Texas Southern had 7,220 reasons to celebrate on Monday night.
Way up in the Snowy Range elevation, the Tigers erased a 19-point halftime deficit to sink Wyoming, 76-74, in the final seconds. A frantic final TSU possession saw the Cowboys block a well-executed dump off pass from Tigers guard Michael Weathers to John Walker III in the paint, only for the ball to land in the hands of Galen Anderson.
The Tigers forward then laid in the game winner with just over a second left, completing a dramatic comeback and earning the Tigers their first win of the season.
As always, the cross-country marathon of buy games has started for TSU, which has become the poster school for the harsh scheduling reality facing many teams from lower-tier conferences. But with that comes the yearly bite-back potential, with the Tigers frequently keeping the higher majors on their toes. It’s a reputation that began under Tony Harvey and Mike Davis, and then continued under Johnny Jones, with the third-year coach notching a win over Baylor in 2018 and quietly impressive win over Northern Kentucky last year.
To get past Wyoming, TSU had to bounce back from an early 29-16 hole after back-to-back three’s from Cowboys’ forward Drew LaMont. The lead would balloon to 50-31 at half time (and 21 early in the second half), before Weathers (21 points, 7 rebounds) and Walker (16 points, 6 rebounds) led a dominant effort out of the break. The Tigers held Wyoming to just 30.8 percent from the field in the second half while vastly improving on the glass with a plus-12 margin in rebounding.
That effectively snuffed out many Cowboys possessions in the Arena-Auditorium.
It was a well-earned win for a TSU team that pushed Washington State on opening night in a low-scoring four-point loss, before falling to Oklahoma State on Saturday. The win also gives them at least one reward amid a schedule that, if it holds, would see them play four more teams ranked in the KenPom top-75 before SWAC play starts.
And it also highlights the budgetary reality faced by lower major teams that has been exaggerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The non-conference gauntlet of buy games helps propel the athletic departments at many schools and, regardless of where one stands on the safety or logic of the season taking place as currently constructed, it does allow some release of pressure for those departments depending on that financial boost.
As ever, TSU is not one to go down lightly, and the SWAC heavyweight seems primed for another run in the league. The oft-traveled Weathers had his first star game for the Tigers on Monday night, as he looks to end his career on a high note after off-court trouble at Oklahoma State. He’s also flanked by a quality, veteran front court made up of Alexander (22 points against OSU), Walker and Karl Nicholas.
Will that be enough for TSU to win a SWAC that features a Southern team that finished last year on fire, still salty Prairie View A&M and others? That remains to be seen, but it was enough to topple Wyoming on Monday and add to the Tigers’ pesky non-conference reputation.