Texas Southern never stood a chance. Not as a No. 16 seed playing a No. 1 seed, because never in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has a No. 16 won a game. It certainly didn't help that TSU's opponent was North Carolina, one of college basketball’s historic programs.
North Carolina led TSU by 52-27 at the half on the way to a 102-64 win Friday in a game not as close as that final score indicates. The Tigers shot just 37 percent for the game compared to North Carolina’s 51 percent. And the Tigers, a team that was so bad with three pointers earlier in the season that head coach Mike Davis restructured his offense, was able to hit only seven of 27 attempts from behind the arc.
“Once you have a mistake and two…you look up at the shot clock, you're down 10,” TSU center Marvin Jones told reporters. “All of a sudden you look up, and you're down 15. It's hard to come back from that because a team like that, they're going to constantly keep doing the same thing over and over and over and over again.”
It didn’t help TSU that one of its best players, guard Zach Lofton (the SWAC Player of the Year), was essentially shut down by North Carolina, scoring just nine points on 2-of-11 shooting. Put that together with TSU being the worst defensive rebounding team in the tournament field, and the result is a recipe for a disaster.
That’s how it goes in the NCAA Tournament. Most people are focused on the games where big-name teams face up against each other. Or they watch games with the upset potential. But then there are the games nobody but gamblers watches, like North Carolina versus TSU.
While North Carolina might be at a totally different level, TSU’s loss to the Tar Heels should do nothing to discount what TSU accomplished as a basketball team this season, or what it has done over the past four years. Davis has assembled a program that has been to the tournament three of the last four years — and last year it went to the NIT. It’s a team that dominates its conference, routinely winning both the regular season conference title and the conference tournament.
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This year the Tigers went 23-12, losing just two conference games during the season. TSU didn’t do that the easy way because Davis doesn’t do things the easy way. The first 16 games of the season were played on the road. North Carolina wasn’t the first highly ranked team the Tigers faced this year either, as the schedule featured such teams as Arizona, Louisville, Cincinnati and Baylor.
Davis’s goal going into this season was to get his team out of that No. 16 seed position. That’s a difficult proposition for a team like TSU playing in one-bid conference like the SWAC. Knowing that things like strength of schedule and RPI play key roles in tournament seeding, Davis sought a difficult schedule.
He put his team on the road, he put his team up against the best squads in the country, pushing to get his team’s numbers so high that it could withstand the conference and get the team into a No. 14 or No. 15 seed. It was a valiant attempt, but it failed to work.
And loss aside, Mike Davis and the Tigers need to be celebrated by Houstonians. Not since the 1980s University of Houston squads has a college basketball team in Houston been a consistent NCAA tournament team. But now, while UH and Rice are striving to regain relevance in college basketball, just remember that it’s TSU going on the road, playing difficult competition and going dancing every year.