Thursday's NCAAs: Texas Southern beats Mount St. Mary’s in opener, faces Michigan next

Michael Marot
Associated Press

Bloomington, Ind. — Texas Southern forward John Walker III celebrated the program’s second NCAA Tournament win the way he always envisioned — hooting, hollering and just having fun.

Nothing, not even a small, mostly quiet arena, could dampen his enthusiasm.

Mount St. Mary's forward Nana Opoku (22) shoots while being defended by Texas Southern forward John Walker III, left, and guard Michael Weathers (20) during the second half.

After scoring a season-high 19 points, grabbing a career-high tying nine rebounds and leading the Tigers back from a 10-point halftime deficit to beat Mount St. Mary’s 60-52 in the first tourney game in nearly two years, Walker let loose.

“I feel like I’m on top of the world,” he shouted. “I just wanted it so bad, it wasn’t even about me. It was about going out there and beating a good team and getting it done.”

The Tigers (17-8) have won 10 straight overall and improved to 2-0 in First Four games. Their win over North Carolina Central in 2018 was the program’s first in the NCAA Tournament. Next up for the No. 16 seed in the East Region is top-seeded Michigan (20-4) on Saturday.

For at least a few moments, the Tigers soaked up their victory. Coach Johnny Jones’ players doused him with a cooler of water.

“They drenched me,” he said. “I’m sitting here all wet, but I’ll tell you what — it’s one of the best feelings I’ve had in cold water in a long time.”

At least that part sounded like the usual March Madness — full of excitement and emotion.

But it wasn’t the same.

In the first NCAA Tournament game since Virginia beat Texas Tech in overtime to win the national championship on April 8, 2019 — a span of 710 days — the atmosphere felt alien at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall. Only players, coaches and staff members were permitted on the court level and an estimated 150 people sat in the cavernous lower bowl. There were no concession stand lines, no pep bands playing music, no raucous cheers, not even boos.

Instead, players relied on themselves to crank up the energy. When Walker and his teammates did that in the second half, they took off.

Walker and Jordan Gilliam scored the first 11 points of the second half to erase a 30-20 deficit and give the Tigers their first lead in nearly 20 minutes. They started pulling away with a 12-4 spurt that made it 46-42 with 8:10 to play and finally put the game away at the free-throw line. Gilliam finished with 12 points.

Damian Chong Qui had 14 points for the Mountaineers (12-11), who fell to 1-9 in tourney play. Mezie Offurum had 10 points and 16 rebounds.

“I felt like I let myself down and I let my team down,” an emotional Chong Qui said. “Like I said, we’ll be back. We’ll be back here and we’ll be better. We’ll take care of business.”

More:NCAA Men's Tournament scoreboard, schedule

The Mountaineers beat the two top seeds in the Northeastern Conference Tournament to make the 68-team field. They made a gallant effort Thursday before coming up short.

Coach Johnny Jones now has his first tourney win with the Tigers and just the third ever by a Southwestern Athletic Conference champion. While Texas Southern found a way to advance, it needs to play much better to compete with the Wolverines.

Positive COVID-19 tests forced the Mountaineers to put the program on pause twice in December, forcing them into a monthlong break between games. Five games were postponed or canceled from Dec. 9-Jan. 6 and they didn’t play a home game for 37 days.

The Tigers started this season by playing four games in nine days and closed it by playing 10 games in 20 days because of make-up dates. They also were forced to play on the road after March 4 because their home court suffered water damage during a winter storm.

Texas Southern faces Michigan on Saturday in West Lafayette.

More First Four games

►Drake 53, Wichita State 52: Joseph Yesufu scored 21 points and Drake beat Wichita State, the Bulldogs’ first NCAA Tournament win in a half-century.

Drake’s previous tournament victory was 50 years ago to the day — March 18, 1971, against Notre Dame.

The Bulldogs were hardly overmatched in this year’s tournament field, however — they came in with 25 wins, second most of the 68 teams behind top overall seed Gonzaga, and their tense matchup with a longtime Missouri Valley Conference rival brought some early drama to the pandemic-affected tourney.

Wichita State’s Dexter Dennis made a 3-pointer with 8 seconds remaining to trim Drake’s lead to a point. The Bulldogs got the ball in to Yesufu, who was fouled. He missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to give the Shockers a chance, but Wichita State’s Alterique Gilbert settled for a long 3-pointer that hit the front rim as time expired.

The win was extra validation for Drake coach Darian DeVries, who was rewarded with a contract extension through 2028-29 on Wednesday.

Tremell Murphy added 11 points for 11th-seeded Drake (26-4), which advanced to play sixth-seeded Southern California in the West Region on Saturday.

Morris Udeze scored a career-high 22 points and Dennis added 13 for Wichita State (16-6).

It was the 152nd meeting between the former MVC rivals. Wichita State left for the American Athletic Conference in 2017. Both mid-major powers were given at-large bids into the NCAA field.

Drake missed 10 straight shots as Wichita State built an early 18-6 lead.

The Bulldogs rallied. Yesufu threw down a nasty one-handed dunk over Clarence Jackson on a fast break and then hit a 3-pointer with 7 seconds left in the first half to trim the Shockers’ lead to 21-20. Wichita State was scoreless for the last five minutes of the half.

Drake tied the game in the opening minute of the second half on a 3-point play by Darnell Brodie. Wichita State responded with a 9-0 run that included five points from Udeze.

Drake again recovered. Brodie’s reverse layup put the Bulldogs up 46-45 with just over four minutes to play.