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Texas Southern earns first NCAA tournament win in HBCU ‘national championship game’

Tigers advance after knocking off North Carolina Central in First Four matchup of black colleges

DAYTON, Ohio — One’s a 5-foot-7 point guard who barely weighs a buck-fifty. The other’s a 7-foot-2 center with a wingspan seemingly wide enough to propel a helicopter.

For any historically black college or university (HBCU) team to have a chance to win an NCAA tournament game, it’s mandatory to have one game-changer. Texas Southern University has been blessed with two.

Demontrae Jefferson, the diminutive and disruptive sophomore point guard, scored 25 points (17 in the first half) and added eight rebounds. Trayvon Reed, the thin and equally disruptive junior center, chipped in 10 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocks in 31 minutes off the bench. That was good enough to propel Texas Southern to a 64-46 first-round win over North Carolina Central to advance to the field of 64 on Friday in Nashville, Tennessee.

The First Four game pitting two HBCUs was the first win in NCAA tournament history for the Tigers.

It was far from pretty.

Texas Southern shot 28.8 percent from the field and 15 percent from behind the 3-point line.

And the Tigers won by 18 points.

Go figure.

“We got the win,” Jefferson said. “And that was our goal.”

The goal was accomplished because North Carolina Central, with almost an entirely new squad from the team that went to the NCAA tournament last year, couldn’t shoot straight. The Eagles missed all 14 of their 3-point shots and shot just 30.4 percent from the field. Take away Raasean Davis hitting 9 of his 11 shots, and the rest of the team shot just 20.6 percent.

“My concern initially was, I’m just hoping this moment isn’t too big for these guys,” North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton said. “The first timeout, I didn’t feel as if anyone had that look in their eyes, except for Raasean. And I was trying to get that look out of everyone’s eyes. It looked like they were in awe, the moment was too big.”

Credit Jefferson, the kind of player you’d hate to play against with his nonstop movement. When he wasn’t running the offense, Jefferson was harassing the North Carolina Central guards the entire game despite the fact that the Eagles tried to push him around early in the game.

And credit Reed, who checked into the game nearly four minutes in and immediately made an impact. He made it difficult for Davis and the other North Carolina Central players.

During one sequence, North Carolina Central guard Brandon Goldsmith boldly stepped into the lane to try two point-blank shots, only to have Reed swat them away.

Grabbing the rebound after the second block, Goldsmith appeared ready to launch a third. But the knowledge that comes with three years of college kicked in, and he dribbled out beyond the 3-point arc to reset the offense.

By then the Tigers, despite their ugly shooting, were comfortably in control on the way to the school’s historic win.

“It was for the school, the fans, our staff,” Reed said. “I’m proud of my boys.”

Here’s another piece of history: Texas Southern is the first team to reach the NCAA tournament after opening the season with 13 losses.

People had jokes about the record, the result of a schedule that took the Tigers on the road to play at schools rich with basketball tradition, such as Gonzaga, Ohio State, Kansas, Baylor and TCU. Even Texas Southern coach Mike Davis heard whispers from people questioning his sanity.

But there was a method to Davis’ scheduling madness. With those games he was able to raise big money for the Texas Southern athletic department while getting his team toughened up for this time of the year.

Some of those early games were competitive: Texas Southern lost in overtime at Washington State and had a seven-point loss at Clemson and a six-point loss at Oregon.

“I didn’t design our schedule to make us feel good,” said Davis, who has played this type of schedule for three straight years. “I designed the schedule to get us better, and we got better.”

Good enough to move on to face top-seeded Xavier in Nashville on Friday. After playing all of those early-season games on the road, Texas Southern gets a chance in the field of 64 to play the game on a neutral court.

The Tigers, who lost to North Carolina in the opening game of the 2017 tournament, won’t be in awe.

“Our mindset is we have another game on Friday,” said Davis. “We’ve seen Kansas [a No. 1 seed], we’ve seen those types of teams before. Not one team laughed and joked before they played us. We’re going to take this game serious.”

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.