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NCAA Tournament

Texas Southern coach Mike Davis: ‘We’ll be back’

Tigers fall to top-seeded Xavier, but their stars will return next season

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — As the seconds ticked down signaling the end of his season, Texas Southern guard Demontrae Jefferson raised his hands in frustration.

The Tigers walked onto the floor at Bridgestone Arena thinking they had all the ingredients to make history: an extra-long, 7-foot-2 center in Trayvon Reed; a dynamic point guard in the 5-foot-7 Jefferson; and the big-game credentials, having played tough against some of the top teams in the nation at the start of the season.

University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) showed Friday night that for a No. 16 seed to have a chance against a No. 1 seed, you have to play a near-perfect game. Texas Southern was good only in a couple of first-half stretches, which accounted for the 102-83 loss to Xavier in the first-round game.

There were plenty of positives for the Tigers to take away from this season. They won the school’s first NCAA tournament game in the First Four over North Carolina Central. The experience of reaching the NCAA tournament for a second straight season allowed them to be more competitive against Xavier than last year’s team was in losing 103-64 to eventual national champion North Carolina. And they’ll have Jefferson and Reed back next season.

Even Jimmy Fallon adopted Texas Southern as his favorite team in the NCAA tournament.

But none of that eliminated the sting of Friday’s loss.

“We didn’t celebrate winning the conference tournament, and we didn’t celebrate when we won against North Carolina Central,” Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said. “I’m here to do something special. Until we do that, I’m not going to be satisfied with the results.”

Maybe next year’s the year. At least there’s a foundation with the return of Jefferson, the sophomore guard who had 20 points, 7 assists and 4 steals while playing the entire game with an aggression that appears to be on a continuous loop.

Reed, a redshirt junior, will be back as well. He had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks, but his impact against Xavier was negated by foul trouble. Reed’s a diamond in the rough who, with a little more weight and a lot more fire, could potentially find himself accepting feelers from NBA teams.

Neither was perfect against Xavier. The Musketeers understood Reed’s importance as a rim protector and disruptor and attacked to get him in foul trouble. It was a successful strategy, as Reed picked up two fouls early and wound up fouling out in 26 minutes.

Without Jefferson, the Tigers would have had no shot. He can score in a hurry (he had six points in the final six seconds of the first half, which gave a deflated Tigers team life at a time when it appeared they were on the verge of being blown out). And Jefferson has no fear, as he always has defenses backpedaling with his constant attacks.

There were crucial moments where he forced a few drives that might have ended as better possessions had he pulled the ball out and reset the offense. But those moments are easily outweighed by what he brings to the table.

“Demontrae is a blur,” said Xavier coach Chris Mack. “He’s a special player.”

Xavier just had more special players. Senior guard J.P. Macura scored 29 points by hitting 11 of 16 shots (5 of 6 from 3-point range). Center Kerem Kanter, the younger brother of New York Knicks center Enes Kanter, had 24 points, hitting 11 of his 15 shots. And All-America guard Trevon Bluiett scored 26.

The Tigers had four players in double figures and, at times, ran their offense effectively enough to put a scare in Xavier. During one first-half stretch, Texas Southern scored 16 straight points to take a 20-13 lead.

Xavier responded with a 16-0 run to take control of the game and eliminate the Tigers.

Despite being seeded No. 16 for two straight years, and despite being eliminated by top-five teams both years, the Tigers felt as if they had improved from a year ago.

“I would say the difference between this team and last year’s team was the winning mindset,” Jefferson said. “From this point we’re going to build and we’re going to get better.”

The return of Jefferson and Reed gives Texas Southern a shot. And Davis says he has a couple of recruits coming in who will make the team better.

“We have a lot more that we want to accomplish,” Davis said as he walked to his team’s locker room after his postgame news conference. “With what we’re going to add, we’ll be back.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.