Muskies Come Back in Second Half to Knock Off Vandy in NIT Quarterfinals
By Andy Mac Williams, 3/22/2022

Xavier TEAM 100 plowed through more adversity late Tuesday night-rallying repeatedly to catch and beat Vanderbilt(SEC) 75-73 in NIT Quarterfinals at Cintas. Team Captain Super Senior PG Paul Scruggs did not play because of a torn ACL sustained in Sunday's NIT win over Florida. XU players doned Scruggs' game jerseys during the warm-up and face timed #1 before and after the game in the locker room. Interim coach Jonas Hayes and staff had Muskies geeked emotionally and ready x and o-wise. Vandy came in playing well-winners of 5 of 6(only loss by 6 in SEC Tourney to Kentucky. Commodores had upset overall #1 NIT Seed Dayton Sunday in OT. The Dores featured SEC scoring leader Scottie Pippin Jr and a cast of veterans. XU overcame BIG deficits and now head to NYC and NIT Final 4 at MSG(playing A-10 St Bonaventure next Tuesday 3-29 in the Semifinals. St Bonnies (coached by long time Xavier assistant Mark Schmidt) rallied late to edge Virginia 52-51 in Charlottesville.

XU started slowly(down 8-1 at the 1st TV time-out). X struggled to guard Pippin who cruised and sniped away scoring 19 1st half points. Adam Kunkel shot XU back into the game(9 1st half points) and Zach Freemantle added 7 in a hustling 8 minutes off the bench.

Muskies scrapped to a 25-22 lead w/ 4 minutes left until halftime. Then came that familiar last war swoon that's plagued Xavier since February.

Vandy staged a 9-4 run and led 31-29 at the break. The Dores roared into half #2 w/ a 10-2 blitz featuring Pippin Jr as a passer. VU spread the floor and canned open "3s" and X trailed 41-31(-10) w/ 18 minutes left. Time-out Jonas!

XU reacted well w/ 9-0 run and cut it to 41-40 quickly. Almost everybody chipped in. Frosh BIG Cesare Edwards drilled his 1st career "3" from the right wing to tie it at 46-46. He just stepped up confidently and stroked it!!

XU threw tons of defensive looks at Pippin Jr and gradually slowed his production(9 2nd half points-maybe some fatigue but he still got others involved. Vandy sort of settled for jumpers though.

VU rebuilt their lead to 66-57(+9) w/ 6:05 left and XU bounced back again. Nate Johnson drained 3 FTS. Freemantle geeked the crowd w/ a thunder dunk from Kunkel. Dwon Odom dug in defensively vs Pippin- forcing a lay-up miss w/ a recovering burst of speed and then forcing a turnover w/ persistence vs Pippin's pirouettes in the paint.

Dwon then took the rock to the rim w/ a dynamic baseline drive and dunk. 70-69 Vandy w/ 3 minutes left. Odom missed a FT after the time-out. XU took their 1st lead in eons on a nifty Adam Kunkel baseline 10 footer(71-70 Xavier).

Jack Nunge forced a tie-up w/ 1:10 left ans score tied at 72. X got possession and Kunkel jetted the length of the floor scoring on a gutsy full monty throw your body at thr rim driving lay-up. 74-72 Muskies w/ 57 ticks left.

X just refused to lose in that final minute-taking away Pippin Jr. Defense won it late. 75-73 Xavier and it's off to NYC!!

Coach Hayes summed things up succinctly:

"It was a HIGH LEVEL game!! The locker room is in a good place right now. We're looking forward to heading for New York and competing for an NIT Championship."

X shared the ball again w/ 5 players scoring double figures (same deal in all 3 NIT wins). Xavier has won 4 of 5 and is 11-0 vs non-conference teams at Cintas. Muskies shot 53% FG and attacked the rim w/ good results-yielding lay-ups, dunks and close-in post tries. XU shot 24 FTs.

The defense played w/ nastiness around the rim(6 blocked shots). Pippin Jr scored 28 but made just 8 of 21 FGs. He was deadly at FT line(9-10). X wore him down some w/ a rotating diet of Colby Jones, Odom Kunkel and Nate Johnson.

Freemantle is thriving coming off the bench in 3 NIT games. He was +12 vs Vandy w/ 16 points and 6 rebounds.

Thanks to Bob Ryan and Brian Hicks for recognizing my birthday on the video board. I'm trying to forget the number(73). The Muskies have me re-energized w/ their resilience-effort and team play! AARP says 73 is the new 29 anyway.

Expect a Sean Miller Introductory Event Friday. No doubt his cell phone bill is approaching critical mass-exploring player roster options and assembling a coaching and support staff.

This NIT stuff has been fun so far. More NIT on ESPN2 Wednesday. Wake Forest vs Texas A&M at 7PM-followed by Washington St at BYU at 9 PM. Winners advance to MSG on 3-29.

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