The Tigers of Texas Southern University and their high-profile guard Trae Jefferson claimed a piece of history Wednesday with their 64-46 win over North Carolina Central in the NCAA Division I Tournament “First Four” round.
Making their eighth appearance at the NCAA’s Division I Tournament, the Tigers (16-19) claimed their first-ever win at college basketball’s premier event. TSU’s trip to the 2018 Tournament is the fourth in five seasons.
The win sends TSU to Nashville, Tenn., for a matchup with the West Region’s No. 1-seeded team, Xavier. Tipoff is scheduled for approximately 6:20 p.m. Central Daylight Time.
In leading the Tigers to the win, Jefferson, a 5-foot-7-inch guard from Milwaukee, scored 25 points and pulled down eight rebounds. He joined TSU’s 1,000-point club with his final basket of the first half, which gave him 17 points for the opening half and 1,001 for his young career.
With a dazzling array of moves on the offensive and defensive end of the court, Jefferson led – or tied for the team lead – in scoring, rebounds, assists (3), and steals (3). Trayvon Reed scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while blocking a game-high six shots for TSU. Donte Clark scored 18 for the Tigers.
NCCU’s Raasean Davis scored 19 points and pulled in 11 rebounds for the Eagles (19-16), who clinched their bid to the Tournament by winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship.
Reed and his Tiger teammates were simply too much for the Eagle offense to overcome Wednesday. Central entered the game averaging 72.0 points per game, but the Tigers allowed their opponents less than 65 percent of their average scoring output.
TSU held North Carolina Central – one of the top two shooting teams in the MEAC – to 30 percent (21 of 69) from the field, which included a 24 percent showing (8 of 34) after halftime. NCCU was 0-of-14 from 3-point range.
The Tigers used a 13-4 run midway through the first quarter to start pulling away from the Eagles. Jefferson scored five points and Derrick Bruce chipped in four points during the run – which lasted from the 9:55 to 5:07 marks of the first half – as TSU built a 27-16 lead.
After shooting 46 percent (11 of 24) from the floor in the first half, the Tigers themselves found field goals hard to come by after halftime, as they shot 30 percent (10 of 33) from the field during the second 20 minutes. However, NCCU’s shooting woes prevented the Eagles from gaining any ground; the Eagles went scoreless for nearly seven minutes in the second half, between the 9:07 and 2:22 marks.
The Tigers helped themselves by going 16-of-19 from the free throw line (84.2 percent). While it was the team’s eighth-best showing at the free throw line this season, it was their worst free throw shooting night in the state of Ohio; TSU shot 93 percent or better from the line in games at Toledo and Ohio State during their non-conference schedule.
The win was also the eighth career tournament victory for TSU head coach Mike Davis, who guided Indiana and Alabama-Birmingham to the NCAA’s premier event prior to taking the reins at TSU.