier has now advanced to the NIT Final Four where they will match up with the old A10 foe, St. Bonaventure. The game will be played next Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, a place Jonas Hayes mentioned Xavier is ready to go and knock a sour taste out of their mouths after their loss in the first round of the Big East Tournament vs Butler. The time of the game is yet to be announced.