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NCAA Tournament First Four: Texas Southern tops N.C. Central, advances to play Xavier

Demontrae Jefferson scored 25 in the win

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Four-Texas Southern vs. N.C. Central Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In what was essentially the unofficial college basketball championship for Division I HBCUs, Texas Southern came out on top in a battle with North Carolina Central.

The SWAC representative prevailed over the MEAC side in the First Four of the NCAA tournament in Dayton. After building a 20-point lead in the second half, the Tigers coasted to a 64-46 win over the Eagles.

This was Texas Southern’s seventh trip to the NCAA Tournament, but their first win in it. On Friday, the Tigers will travel to Nashville and face No. 1 Xavier.

Pint-sized point guard Demontrae Jefferson — who was suspended for a handful of games earlier this season for violating team rules — carved up N.C. Central’s defense for 25 points. He added eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.

The 5’7 Milwaukee native averaged 23.4 points per game this season for Mike Davis’ Tigers. Jefferson scored nine points over a four-minute stretch midway through the first half to give the Tigers an early edge.

“It’s a great feeling know that I brought history to the university,” Jefferson told sideline reporter Allie LaForce after the game. “This win was way bigger than me. This was the battle of the HBCUs.”

The Tigers proved to be scrappy on defense and chased the Eagles off the three-point arc, not allowing them to connect on a shot from there in 14 attempts. Central also failed to get to the charity stripe, attempting just six free throws to Texas Southern’s 19.

Texas Southern really pulled away in the second half by starting the period with an 18-6 run. For the Tigers, senior guard Donte Clark added 18 points and seven rebounds, while 7’3 junior Trayvon Reed came off the bench to add 10 points, eight rebounds and six blocks.

Reed is a former four-star recruit who committed to Maryland out of high school, in the same class as Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley and Michal Cekovsky. But Reed was dismissed from the Terps’ program before the season started and spent a year at Auburn before landing at Texas Southern.

N.C. Central was led by junior Raasean Davis, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds. LeVelle Moton has led the Eagles to three NCAA Tournament appearances since 2014, but they have yet to win a game in the big dance.

However, Moton did edge out Davis in the battle for best-dressed, going with a black tie and pink jacket combo over Davis’ quarter-zip.

Davis created a veteran roster for the Tigers this season, carrying no true freshmen. It worked out as the Tigers won the SWAC Tournament crown and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in his six-year tenure.

The former Indiana and UAB coach also created the toughest non-conference in the country for the Tigers this season, according to KenPom.

Friday’s game against Xavier is slated to tip at 7:20 p.m. ET and can be seen on TBS.