Madison Square Garden — Adam Kunkel, Jack Nunge, and Zach Freemantle each poured in 18 points to help Xavier (22-13) slide past St. Bonaventure (23-10) 84-77 in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday night before an announced crowd of 8,506.
Xavier was making its 33rd postseason appearance in the last 39 seasons and looked very poise throughout the contest.
The Musketeers won the NIT Championship with a win over St. Bonaventure in the semifinals and beat then No.11 Dayton in overtime in the championship game.
“First off, I would like to start off by saying that’s hell of a St. Bonny’s team. They come with a lot of emotion and probably their whole student body in this arena. They were loud, they were proud. But you know what? So were we.” Xavier coach Jonas Hayes said.
Xavier came out of the gate smoking hot shooting 43.2 percent from the field (16-37) and 33.3 percent from downtown (5-15) in the first half.
St. Bonaventure was playing in its 26th NIT game at Madison Square Garden all-time, but first since the 1977 championship run. The Bonnies was playing in the Garden for the first time at all since 1999.
The Musketeers took a 38-23 lead into the break. Jack Nunge lead the way with 9 points for Xavier.
The Bonnies outscored Xavier 9-4 over the first two minutes of the second half, trimming the lead to 10, 42-32, with just under 18 minutes to play.
The Musketeers and Bonnies traded buckets over the next seven minutes, with Xavier sustaining a 9-to-11 point advantage until St. Bonaventure scored 4 points got the Bonnies within eight, 58-50, with 10 minutes to play in the contest, the closest St. Bonaventure had been since training 21-14 with 10 minutes to play in the first half
“We are playing for one another,” Xavier Colby Jones said. “I feel like we executed really well.”
Five-straight Xavier points extended the lead back to 13 points before a 10-2 run for the Bonnies made it a five-point game, 65-60, with 5:38 to play.
Dominick Welch inched the Bonnies back within 74-68 following his sixth three of the night, but Xavier broke the Bonnies pressure trap attempt, resulting in a Freemantle easy bunny. Xavier would never let the Bonnies get closer than an arm’s length away despite their continued runs.
Welch led St. Bonaventure (23-10) with 25 points. Jaren Holmes and Kyle Lofton both chipped in 15.
Xavier made 34 of 64 attempts from the field for the game (53.1%) and had a 38-28 advantage on the glass. St. Bonaventure was 29 of 26 (46.8%) shooting.
“It was a great game college basketball game. Kudos to our crowd. We couldn’t have a better crowd. Came out, not surprised, but they have been supportive all year long. In my 15 years here, they have been just been spectacular and you guys saw it tonight.” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said.
Jones added 16 points and Nate Johnson poured in10 for the Musketeers.
Xavier advanced and will play Texas A&M/Washington State in Thursday’s championship game.