Let’s set the scene: it’s November 21, 2008 and the Muskies are playing Virginia Tech in the Puerto Rico Tip-off holiday tournament. This team includes Dante Jackson, Derrick Brown, BJ Raymond, CJ Anderson, Jason Love, Jamel McLean, Kenny Frease, Brad Redford and oh you remember some guy named Terrell Holloway? This was long before he would be called Tu… gosh it’s fun to look back. My current self is wondering if I’ve ever loved a Xavier team more just peaking back at this one. Anyways, I digress…
The starters of this game are Brown, Raymond, Anderson, Love, and a sophomore guard named Dante Jackson who is, at least in the early stages of this season, our point guard. Holloway is only a freshman and although Jackson is more of a shooting guard by trade, and only averaged about 10 minutes a game in his freshman campaign, he’s our best option to handle the ball at the current moment on a team stacked with forwards and big men.
Long story short, we take the Hokies to overtime, knotted at 52 all at the end of regulation. Our guy Dante doesn’t start in OT, as he’s shooting a cool 0-8 from the field and 0-5 from three on the game. If the story stops here, Jackson tries to black out this game from his shooter’s mind forever. Luckily, the outcome pens his name in Xavier great moments forever.
Overtime starts with a Derrick Brown flush off of an inbound play, God bless him. I know this is supposed to be about Dante but man, reminiscing about this team is fun. On the next possession Kenny Frease fouls and Jackson returns to the game to replace him. At 3 minutes left in OT, Dante scores his first points of the game from the charity stripe off of a steal (it isn’t lost on me that he was a fantastic defender, not a huge surprise from a Sean Miller disciple - tough, gritty, ‘no plays off’ mentality). He ties the game at 56 a piece.
With 2 minutes left the Hokies go up 1 on a BJ Raymond contested circus shot and the score sits at 57 to 58, bad guys. Sean Miller calls a time-out, we stack out of bounds in front of our own bench, and we get a shot clock violation. If this doesn’t bring you back to the good old days, I don’t know what will… Anyways, the following possession Jason Love draws a charge (my boy!) and we have a chance to take the lead with 48 seconds remaining. CJ Anderson converts from the low post (absolute dog down-low) and we look to defend a 1 point lead with 37 seconds left. On that subsequent possession we miss a defensive box-out and foul what would have been a go ahead lay-up with 28.8 seconds left. The Hokie hits both free throws to yet again go up by 1 (59-60).
Our next trip down includes a vintage Holloway drive and dish to Frease who gets fouled. He goes to the line with 13.3 seconds, and wouldn’t you know our 53% FT shooting big man only converts the first (ah, how long the free throw shooting woes go back). The game is now tied at 60 and VT dribbles down to call a time-out at half court with 7.5 seconds left in OT. Again (and infuriating still) we miss another defensive box-out off of a jump shot, Sean Miller’s head looks like it might explode, and the Hokies go up 2 on a lay-up with 1.9 seconds remaining. Jason Love (remember that beautiful hook shot?) quickly gets the ball in-bounds to Jackson who is on the wing right in front of the VT bench and with time dwindling rapidly Dante takes one dribble and heaves a two-handed prayer right at half court. And just like it was written in the script of every cheesy basketball movie ever made, it banks off the glass and goes in right as time expires. Pandemonium ensues, Muskies win, and Dante Jackson (who scored 5 of Xavier’s 11 points in OT) is the hero of a Xavier moment that I’m not sure I’ll ever forget.
In his time at Xavier, in my opinion, Jackson should be commended for his exceptional work ethic, grit, competitive spirit, and role playing ability. He always struck me as a team first guy and that’s a necessary role for any successful team to have. He exhibited leadership qualities even in the early stages of his career, surrounded by some of Xavier’s all-time greats (re: Holloway, Brown, Raymond, Love), and that is why I am so excited that he gets to be on our bench leading our current Muskies. Above all else, Dante Jackson clearly loves Xavier (quote: “Xavier is, in my opinion, the greatest institution on this earth”), and that alone should make us love him as the last member of this new staff. A perfect and more than fitting hire, if you ask me.
Good luck to one of my personal favorites! I am SO glad you’re back!