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Xavier flies past St. Bonaventure to reach NIT title game

Mar 29, 2022; New York, New York, USA; Xavier Musketeers guard Adam Kunkel (5) dribbles the ball pst St. Bonaventure Bonnies guard Kyle Lofton (0) defending  during the NIT college basketball semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Kunkel, Jack Nunge and Zach Freemantle racked up 18 points apiece as Xavier beat St. Bonaventure 84-77 on Tuesday in the first semifinal game of the NIT in New York.

The Musketeers, one of the event’s second seeds, will battle the winner of the other semifinal between No. 1 seed Texas A&M and Washington State on Thursday for the championship.

Xavier (22-13) led by as many as 19 points in the first half and by 15 at halftime before the Bonnies clawed back into the game in the second half, pulling to within 65-60 on a 3-pointer by Dominick Welch with 5:38 to play.

But the Musketeers held on, with Freemantle scoring six consecutive late-game points as part of Xavier’s 66.7 percent shooting after halftime.

Colby Jones added 16 points and Nate Johnson had 10 for the Musketeers in the win. Xavier last won the NIT championship in 1958, beating St. Bonaventure in the semifinals and Dayton in the final.

Welch led all scorers with 25 points. Kyle Lofton added 15 points and 11 assists for St. Bonaventure (23-10), with Jaren Holmes also hitting for 15 points and Osun Osunniyi scoring 12.

Xavier used a 14-0 run over a five-plus minute stretch of the first half to turn a five-point lead into a 33-14 advantage after a putback by Nunge with 5:23 to play before halftime.

The Bonnies cut their deficit to 13 points on a pair of free throws by Osunniyi with 2:33 left in the half before Freemantle’s layup with 44 seconds remaining garnered Xavier a 38-23 lead at the break.

Nunge had nine points by halftime to lead the Musketeers, and Welch matched that output for St. Bonaventure. Xavier outshot the Bonnies 43.2 percent to 30 percent in the half and owned the boards with a 26-16 edge and 11 second-chance points over the first 20 minutes of play.

This is the final time that the historic tournament is scheduled to be played at Madison Square Garden. The arena had hosted the NIT since 1938, a run halted by COVID-19 for two years. The event was canceled in 2020 and played in Texas in 2021.

–Field Level Media