Brutality has already struck across the country; maybe it shouldn’t have been a shock Baylor was one of the early victims.
The Bears were picked ninth in the Big 12’s preseason poll, and replace their top four scorers from last season. They also opened the season with a couple of impact players — Makai Mason, Mario Kegler — sidelined for various reasons.
If Baylor was ripe for the picking, Texas Southern probably doesn’t feel bad about it. The Tigers overcame a 13-point halftime deficit to escape Waco with a resounding 72-69 win in Johnny Jones’ debut. It was a hard charge for Texas Southern, which scored 45 second half points and needed two three’s from newcomer Jalyn Patterson in the final 1:06 to scrape out the win.
“This is a great win for our program against a quality team like Baylor,” Jones told the AP. “It’s about growth and we’re hopeful that we’ll grow from tonight.”
Power conference teams come out flat in season openers and get bitten. It happens. But the importance of this win can’t be understated for the SWAC or Texas Southern.
There’s a shot of pride for a conference that deserves it. Its schools’ dutifully take on a slog of non-conference buy games and nonstop travel for the good of their respective athletics programs. Many won’t play a home game until deep into November, while Prairie View A&M, on the other hand, won’t tip off on its home floor until the calendar flips to 2019.
There must then be a spot of vindication in the Tigers handing Baylor — which had been 56-0 all-time against the SWAC — its first loss to a league team. A win over a power conference team isn’t necessarily a unicorn: Southern (Mississippi State) and Alabama State (Virginia Tech) both did it in 2015, while Texas Southern picked off two high majors (Michigan State, Kansas State) in 2014. But wins like that certainly don’t grow on trees, and the Tigers’ triumph in Waco snapped a league-wide three-year losing streak against the big boys.
An early statement was made within the SWAC as well.
Mike Davis turned the Tigers into a league behemoth, in part by continually landing high ceiling transfers looking for a second (or third) chance. That talent translated into four NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons, as well as a consistent presence within the KenPom top 250, something no other SWAC program could say. But Davis left for Detroit in the offseason, leaving a potential void at the top of the conference.
The Tigers nailed the optics on the replacement hire, getting Jones to forego a second season as an assistant on a loaded, ascending Nevada team in order to lead a program once again. Whether Jones underachieved during his time leading LSU or not, it was somewhat unbelievable Texas Southern was able to land a coach with his resume. He created a consistent winner over 11 seasons at North Texas, and has NBA connections (ahem, Ben Simmons) few coaches at the mid-major level can boast.
In the smallest of sample sizes, it seems like Jones has a team ready to compete again. He didn’t inherit a barren roster, as 7’2’’ former Auburn transfer Trayvon Reed — a preseason all-league first team selection — is still around, and did his thing against the Bears (15 points, 12 rebounds). Davis also left quality players like sophomore Cainan McClelland and senior Devocio Butler.
One of the stars of the upset, however, was a Jones signee with a twisting path to Houston. Patterson signed with Jones and LSU in 2014, and spent three seasons as a regular part of the (SEC) Tigers’ rotation. He left the team when Jones was let go following the 2016-17 season, but remained a student at LSU last year, preserving his final year of eligibility. He reunited with Jones over the offseason, and had a tremendous Texas Southern debut.
In addition to scoring a team-high 23 points, Patterson also hit those two late three’s that let the Tigers pull off the upset. Taking the lead was a role change for Patterson, who was known more as a jolt of toughness, energy and defense at LSU, and it was a dream result for Patterson, Jones and Texas Southern.
And while the league can’t be happy about having to seemingly deal with another stingy Tigers’ team, some smiles must’ve been cracked Tuesday night.