NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There was a point in Friday night’s game when Damontrae Jefferson — Texas Southern’s 5-7 guard — went up for a layup against Xavier’s Tyrique Jones, who clocks in at 6 feet, nine inches.
It went the way you’d probably expect: Jefferson got into his motion, and by the time he reached the apex of his jump, he was confronted with Jones’ chest. Instead of the easy bucket, Jefferson slammed against a pectoral wall. He crumpled to the ground, dazed, and his body was still decorating the hardwood as top-seeded Xavier took the ball back up the court. All told, it was a pretty good representation of Texas Southern’s night: It’s hard to go up against giants, and it doesn’t generally go too well.
Xavier made a strong showing in its coming out party at Bridgestone Arena, handily defeating the Tigers, 102-83. The Musketeers move on to play the winner of the late game between No. 8 Missouri/No. 9 Florida State. After the game, Xavier (29-5) acted like first seeds in the first round do: dissecting everything that went wrong and pledging to improve by Sunday.
“We’re going to have to play better,” coach Chris Mack said. “The game was one of the choppiest ones we played all year. Texas Southern’s kids never quit. We had issues with fouls, specifically with our point guards . . . We played way more zone than we wanted to, than we’re used to . . . It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing by any means but we play on Sunday.”
J.P. Macura scored a career-high 29 points, going 11-for-16 from the field, including 5-for-6 on three-pointers. Trevon Bluiett had 26 points and Kerem Kanter — little brother to the Knicks’ Enes — scored 24. Jefferson led Texas Southern with 20. The Musketeers dominated in transition, outscoring Texas Southern, 22-6, in fast-break points. They also out-rebounded the Tigers, 32-22.
Texas Southern (16-20) flirted with history for the briefest of moments, coming out strong against Xavier and taking a 20-13 lead eight minutes into the game.
That’s where the flirtation ended.
The Musketeers positively dominated from there on, erupting on a 16-0 run that lasted 3 minutes, 34 seconds en route to a 29-20 lead. And that was pretty much the game: Xavier had a 49-37 lead at the half, and seemingly scored at will.
By the end, the Musketeers had held a lead for over 35 minutes of the game, and at one point, with about six minutes left, they led by 24.
“First time in the history of our program we’re a one seed and everyone asks us about the pressure, the pressure,” Mack said. “It didn’t feel any different but when you get asked that question a thousand times over a 48-hour period, you think maybe it should.”
Consider Friday a dress rehearsal, then. Xavier didn’t play exactly how it wanted, and maybe the Musketeers didn’t feel exactly how they should. But if this is what they’re able to do on an off night, there’s a good chance Xavier is just getting started.