It’s become a recurring theme for the Texas Southern Tigers.
Three times since 2018, they’ve won the First Four rounds of the NCAA Tournament and then get bounced from the first round as a No.16 seed with the undaunting task of taking on a No.1 seed two days later.
Late Thursday night – a little over 48 hours after defeating Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in Dayton, Ohio – the Tigers found themselves overwhelmed by the Kansas Jayhawks, 83-56, in Fort Worth. To say it was a whirlwind would be an understatement, but TSU coach Johnny Jones and his players were not about to make excuses for their lopsided defeat against a Top 10 opponent.
“Well, it’s a good thing for us, we don’t look for any excuses. We look for — and we’re result-driven,” said Jones, whose team’s season ends at 19-13. “So tonight we’ve looked at it as though that it was an advantage for us. We had a game under our belt we had played. The other team was sitting there waiting, and we were hoping that they would come out and have a little rust on them. Obviously, that wasn’t the case.”
“I feel the same way, really,” said senior forward Brison Gresham. “We have no excuses. If we had won, it would have been different.”
The Jayhawks, the regular-season and conference tournament Big 12 champs, looked like a team that was chomping at the bit to get their 50th run going in the NCAA Tournament. After a couple of promising first minutes by the Tigers, the athletic difference and depth began to show.
KU (29-6) led the Tigers 47-19 at halftime. TSU played better in the second half, even outscoring the Jayhawks 37-36 in the final 20 minutes, but the divide was too great to overcome.
“I didn’t think we played well there in the first half, but I thought the second half we played, continued to fight, and made some plays and looked more resembling the type of team that we have been most of the time throughout the year,” said Jones, whose team advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year after winning the SWAC Tournament Championship. “But, unfortunately, we ran into a team that’s very efficient, played extremely well, and looked like one of the top two or three teams in the country tonight, and that’s the way that they played.”
Senior forward John Walker III came off the bench to score 13 points and was the Tigers’ only double-digit scorer for the night. Kansas, meanwhile, had five players score in double figures, including ultra-quick guard Remy Martin, who had 15 points off the bench.
The Tigers, whose strength all season had been their defense, couldn’t afford to get into a fast-paced game with Kansas and that is exactly what happened as many of their 20 turnovers led to breakaway dunks.
The Jayhawks shot 50 percent from the floor and nearly 48 percent (11 of 23) from 3-point range. TSU shot just under 33 percent from the floor and was just 3 of 14 from behind the 3-point arc.
Kansas also outrebounded TSU 44-32.
But as disappointed as the Tigers were with the end result, they weren’t about to allow another first-round loss to diminish what they have accomplished this season.
“This year has definitely been special for me,” said Walker, a product of Thurgood Marshall High School and a transfer from Texas A&M. “It just really solidified that coming to TSU was easily the greatest decision I ever made. And that really just cemented this year. Because back-to-back, that was just something I never even dreamed of coming here. So I think this year really just put it all together for me. Like, so I love TSU.”
The same goes for Gresham, who transferred to TSU last summer after playing an active role in the UH Cougars advancing to last year’s NCAA Tournament Final Four.
“I would just say this season was definitely just a blessing, honestly,” Gresham said. “Just like meeting new people and like just enjoying the journey. These people I’m going to remember for the rest of my life until we get old.”