Back from 0-13 start, Texas Southern wins SWAC tournament
HOUSTON (AP) — Texas Southern started out 0-13 this season. Didn’t win a game until Jan. 1. Never beat a nonconference opponent.
Who cares? The Tigers are going to the NCAA Tournament.
Trayvon Reed had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Demontrae Jefferson added 15 points and Texas Southern downed top-seeded Arkansas-Pine Bluff 84-69 Saturday in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game.
“We all came together at the right time, we all made a decision that winning basketball games were more important than anything else,” coach Mike Davis said. “So being 0-13, it only bothered other people.”
Texas Southern (15-19) earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
This is the Tigers’ fourth appearance in the last five years. They’re the only team since 1985 to reach the NCAA Tournament after starting 0-13.
“I can’t wait for tomorrow,” Davis said. “Let’s get this selection Sunday going.”
Last season, Texas Southern was ousted in the first round by eventual national champion North Carolina.
“I went last year and we came up short to North Carolina,” Jefferson said. “I’m just trying to remain focused and know that this is just the beginning of the true March Madness.”
Texas Southern will try and be the first team from the SWAC to win an NCAA Tournament game since 2010, when Arkansas-Pine Bluff beat Winthrop in the opening round.
“This year no matter who it is, we’ve got guys who can score points,” Davis said. “We’ve got guys that can play. They don’t fear anyone. We went to Kansas and Kansas beat us and all those teams beat us. But it wasn’t like we were in the locker room shaking with nerves. We went out there and played our best basketball.”
The Tigers also lost to Gonzaga and Clemson this season, and twice fell to Arkansas-Pine Bluff (14-20).
Trailing by nine at halftime, the Golden Lions closed to 57-55 with 11:05 left.
Texas Southern stayed in charge, and kept the lead from the foul line.
Jefferson scored six of the final 11 points for the Tigers, all on free throws. He finished 11 of 11 from the line.
“I didn’t shoot the ball well in the SWAC Tournament,” Jefferson said. “It was just trying to stay locked it. I couldn’t really think about the makes and misses. Just taking the shots my team needed me to take, which were free throws tonight. So it was just get up there and knock those down for the team.”
Arkansas Pine-Bluff struggled at the start and fell behind 22-11 midway through the first half.
“It’s hard, especially playing against an outstanding team like Texas Southern that shot the ball extremely well tonight,” Arkansas-Pine Bluff coach George Ivory said. “At the end of the day you can’t beat a team that’s shooting 59 percent from the field. It’s very tough.”
Golden Lions star Martaveous McKnight, the SWAC Player of the Year, didn’t score until 9:38 before halftime. He finished with 17 points.
“Just look forward to the next play, forget the play before,” McKnight said. “Keep believing in my teammates and keep playing. I don’t think about it too much.”
Christian Robertson also scored 17 points in the loss.
“I think the guys came back out in the second half and picked it up and they played well,” Ivory said. “We had a couple of chances, had some miscues, but overall very proud of this team for what we’ve accomplished this year. We look for bigger and better things next year.”