In the First Four, Texas Southern was able to overcome a slow start to beat a fellow No. 16 seed and advance to the NCAA field of 64.
In the NCAA tournament first round, Texas Southern discovered that a slow start is difficult to surmount against one of the nation’s best teams.
The Tigers, the tournament champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), actually outscored Michigan in the final 20 minutes of Saturday’s first-round game. But an 18-point halftime deficit was too much to erase as the Wolverines advanced to the second round with an 82-66 win.
For Texas Southern, the loss ends a 10-game winning streak during which the Tigers had to beat the top two seeds in the SWAC to advance to the NCAA tournament.
Normally, on a team with six seniors, a season-ending loss would mean a rebuild. But Texas Southern coach Johnny Jones is hoping that an NCAA ruling that allows seniors another year might enable his team to regroup.
“If these guys stay together,” Jones said, “we can be an outstanding basketball team.”
Michael Weathers, Texas Southern’s leading scorer this season, led the Tigers with 24 points and Yahuza Rasas came off the bench to grab a team-high eight rebounds. But Michigan had four of its five starters in double figures, led by Mike Smith, who checked all the boxes with 18 points, five assists and four rebounds.
But the big difference-maker was Michigan’s freshman center Hunter Dickinson, who scored 16 points while hitting 6 of 7 shots. The Tigers’ hounding of Dickinson in the post to attempt to neutralize him opened scoring opportunities for his Michigan teammates.
“Dickinson is probably one of the premier players in the country and we knew he would be a force to deal with,” Jones said. “They’ve done a great job utilizing him all season.”
Texas Southern had its worst 3-point shooting game of the season, missing 11 of its 12 attempts. Yet, despite falling behind by as many as 24 points less than four minutes into the second half, the Tigers fought back.
When Dickinson was called for a flagrant foul after throwing an elbow with 2:30 remaining, Texas Southern had a chance to cut the lead to 10 — with possession of the ball. But Rasas missed two free throw attempts following the flagrant call, putting an end to Texas Southern’s final threat.
Weathers, a senior, had to be comforted by a teammate as he walked off the court following the final buzzer. Even as he sat at the press conference podium following the game, Weathers, who played at Miami (Ohio) and Oklahoma State before enrolling at Texas Southern, was still emotional.
“We wanted to show we’re a hardworking group of guys, and we never give up,” Weathers said. “It was an off night for us. If we played with the same intensity from the second half in the first half, it could have been a different game.”
Even in defeat, Jones, who recorded his first NCAA tournament win with Friday’s victory over Mount St. Mary’s, was happy with how his team handled the March Madness experience.
“I’m proud of the way they grew this season and put themselves in a situation to have a second game in the NCAA tournament,” Jones said. “They won 15 of their last 17 games. On any stage that’s good, and I think the guys did a great job of representing our institution and the city of Houston.”
Norfolk State, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion which won its First Four game Thursday against Appalachian State, lost to the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga 98-55 in the West Region.