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NCAA Tournament First Round: Texas Southern dropped by Xavier in chippy game

The Tigers end the season with their first NCAA Tournament win, but not on Friday night.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Xavier vs Texas Southern Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Demontrae Jefferson and Texas Southern weren’t afraid ahead of their game with No. 1 seed Xavier.

And while the Tigers backed up that confidence in spots, they simply didn’t have enough against the hot-shooting Musketeers. Xavier would surge to a 102-81 win in what was a chippy, vocal first round game in Nashville.

Early on, Texas Southern delivered a punch to the top-seeded Musketeers.

After falling behind 13-4, the Tigers reeled off a 16-0 run behind a three-point barrage from Jefferson, Robert Lewis and Derrick Bruce to take a seven-point lead. It caught the Big East regular season champion’s attention, as Xavier would respond with its own 16-0 run, and eventually lead by 20 points with 1:41 left in the first half.

Yet the Tigers, which fought back from an 0-13 start to get the SWAC auto bid, didn’t wilt. They grabbed some momentum heading into the break with a personal 8-0 run from Jefferson to trail by just 12 points.

The exchange of runs would stop in the second half.

Xavier created separation it would not give up as the Musketeers’ length began to really bother Texas Southern’s shooters. They also continued to torch the nets on offense, shooting XX percent from the field behind big nights from Trevon Blueitt (26 points, 7-17 FG) and J.P. Macura (29 points, 5-6 3FG).

The players could be seen — and at times heard — exchanging “pleasantries” throughout the game, particularly Jefferson, Bruce and Macura. It ground to a halt midway through the second half as the refs tried to keep the game under control. At one point, Jefferson was given flagrant foul for a cheap shot on Quentin Goodin, and got a technical for something he said to a referee less than two minutes later.

All in all, it was a game effort from a Texas Southern program that got beat by North Carolina in a 16/1 game a season ago.

Jefferson was the star (20 points), and Mike Davis got good efforts from Bruce (18 points) and Trayvon Reed (10 points, 6 rebounds). UMass grad transfer Donte Clark closed a tremendous season with an uneven game (10 points, 2-7 FG), in part because of foul trouble due to some unfortunate calls.

In the end, the season was a success for the SWAC’s premier program. Davis yet again challenged his team with a brutal non-conference schedule, playing buy games at big names (Gonzaga, Ohio State, Kansas, Clemson). It meant no home games until Jan. 1 and an 0-13 start.

Unlike in other years, the Tigers did not breeze through league play. They were one of three teams that finished with a 12-6 regular season record, and won a SWAC Tournament that the regular season champion (Grambling State) had to sit out due to APR issues. Their NCAA Tournament appearance culminated in the program’s first win, as the Tigers beat North Carolina Central in the First Four.

Going forward, there’s no indication Davis won’t continue to dominate the SWAC. Jefferson continued to emerge as a star (23.4 PPG, 4.5 APG), the 7’2’’ Reed was a match up problem for league competition, and Bruce, and Oregon State transfer developed into a solid scorer (13.7 PPG). Davis has been a wizard on the transfer market, and it’s reasonable to expect him to bring in more firepower in 2018-19.