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No. 2 Xavier edges No. 4 Vanderbilt in NIT quarterfinal

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Xavier Musketeers forward Jack Nunge (24) drives against Vanderbilt Commodores forward Quentin Millora-Brown (42) in the first half of the NIT Quarter Final game between the Xavier Musketeers and the Vanderbilt Commodores at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. Vanderbilt led 31-29 at halftime.Vanderbilt Commodores Vs Xavier Musketeers Nit
Credit: Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Adam Kunkel scored five of his 14 points in the final 2:01, including a tie-breaking drive with 57 seconds left, to help lift second-seeded Xavier to a 75-73 victory over fourth-seeded Vanderbilt in an NIT quarterfinal Tuesday in Cincinnati.

Zach Freemantle scored 16 points and Colby Jones added 15 points for Xavier (21-13), which will face St. Bonaventure (23-9) in one semifinal on March 29 in New York. Nate Johnson scored 12 points and Jack Nunge added 10 for the winners, who overcame a nine-point deficit with six minutes left.

Paul Scruggs sat out with a knee injury suffered in Xavier’s victory over Florida on Sunday. Dwon Odom started in place of Scruggs and had four points, four rebounds, four assists and two turnovers in 29 minutes.

Scotty Pippen Jr. scored 28 points and had nine rebounds and seven assists for the Commodores (19-17). Myles Stute added 12 points and Jordan Wright had 11.

Xavier trailed 66-57 with six minutes to go when it went on a 10-2 run and cut the deficit to 68-67 on a basket in the lane by Johnson with 3:55 to go.

The Musketeers finally went ahead when Kunkel hit a baseline jumper with 2:01 to go for a 71-70 lead. Wright made two foul shots with 1:38 left to put the Commodores up, 72-71. Kunkel made one of two foul shots with 1:28 left to tie the score at 72. Kunkel’s driving layup with 57 seconds left broke a tie at 72.

Pippen missed a shot on Vandy’s next possession. Vanderbilt had another chance to tie, but Wright missed the front end of a one-and-one with six seconds to go. Jones then split a pair of foul shots with four seconds left, leaving the Musketeers ahead, 75-72.

Pippen was purposely fouled before he could attempt a 3-point shot. He made the first free throw but missed the second, leaving the Commodores behind, 75-73. But Vanderbilt forced a turnover with exactly one second to go. However, a desperation 3-point heave missed.

Vanderbilt made its first three field-goal attempts of the second half, part of a 10-2 run that put the Commodores ahead 41-31. Stute had two 3-pointers during the surge.

That began a pattern, as Vandy kept building leads, only to have the Musketeers rally.

Xavier scored nine straight points and cut its deficit to 41-40 with 16:08 left on Jones’ fast-break layup off a feed from Odom. But the Commodores took a 46-40 lead, only to have Xavier tie it at 46 on a 3-pointer by Cesare Edwards.

A 9-2 run capped by Pippen’s fallaway jumper put Vandy ahead 58-52 with 9:01 left.

Xavier rallied from an early 8-1 deficit to quickly tie the score at 10 and later opened a 23-17 lead on Jones’ jumper in the lane, which finished a 7-0 run.

But the Commodores eventually responded.

After Odom’s fast-break layup, which was set up by Johnson’s steal, gave the hosts a 27-22 lead, Vanderbilt concluded the first half with 9-2 spurt. Pippen had five points during the run, including a trey with 26 seconds to go in the half to put Vandy in front 31-29 at intermission.

–Field Level Media