The Tigers of Texas Southern defeated the New Orleans Privateers 95-89 in overtime in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament after the latter mounted a late comeback to force the extra five minutes.
The win marks the first time the Tigers reach the second round of any national tournament in 42 years. The last one happened in 1977 where they ended up winning the NAIA Division I National Championship.
“We’re very excited to still be playing in the postseason,” TSU Head Coach Johnny Jones said after the win. “We got off to a great start against a good team that had just played in their own respective conference tournament final. We knew it was going to be a battle.”
Justin Hopkins, who played 32 minutes out of the bench, the most since March 4 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, stormed away for the Tigers with a double-double by way of 20 points from five of seven shooting and 10 rebounds. He led an outstanding corps of five players who each scored more than 10 points to their name.
Coach Jones expressed his satisfaction over the team’s point distribution throughout the roster. “Balanced scoring attack has been our focus all season long and a key strength of our team is the ability to attack from all three levels,” he said. “We were able to play inside out thanks to our balanced attack.”
Jeremy Combs left his mark on the game as well thanks to his 19 points, six rebounds, four assists, and four steals in the win, while Devocio Butler chipped in with 15 points along with six rebounds, four assists, one block, and one steal.
For the Privateers, Bryson Robinson led the team with 20 points, two rebounds, two assists, and four steals.
The game started off on equal terms as both teams replied to the other’s quick jabs with one of their own in the court. It stayed this way until the 14:00 mark where the Tigers executed a 9-2 run that put them ahead by a score of 21-11.
New Orleans didn’t allow themselves to fall quietly into the night however, as they then proceeded to shorten the Tigers’ lead as the first half neared its conclusion. Likewise, Texas Southern was not willing to hand over their lead so easily, for their excellent shooting disallowed the Privateers from coming too close to tying the score.
By the first half’s end, the Tigers went to the dressing room after shooting 51.5 percent from across the field on account of 17 made shots from 33. On the contrary, for New Orleans, they were shunned to 38.5 percent shooting by making 15 of their 39 total shots. This allowed for the Tigers to be ahead for 18 minutes and 22 seconds of the half, thus showing the disparity in shooting between both teams.
All these statistics made coach Jones thrilled over his team’s opening performance. It was what he anticipated given the amount of preparation done to disrupt New Orleans’ flow of play.
“Preparations were excellent. The team was locked in this week on the scouting report and film and because we knew New Orleans was a great team,” coach Jones said. “We had to devise a plan to take away their strengths as an offense and we were able to attack their defense in areas we felt we had an advantage.”
It looked like Texas Southern’s superiority from the first half was also going to help them in the second. They hastily scored four points in the first 40 seconds of the second half to increase their lead to nine points over the Privateers for a 47-38 score.
New Orleans, showing their respective resilience of not end allowing their season to end in front of their home crowd, did not relent from the Tigers’ onslaught, as a series of missed shots allowed them to administer an 11-3 run to come within two of TSU.
The Tigers steered the course though as they immediately answered New Orleans’ offensive barrage with a Jalyn Patterson three-pointer from the left arc, making the score 60-55 in favor of the visiting team. This, in turn, sparked a 10-4 run for the Tigers, maintaining the standard cushion of space in this game at eight points.
Ultimately, the lead was short lived as New Orleans, powered by Robinson’s three-pointer at the 5:26 mark, fought back to tie the game at 73 for the first time since the opening minute and 13 seconds of the first half.
A series of free throws followed thereafter and the game was stuck in a gridlock at 81 apiece with the ball and a chance to steal the game at the death being in New Orleans’ possession. Their last-gasp hurl from Troy Green didn’t pay off thanks to the Tigers’ stringent defense and the game consequently went into overtime.
In overtime, Texas Southern, after letting New Orleans’ Jahmel Myers make a layup to open the scoring, wrestled the lead away to go up by four thanks to two shooting fouls called on the other team. From there, they ballooned their lead to seven points by another Patterson three-pointer for a 92-85 score, silencing the observing crowd and letting their screams be the only sound heard from inside the hosting arena.
New Orleans had a few chances to cut the deficit and keep the game close, but they failed to do so by committing costly turnovers on wrong passes and missing their shots, thereby sealing their fate and the game in favor of the Tigers.
After Tyrik Armstrong banked in both of his free throws after suffering a reach-in foul, the Privateers hurriedly rushed to score the six points required to extend their season, which eventually amounted to nothing.
“We’re excited to still be playing in March,” coach Jones said in the post-game press conference. “We look forward to Tiger Nation’s continued support throughout our tournament run and next season!”
The Tigers advances to the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament where they will face the University of Texas at the Rio Grande Valley on Mar. 25 in the latter’s UTRGV Fieldhouse.