First Four: Texas Southern advances for 2nd straight year

Texas Southern has advanced out of the NCAA First Four for a second year in a row.

The Southwestern Athletic Conference champions came back from a slow start to the game and fended off a second-half rally from Texas A&M Corpus Christi to earn a 76-67 win Tuesday in the opening game of the NCAA First Four at UD Arena.

A&M Corpus Christi (23-12) led by as many as eight points in the first half, but the Tigers chipped away at it and pulled ahead for the first time with 7:28 remaining before the break. The Islanders, who trailed 32-30 at halftime, regained a lead with 10:48 left on a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevian Tennyson that buoyed a 9-2 run, but P.J. Henry’s three made free throws with 5:32 left gave the Tigers the lead back for good. A&M Corpus Christi managed just six points over the last six minutes.

“I want to say outstanding job, obviously, by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi getting to this point, finishing their season strong and playing a very tough basketball game tonight,” Texas Southern coach Johnny Jones said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity that presented itself to us tonight, and especially how our young men ... (played) extremely hard every second, every play. It took that tonight against that team and to be able to finish down the stretch. But it was very hard-fought battle, but one we extremely excited to be the team to come out on top.”

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. Slow start, strong finish: Just like Texas Southern rebounded from an 0-7 start to the season, the Tigers rallied from a slow start to the game.

The Islanders forced four turnovers in the first four minutes as they built a 13-5 lead, but the Tigers regained their composure and buckled down defensively, using size to their advantage inside on defense and to get to the rim on offense.

Even when A&M Corpus Christi started hitting some 3s midway in the second half to regain a lead, the Tigers didn’t let the momentum slide for long.

“We’ve been in situations like that before,” senior Bryson Etienne said. “We’re kind of used to it, playing in big crunch times like that. Just them making big plays is part of basketball. It’s a game of runs. If they go on a run, we know we can lock down on defense and make a run of our own. We just try to push through it and not really make it just a big deal, just keep moving forward because we’ve still got time on the clock.”

2. Experience paid off: Texas Southern, despite winning its conference tournament, did not have a single All-SWAC selection, but that is a testament to the balance of the roster, which saw 18 different lineups used this season, and its versatility.

That showed Tuesday night when the bench accounted for 55 points with the top three scorers not in the starting lineup. From that bench, Etienne finished with 21 points, John Walker III had 16 and PJ Henry added 14.

“It’s been great for us, because any of our guys are able to come in, have big nights like this, and it happened to be Walker’s and the Bryson’s night tonight but on any given night any of our guys can step up and make those plays,” Jones said. “That’s why it’s been difficult for a lot of teams because we’re playing 10 guys a night.”

Texas Southern had the third most experienced roster in college basketball this year, according to, and much of the team was back from last year’s tournament appearance.

3. Getting it done at the line: The experience also showed in crunch time at the free-throw line. The Tigers scored 15 of their final 17 points on foul shots.

They made 26 of 35 free throws on the night, including 21 of 26 in the second half, for a 74.3 percent success rate. A&M Corpus Christi, meanwhile, made just 9 of 19 free throws (47.4 percent).

“The ball didn’t go our way, and Texas Southern did a little bit of a better job,” Islanders coach Steve Lutz said. “And obviously shot a lot more free throws than us tonight.”


Etienne led the Tigers with 21 points, five rebounds and was 9-for-9 from the free throw line. He had 13 points in the second half, including four free throws in the final minute to seal the win. His driving layup with 6:12 left tied the game at 59, right before Southern was able to regain the lead for good with the next trip down the floor.


Southern had nine blocked shots and outrebounded the Islander 45-37. Although Brison Gresham had a quiet night offensively, his defense proved key at the rim as he had six blocked shots and eight defensive rebounds as part of 13 total for the night.


The Tigers advance as the No. 16 seed in the Midwest region and meet No. 1 Kansas at 9:57 p.m. Thursday at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

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