Tuesday, March 28

Texas A&M routs Washington State, advances to NIT final

Texas A&M rolled into the Big Apple and took a big bite out of a program from the state producing the most apples. The Aggies’ collective message to the NCAA Tournament selection committee: How ’bout them apples? 

A&M, one of the first four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament by the committee, has advanced to the National Invitation Tournament championship game for the first time in program history following its 72-56 victory over Washington State late Tuesday night in the NIT semifinals in New York’s Madison Square Garden. 

A&M (27-12) under third-year coach Buzz Williams faces Xavier (22-13) in the NIT final at 6 p.m. Thursday in Madison Square Garden. The Musketeers of Cincinnati defeated St. Bonaventure 84-77 on Tuesday prior to the Aggies’ victory. 

“We rolled up here expecting adversity, we knew they were going to have their whole campus around here,” Xavier interim coach Jonas Hayes said of St. Bonaventure, which is 350 miles to the northwest of New York City. “When you go through life expecting adversity, you can deal with it a little better.” 

Meantime the Aggies overwhelmed the Cougars 58-16 in points in the paint, as A&M forward Henry Coleman III, a transfer from Duke, made eight of his 12 field goal attempts, most from within close range. A&M also forced more than twice as many turnovers as Washington State (17 to 8). 

“Our concern was, ‘Can we only give them one shot?’” Williams said. “With their success in the NIT, they’ve been dominant on the glass. We did a good job putting pressure on the rim.” 

Also Read  Linda Evangelista shares photos of what she calls disfiguring CoolSculpting effects

A&M is the NIT’s final top seed (of four) standing, and Xavier is the last No. 2 seed, and both programs believe they had solid cases for making the 68-team NCAA Tournament. 

“The job is not done,” A&M senior guard Quenton Jackson said. “We’re locked in.” 

The Aggies on Tuesday led 32-26 at halftime thanks in large part to Jackson’s 10 points in making four of his five field goal attempts in the first 20 minutes, and Jackson collected a game-high 18 points. Coleman followed with 16 points and Manny Obaseki added 14 points as the three Aggies to score in double figures. 

The Aggies had never made the NIT’s final four in New York in seven previous trips to the tournament that predates the NCAA Tournament by one year (with the NIT starting in 1938). The Aggies last played in the NIT in 2015 in advancing to the second round under then-coach Billy Kennedy.  

They had advanced to the NIT quarterfinals on three occasions prior, with the last opportunity to earn a trek to New York coming in 2005. A&M beat Alcorn State, Oregon, Wake Forest and finally Washington State in the NIT to advance to the final. 

The Aggies have faced Xavier only once prior, a 98-86 loss to the Musketeers in December 1965 in Oklahoma City. The Musketeers earned one of their biggest victories of the season in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout in smoking Cincinnati, 83-63. 

Xavier lost five consecutive games late in the regular season in being left out of the NCAA Tournament. A&M lost eight straight in the middle of SEC play before getting its act together, although that huge hiccup ultimately costs the Aggies their first chance to play in the NCAA Tournament since 2018. 

Also Read  Raymond James Lowers CBRE Group (NYSE:CBRE) Price Target to $111.00

Xavier won an NIT title in 1958, and the Musketeers and Aggies will make history regardless of Thursday’s outcome. The 2022 title game is the last scheduled NIT championship for Madison Square Garden, although the tournament’s final four perhaps could return to New York City at some point. 

Jackson afterward described playing in the home of the New York Knicks as “monumental.” Williams has told his players only two men’s college basketball programs win their final games among the nation’s two most prominent postseason tournaments and the Aggies, who’ve won 11 of their last 12 games, have a chance to be one of the two. 

“The ball was falling, and we were playing the right way,” Jackson said of A&M earning its fourth consecutive win in the NIT by double digits, and by a combined 58 points. “We were playing for each other.” 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *