Texas Southern didn’t have a great start against Delaware State last Sunday.
“We came out a little sluggish in the first half,” Mike Davis said in a phone interview earlier this week. “I told them there were three NBA scouts in the stands looking at them. Sometimes all you need is a little encouragement.”
You can’t blame the Tigers for being sluggish. It had been a frenzied 17 hours.
The night before they finished up an 89-82 loss at UT-Arlington around 9:30 PM CT. The team then caught a 6:00 AM CT flight to Baltimore, hopped on a bus for two hours and tipped against the Hornets at 1:00 PM CT.
That’s the recipe for a sluggish start, and it wasn’t accidental.
“It gets them used to recovery,” Davis said. “Recovering body-wise is one thing. Recovering mentally is something different, and no one ever works on the mental side of it. I want to put my guys in situations where they can feel challenged.”
Challenging is one way to describe the schedule. As he’s done the previous two seasons, Davis has set up a non-conference lineup that is as difficult as any in the country.
The Tigers play their first 16 games on the road, and take trips to Louisville, Arizona and Cincinnati. The cross-country opening weekend turnaround was just the start, and Texas Southern answered Davis’ challenge.
The Tigers recovered from a lackluster start to beat Delaware State, and followed it up with a win at Rice on Wednesday night in the only game they’ll play in Houston - albeit not in their gym - until Jan. 14.
What makes the Tigers a particularly compelling story is the talent Davis has put together.
Derrick Griffin is the team’s most visible player, and after a slow - to his standards - start, notched his first double-double against the Owls (16 points, 12 rebounds, 8-9 FT). He’s gotten immediate help this season from three transfers.
Zach Lofton - a guard who spent time at Illinois State and Minnesota - had 35 points against the Mavericks and 25 points in the Rice win. Former Pacific guard Dulani Robinson has averaged 20.0 points over the past two games after not playing in the opener.
Perhaps most notably, Kent State transfer Marvin Jones has given the Tigers another presence down low next to Griffin. Jones stat line against the Hornets was eye-popping (15 points, 21 rebounds) and his advanced rebounding and block metrics have been great.
That the Tigers have talent is not a surprise. They were overwhelming SWAC favorites despite losing three very good seniors in Chris Thomas, David Blanks and Malcolm Riley.
What’s encouraging for Davis is that a team working in new players in key roles emerged from his early season challenge at 2-1. But it’s not the last back-to-back in the near future. The Tigers play at LSU Dec. 17 before taking on TCU the following day.
The only back-to-backs will be in tournaments.